The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More than 1,000 private entities have access to terrorism watch list, government says

Muslims who have been put on the government’s secretive terrorism watch list are demanding to know more about the 1,441 private entities that have access.

The number was revealed recently through litigation in Alexandria federal court, one of a half-dozen lawsuits related to the watch list filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. On Friday, CAIR will ask a federal judge to force the government to release the names of the private entities and explain how they access the list.

The massive, classified database was created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to track people deemed potentially dangerous who had not committed crimes. In litigation, CAIR has argued that the terrorism database and the no-fly list that comes out of it ensnare and stigmatize innocent people.

In a deposition last October, an FBI official said he was “not aware of any” private entities that had access to the database through the National Crime Information Center.

In a court filing, which was first reported by the Associated Press, the FBI acknowledged that more than 1,000 actually did have that access.

These firms are providing criminal justice services, according to the FBI — for example, private prisons, university police and private security companies that work in government facilities or hospitals. The Transportation Security Administration also shares watch-list information with airlines.

But lawyers for CAIR say they believe the dissemination goes further, citing plaintiffs who say they have had trouble getting loans or keeping bank accounts open without explanation.

CAIR’s attorneys argue that the conflicting information from the FBI casts its handling of the list into doubt and shows the need for more transparency.

“Either they knew that they were being deceitful or the FBI exercises so little care with the watch-listing system which implicates more than a million people,” said CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas.

In a statement, the FBI said the database “is not shared in its totality with state or local police departments or the private sector.” Only the smaller “known or suspected terrorist” list is available to them, the FBI said, and they can’t scroll through the data but must search for a particular name.

Entities requesting the data must be providing services for “the administration of criminal justices services,” the FBI said, and “must comply with agreements to ensure the security and confidentiality of the information.”

Hassan Shibly, one of the plaintiffs and the leader of CAIR Florida, said he has been on and off the watch list since he was 18 years old and has gone through long searches at airports at least 20 times.

“It’s just a consistently humiliating experience that doesn’t make the country any safer,” said Shibly, now 32.

All 25 plaintiffs were taken off the list after filing the lawsuit, but Abbas said they have continued to face problems because of their earlier inclusion.

Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.

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