Fix ‘no-fly’ lists; do not make them standards

Secret lists like the “no-fly” list are notoriously inaccurate, they suspend citizens’ rights without due process and they don’t even work. Orlando attacker Omar Mateen was listed, until he was cleared by the FBI — not once but twice.

In a rush to “do something” to laws after the Orlando, Fla., mass-shooting terror attack, national leaders are pushing an idea that sounds like something from a science-fiction story — and it is.

Expanding the practice of putting citizens on a secret list for “pre-crime” suspicion and suspending their rights is straight out of the 2002 Steven Speilberg/Tom Cruise film “Minority Report.” Here’s the basic idea proposed by leaders as diverse as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Expand the government’s “no-fly” lists which, among other things, are used to halt tens of thousands of people from flying on passenger aircraft. Ban anyone added to the list, or on the larger “terror watch list,” from purchasing firearms.

If someone isn’t safe enough to fly, supporters argue, then why should they be allowed to buy weapons?

It’s true that rights are not absolute, and that restricting gun purchases by suspects in active terror investigations makes sense. Such restrictions, however, should last no longer than a reasonable investigation requires. The problems with relying on such lists instead of investigating, however, are numerous:

■ The “no-fly” list and a similar “selectee” list for requiring extra screening are notoriously inaccurate. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy was put on one. So was Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., actor David Nelson, a 4-year-old boy, journalist Stephen Hayes and thousands of others. An angry ex-spouse can have someone added, or officials who mix up people with the same names. The lists’ lack of due process needs to be reformed, not used as a template.
■ Since the lists are secret, most people don’t know they’re on one until their vacation plans are ruined. If they were to seek a firearm for self-defense, a long wait could result in their death — a fate that befell a New Jersey woman.
■ Being removed from the lists can be nearly impossible. It took one woman 10 years of court fights to be delisted.
■ While some rights may be suspended as suspects go through the judicial system of due process, there is no guarantee of due process with the lists as used today. Mere “suspicion” has been enough to add someone.
■ If an enumerated constitutional right can be indefinitely suspended for suspicion, it creates a precedent to pre-emptively suspend other rights. Ban speech or publishing or preaching? Well, you might someday incite someone. It’s hard to think of any right that could not be suspended.

Supporters of expanded no-fly lists claim that agencies would do better in the future at clearing people — maybe by using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court — but there’s no evidence to support that. The FBI says its resources already are stretched thin by counterterrorism work. And the FISA Court is infamous for not giving defendants a day in court and for rarely rejecting any government request.

Civil rights are not the only issues. Other good reasons not to expand the “no-fly” list include:

■ First, the lists and background checks will not prevent an Orlando-type attack. Orlando just proved that. Omar Mateen was cleared by not just one, but two FBI investigations — one that took 10 months — plus another background check to legally buy guns, plus an earlier background check to become a security guard. If anyone still thinks “universal background checks” should make people “feel safe,” they’re ignoring the evidence.
■ Second, if voters agree on anything this year it’s that they do not trust the two major parties’ presumptive nominees, Clinton and Trump. So it makes no sense to hand a future President Trump or President Clinton this type of additional executive power.

History shows attacks are inevitable. It’s easy to be caught up in emotion, and to do regrettable things that infringe upon other people’s rights. Imprisoning thousands of American men, women and children whose ancestors came from Japan was bad policy, even after Pearl Harbor. Banning Muslims from the U.S. — an idea listed several times by Trump — is a bad idea.

Taking away constitutional rights without due process, based on suspicion and secretive lists, is another “do something” proposal that ignores the facts. This movie doesn’t need a sequel.

— THE DAILY TELEGRAM (ADRIAN)