“There are several steps that Congress should take right away. To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.”– President Barack Obama

 

If I may Mr. President, Mr. Constitutional Scholar, I’ll take that one. The answer is “Due Process” as in the Fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states, in part, “[N]or shall any person . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”. In other words, the use of this list to deprive the individual of his or her rights is a blatant 100% violation of the constitution, no ifs, ands, or buts – but hey, go right on believing that a piece of paper can protect us from the machinations of the state. This list has put the lie to that fantasy. Those in power can do whatever they wish as long as they have mastered the art of fear manipulation.

There is nothing wrong with compiling such a list (e.g. passive monitoring until suspicion is either allayed or heightened), but it is its preemptive deployment that is problematic. Depriving one of their rights is the equivalent to an arrest insofar as arrestees too lose a number of rights. Therefore, a “listee” and an “arrestee” are legally equivalent and so both must be afforded the same opportunity to respond to their accusers. In other words, if there is to be such a list, its content must be subject to due process, that is, a trial. Even though this should be obvious it bears repeating: due process is not some artificial speed-bump on the road to getting the “bad guys” – it ensures that the innocent, you and me, are not erroneously treated as criminals. To believe such a process is not necessary is to believe in the infallibility of man (a most hubristic and dubious proposition). Government is merely a collection of imperfect, fallible human beings. Due process protects us from those failings.

As it stands today, if you are on this list (often people merely with names similar to those of suspected terrorist sympathizers, including small children, active military personnel and even Senator Ted Kennedy!) there is no procedure whatsoever to challenge the inclusion in order to have your name removed. The rationale for inclusion is not divulged due to reasons of “national security”, attempts to demonstrate ones innocence are not allowed due to reasons of “national security”. Do you see a dark pattern here? The government may target anyone for any reason at any time citing the circular tautology of “national security” as justification.

With Obama’s attempt to re-purposes this list into the “one list to rule them all” of unlimited state power a most sinister precedent is being set. One right, two rights, three rights – oh my, soon we are no longer free! There is nothing to stop them from adding a whole litany of rights that one could plausibly argue help terrorists achieve their goals: obtain credit, hold a job, own a business, rent a home, buy or rent a car, open a bank account and so on. Now imagine you have been erroneously placed on this list (like thousands of others) and the nightmare your life instantly transforms into as all your rights are instantly stripped away because of either a clerical error or someone’s hunch. But of course you don’t know it is a clerical error or someone’s hunch, because no one will even tell you why you are on the list..

Once the precedent of rights denial for the “listed” is in place, then the really dangerous component can be activated: arbitrary inclusion. Superficially only “terrorists” are to be included, but here’s the rub: what is the definition of “terrorist”? Most assume it means ISIS types, but as far as the state is concerned it encompasses anyone that it deems a potential challenge to its authority. In other words, whoever is in power will deem whomever is out of power as a threat. This is not hyperbole, it has already happened. Various federal and state agencies have issued reports where they expressed the opinion that anyone expressing “right wing” views such as support for the constitution, opposing the federal reserve or taxation, or showing support for Ron Paul could be potential terrorists. Masterful! Political challengers getting you down? Why simply classify them as “terrorists” and wipe away all their rights – that will shut them up pretty quick!

If private airlines want to compile their own list and bar entry aboard their planes, that is perfectly within their rights to do so. It is their property and they may do with it as they see fit. You are free to fly another airline. In a private system the number of false positives would be nearly non-existent (e.g. no kids would be on the list) since the airlines have an incentive to sell tickets and not bar perfectly safe passengers from handing them money. Various other free-market based systems that can’t legally exist in the current public system would ensure even those few false positives were rectified. The compilers of a public list bear no consequences to any mistakes they make, the compilers of a private list do and thus act accordingly. The lack of accountability in a public system necessitates due process, i.e. a method by which accountability can occur. Interaction with private entities is voluntary whereas interaction with public entities is not. This more than anything necessitates a different set of rules for public entities to ensure that absolute power is not abused.