Last updated on: 10/5/2007 | Author:

Does the “No-Fly” List Make Us Safer?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The Associated Press wrote in an Apr. 6, 2004 article titled “ACLU Says No Go to No-Fly List” that stated:

“The no-fly list is one of two lists kept by the TSA [Transportation Security Administration]. The other is the ‘selectee.’ Those on the no-fly list are not allowed to board a commercial aircraft. Those on the selectee list must go through more extensive screening before boarding.

Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies request that the TSA put names on the list[s].”

Apr. 6, 2004

PRO (yes)


The United States Department of Justice stated in its Sep. 16, 2003 press release announcing the establishment of a Terrorist Screening Center (TSC):

“The Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration has established a ‘no-fly’ list, which has led to the successful apprehension of several dangerous terrorist suspects.”

Sep. 16, 2003


The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) posted on its website “Secure Flight” (accessed Feb. 26, 2007), that:

“The ‘No-Fly’ list has been an essential element of the aviation security – it keeps known terrorists off planes. TSA and our Federal partners, including the intelligence and law enforcement communities, have worked together to combine our collective knowledge into one list that protects our country, transportation systems, and airline passengers.”

Feb. 26, 2007


Timothy Noah, Senior Writer at Slate Magazine, wrote in his Apr. 07, 2004 article titled “No-Fly Like Me,” that:

“The ACLU is absolutely right to want the government to develop a better screening system. Where I part company with the civil liberties group is in perceiving the current system’s deficiencies as a violation of my constitutional rights…[T]he ACLU’s specific complaints about the No-Fly List are so petty that I can’t imagine any reforms would ever satisfy it…

Let’s suppose—just suppose—that the No-Fly List has caused only one terrorist not to board an airplane with a sharp tool or explosive shoes. Wouldn’t that still be worth these mild inconveniences? Of course it would. I don’t mind being the haystack because Sept. 11 taught me that there are needles out there. By all means, let’s find better ways to search for them. But let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the mediocre.”

Apr. 7, 2004


Asa Hutchinson, JD, Former Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), testified on Aug. 16 2004 before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, stating:

“It is very important to note progress already made by the U.S government in expanding the existing no-fly and selectee lists. Prior to 9/11, there were fewer than 100 names on the ‘no fly’ list. Today, TSA provides carriers with ‘no fly’ and ‘selectee’ lists that have been dramatically expanded. New names are being added every day as intelligence and law enforcement agencies submit new names for consideration…

DHS is nearing completion of a next-generation passenger prescreening program that meets our goals of using the expanded no-fly and selectee lists to keep known or suspected terrorists off of planes; moving passengers through airport security screening more quickly; reducing the number of individuals unnecessarily selected for secondary screening, and most importantly, fully protecting passengers’ privacy and civil liberties.

A revised program will likely incorporate the valuable lessons we have learned from existing passenger prescreening programs, remove the responsibility from air carriers for conducting watch list comparisons, and improve aviation security.”

Aug. 16, 2004


Edmund “Kip” Hawley, JD, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), said in an Oct. 8, 2006 interview on 60 Minutes that:

“If you look at the perfect world we’re not there. But if the fundamental thing is to be able to say to the people who fly: ‘Is the government letting people on my plane who they know is a terrorist, who, who is a bad guy?’ And the answer is ‘No,’ All of these other issues — particularly on convenience for people with the same name as terrorists, that is unfortunately where we are. That’s the down side of it the upside is that two million passengers are not flying with a terrorist.”

Oct. 8, 2006

CON (no)


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated in its Oct. 26, 2005 “Frequently Asked Questions About the ‘No Fly List,'” posted on its website:

“The [no-fly] lists contain names that are not linked to a physical description, birth date, or other unique identifier that allows airlines to easily determine whether the passenger at the counter is the person on the list. Large numbers of people have been delayed, searched, or interrogated at airports because they are ‘false positives’ who have names that are the same or similar to names on the list…

The ACLU believes that the entire system of watch lists is unconstitutional, because it treats people as guilty without a trial, and deprives them of their freedoms without due process. The system will not make us safer, because it is an inherently inaccurate and ineffective security method.”

Oct. 26, 2005


Reginald T. Shuford, JD, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), is quoted in a Nov. 4, 2004 ACLU press release as having said:

“As a result of flawed and ineffective No-Fly lists, innocent passengers are being singled out virtually every time they fly and subjected to delays, interrogations and even detentions. The government’s mismanagement of the No-Fly list not only violates the constitutional rights of the innocent Americans who have no way of clearing themselves from the list, but expending resources to repeatedly detain and interrogate individuals already verified as innocent is counterproductive to national security.”

Nov. 4, 2004


Douglas R. Laird Sr., President of Laird & Associates, Inc., is quoted in the article “Deadline Looms for Fixing ‘No-Fly’ Lists,” posted on Security Management Online (accessed Feb. 26, 2007):

“Any terrorist with any savvy at all will simply use a name that is not on the watch list. A true terrorist, with connections to a supporting government, or with a lot of money, will also have a valid passport issued with the alias he is using.”

Feb. 26, 2007


Jim Harper, JD, Director of Information Policy Studies for the Cato Institute, wrote in an Oct. 6, 2006 article “The Weaknesses of Watch-Listing,” posted on its website, that:

“‘Watch-listing’ — the practice of putting bad people’s names on a list and treating them differently at places like airports — is fraught with difficulty…

Easy to evade, it provides no protection against people who haven’t yet done anything wrong, who haven’t come to the attention of security officials, or who have adopted an alias. Terrorist planners are nothing more than inconvenienced by having to use people with ‘clean’ records.

Paying to inconvenience any such terrorists are (taxpayers, of course, and) all the people wrongly treated as suspects because they have the same or similar names as listed people.”

Oct. 6, 2006


Jason Gratl, President of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, wrote in a June 10, 2005 letter:

“No-fly lists seriously impair the rights of ordinary citizens. The U.S. experience has shown that persons are pre-selected for flight refusal or enhanced scrutiny on the basis of secret and undiscernable criteria. Listed persons are unable to effectively challenge their inclusion on the list. Regardless of how the criteria for listing persons is chosen, the system will of necessity be over-inclusive. People will be denied access to basic transportation and subject to enhanced scrutiny on what appears from the outside to be an arbitrary basis. The system itself is a model for abuse and discrimination.

The U.S. experience shows that no-fly lists are fraught with problems… The U.S. no-fly list, originally intended to be quite small, has grown monstrous in more ways than one. Reports on the current size of the list range from 30,000 names to 120,000 names.

To date, not a single terrorist has been apprehended by the no-fly system. There is no evidence that no-fly lists improve aviation safety. The expected benefit of any such list is marginal and speculative.”

June 10, 2005