Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Op-Ed: Who’s Watching The Watch Lists?

After living through 8 nightmarish years under the Bush regime its hard not to take seriously such government programs as our ever expanding Watch List. And let's be realistic here, we are NOT talking about a list full of hardened terrorists...if the Bush junta taught us anything, it was that ANYONE they considered to be a threat to their very narrow interests could be targeted -and even find themselves in a foreign torture chamber.

Some may not be aware that this Bush created "Terrorist Watch List" (still in existence of course) has eclipsed the 1 million "member" mark, and unlike with say, wealth accumulation, I don't really view this as a positive "achievement." The good news (and the bad), is that the FBI’s own Inspector General has just concluded a comprehensive study of the List - and the findings are troubling.

With that, I came across an op-ed by former Republican Congressman - and recent Libertarian candidate for President - Bob Barr. The piece is entitled "Who's Watching the Watch Lists?", and I think its well worth a read.

Barr writes:

...maintaining a list with more than 1,100,000 entries with only some 68,000 of those entries constituting “known or suspected terrorist identities” — which is what the current watch list is comprised of — is ridiculous. The first list was far too under-inclusive; the current list is far too over-inclusive.

A major part of the problem with the current Watch List, as identified by the Inspector General, is that controls designed to limit and evaluate what names and information go into the system, are simply not followed. For example, the audit found that:

Inaccuracies were rampant
Entries were incomplete
Watch list records are not consistently updated or purged
FBI field offices at times bypassed FBI headquarters in order to circumvent the quality-control mechanisms designed to maintain an accurate Watch List
Many Watch List entries contained information “unrelated to terrorism”

In fact, the audit revealed a process so disorganized that “the actual number of individuals the FBI nominated to the terrorist watchlist since its inception is unknown.”

It would be bad enough if all the inaccurate, irrelevant, outdated, and unnecessary information contained in the Terrorist Watch List related only to foreign persons. The problem is compounded greatly, however, because many of the more than one million entries contain names of and information about American citizens.

Now that we have a little more information to help us formulate a more educated opinion on the veracity of this "list", perhaps we can determine whether this program really serves our interests and those of our nation's security.

I would say it appears we have a two pronged problem. One, innocent people are being needlessly added to this list, and their privacy and own personal security threatened. And two, if the list is so disorganized, mismanaged, and error prone, it can also be concluded that a lot of ACTUAL TERRORISTS (if there even are that many) are probably rather easily evading it.

Of particular concern to those of us who make a habit of, let's just say, questioning authority, its less than re-assuring to ponder the prospects of being improperly placed on such a Watch List by a government that views us as a "threat". Suddenly facing the denial of air travel or a job because we couldn't pass a background check is nothing to scoff at.

Granted, such fears seem a lot less realistic under an Obama Administration than under Bush/Cheney, but that isn't the point. The point is that any such program - under any government - should be run efficiently, accurately, and with the individuals right to privacy playing an integral roll in how such a list is managed and utilized.

Let's hope the Obama Administration takes action to fix these flaws and the threat such programs pose to the privacy of American citizens.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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