Stanford student sues TSA over no-fly list

Published 6 February 2006

Malaysian graduate student sues DHS for having been placed on no-fly lists, and denied re-entry into U.S. to complete studies

Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian Stanford University doctoral candidate, was at San Francisco International Airport last year on her way to her homeland for a conference. She was told she could not board the plane because her name was on the government’s terrorist no-fly list. Then she was handcuffed and put in the back of a police car. A few hours later she was told it was all a mistake and her name was off the list, but the next day she was told again her name was on the no-fly list. When she finally got to Malaysia and tried to return to finish her doctorate, she was told the U.S. embassy had pulled her visa. She has not been back in the United States since.

Last week she told that story in a federal lawsuit against DHS and several other agencies and individuals, challenging the constitutionality of the controversial, post-9/11 secret no-fly list. Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which oversees the no-fly list, said Friday he cannot comment on pending litigation. A handful of other plaintiffs have also fought the list, which some claim is capricious. On 25 January the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) settled a different suit filed on behalf of two Bay Area peace activists. The government paid $200,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees, but gave up little of the information about the no-fly list that they sought.

The no-fly list is shrouded in mystery, but this much is known: On 11 September 2001, only 16 people were barred from air travel, according to documents the government was forced to produce. By December 2001 the number was 594. One year later the list carried 1,000 names. Today it contains about 80,000 names (about 28,000 people were able to have their names removed from the list after the government admitted they were placed on it by mistake; it is not clear whether the number of 80,000 includes those 28,000 names). In addition, as of June 2005, the National Counterintelligence Center had amassed files on more than 190,000 individuals.

-read more in this report; and see Christopher Pyle’s American Prospect article