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8 ways you can go on the no-fly list

It is probably one of America’s most controversial list. You can be put on it without your knowledge, and getting out of that extremely difficult.

It is the federal no-fly list, a collection of names of people that are not allowed on board commercial flights to or from the United States. According to leaked documents obtained by The Intercept, more than 47,000 people were on the american no-fly list as of August 2013. That number reportedly includes 800 Americans, many of whom do not even know that they are on. The government does not send official notification to the people on the list; often, people don’t find out until they are refused at the airport.

A number of high-profile lawsuits have alleged that the government wrongly people have been added to the list of blocked their efforts to have their names removed. Last summer, a federal judge ruled in favor of the 13 people who claimed the government violated their constitutional rights to travel by placing them on the no-fly list. The government was ordered to tell the plaintiffs whether they’re on the list to find out what the reasons they are excluded from the travel, and to give them a chance to challenge the government.

The case was one of the biggest challenges yet to the super-secret government, but the veil over the no-fly list.

“There is this black-box procedure that works purely behind the curtains and no one is able to be a part of that curtains and discover what’s really going,” airline industry analyst Robert Mann explained to Yahoo Travel.

The government argues that the secrecy about the no-fly list is necessary for national security. A potential terrorist can be tipped off that the government is watching him, the logic goes, if he gets a letter that he is now on a government black list.

“I think that it is like a high security process,” says Mann. “You don’t want to reveal sources and methods, because a knowledge of sources and methods allow nefarious individuals to compromise them.”

Despite the secrecy, in various court cases, news reports and leaked documents have shed some light on the process behind the no-fly list. Here are eight possible ways to an end.

  • 1.

    That is suspected of immediate terrorist activity

    AP File Photo

    An obvious, but, of course, known terrorists on the no-fly list. The man who tried to bomb Northwest Airlines flight in 2009 and the man convicted of planting a car bomb in Times Square in 2010 were both on the no-fly list (they were able to board planes anyway). Last year, the Intercept, obtained a secret document that is issued by the National counter-Terrorism Center that the details of how the government puts people on the no-fly list as a terrorist databases. It includes people convicted of or arrested for acts of terrorism, bombings, hostages, murders, members of terror groups, and others. According to the document, federal agencies can someone nominate for a government black list as “a person is known or suspected or knowingly engaged in conduct that, in preparation, for the purpose of, or in connection with TERRORISM and/or TERRORIST ACTIVITIES.”

    According to The Guardian, the Ministry of Justice has also said that the authorities must have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is a threat to them on a ‘watch list’. However, the civil liberties activists argue that the “reasonable suspicion” is very subjective.

  • 2.

    Travel to certain countries

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    Frequent trips to a well-known trouble spot, it may raise a red flag. “If you travel to certain places, chances are that you have more control,” says Mann. “If you regularly travel to countries that are known to be involved in terrorism or financial crimes, you do run the risk of having your trip be warned.”

  • 3.

    Something you said in the past

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    There are a number of complaints of non-violent political activists who say that they ended up on a no-fly list for something they said. Former Princeton University professor Walter Murphy told The Guardian in 2007, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark International Airport. He suspects that it was because he was a high-profile lecture he gave that was critical of President Bush. In 2012, Wade Hicks, the spouse of a Navy lieutenant, claimed he was told that he was on a no-fly list. He thinks that it was because of the comments he made about 9/11.

  • 4.

    Have a similar name of someone on the no-fly list

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    This is a common complaint of people who claim that they are on the no-fly list wrongly. “If you have a name that is similar in sound or spelling or in phonetic interpretation to someone who probably legitimately need to be on the list, you’re at risk for finding yourself on the list,” said Mann. He quotes a friend of his who shares a last name with an Irish Republican Army operative who was active in the 1960s and 1970s. That unfortunate combination of circumstances, says Mann, has landed not only his friend on the list, but also the man’s son — who wasn’t even born during this operative the heyday.

    In 2007, “60 Minutes” famous, a group of people with the name Robert Johnson, who experience problems flying, probably because a man by the name of Robert Johnson had been convicted of plotting to bomb a Hindu temple and a movie theatre in Toronto.

  • 5.

    Not to be an informant

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    According to a federal lawsuit heard in New York this summer, four Muslims say they were on the no-fly, because they refused to spy for the FBI. The men’s names were removed from the list, but they sued FBI agents for the damage.

  • 6.

    Administrative error

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    According to a lawsuit detailed in Wired magazine, a Stanford University doctoral student was placed on the no-fly list in 2004. After seven years of federal litigation, it was determined she was wrongly on the list because an FBI agent checked the wrong box on a form.

  • 7.

    Law enforcement

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    Mann says you might not even need to be suspected of terrorism to get on a no-fly list. “In some cases, people have open warrants, or other characteristic with indication of criminal activities and then they find themselves on this list,” he says, even where the alleged activity has nothing to do with the security of the aviation. Mann is of the opinion that a sign is of the no-fly list is changed, then an air security tool in an all-out law enforcement tactics. “This is the mission creeped into something that is much larger in size than originally intended,” he says.

  • 8.

    Controversial Tweets

    AP File Photo

    The government guidelines published by the Intercept excluded agencies of black people, based on information that is “unreliable or not credible.” But the point is that the social media posts “should not automatically be discounted” in the decision as to whether a person belongs to a black list. Agencies are instructed to “evaluate the credibility of the source, as well as the nature and specificity of the information, and nominate even if that source is uncorroborated.”

    But don’t worry: the chances that your tweet will not land you on a no-fly list. “The writing of the TSA on Twitter with a number of negative comments about your experience on this-and-this airport does not do so then you get a ‘sorry’ from the TSA,” says Mann. “There is so much of this, half of the travelers would be on the stupid list.”

    The government, either through policy change or a court ruling, has made some changes in the no-fly list that would make the process somewhat. But everyone agrees, it is still a slow and secretive process.

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