Homeland Security Will Finally Admit To Banned Flyers That They’re On The No Fly List

Good news has arrived for fliers who’d like to know exactly what the hell is going on when they’re forbidden to board an airplane.

The government will no longer refuse to confirm or deny that persons who are prevented from boarding commercial aircraft have been placed on the “No Fly List,” and such persons will have new opportunities to challenge the denial of boarding, the Department of Justice announced yesterday in a court filing.

Thanks to several lawsuits, the DHS is no longer able to Glomar its way out of responding to travelers who suspect they’ve been blacklisted from flying. This filing addresses Mohamed v. Holder, but builds on revised redress procedures promised in the wake previous lawsuits.

Under the previous redress procedures, individuals who had submitted inquiries to DHS TRIP generally received a letter responding to their inquiry that neither confirmed nor denied their No Fly status. Under the newly revised procedures, a U.S. person who purchases a ticket, is denied boarding at the airport, subsequently applies for redress through DHS TRIP about the denial of boarding, and is on the No Fly List after a redress review, will now receive a letter providing his or her status on the No Fly List and the option to receive and/or submit additional information.

It’s a huge step forward from just being told less-than-nothing by the agency’s misnamed “Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.” The first step has the DHS performing its own “redress review” — something that appears to have no time limit for responses. And that’s the beginning of the process. Members of the public will finally receive better and more detailed responses, but they will asked to perform several rounds of hoop-jumping, with the first couple of steps seemingly redundant.

If such an individual opts to receive and/or submit further information after receiving this initial response, DHS TRIP will provide a second, more detailed response. This second letter will identify the specific criterion under which the individual has been placed on the No Fly List and will include an unclassified summary of information supporting the individual’s No Fly List status, to the extent feasible, consistent with the national security and law enforcement interests at stake.

Other than “because we’re a bureaucracy,” there doesn’t seem to be any reason full details could not be provided in a single letter. But that’s the government for you: if it’s not killing trees and utilizing its underused postal service, it’s not being productive. Why do in one step what can be done in several (also: in triplicate, if possible), etc.

Even with these redress improvements, some travelers will still receive answers containing little to no information or guidance.

The amount and type of information provided will vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on the facts and circumstances. In some circumstances, an unclassified summary may not be able to be provided when the national security and law enforcement interests at stake are taken into account.

On the upside, the DHS will actually allow this to be a bit more adversarial. Travelers will be able to submit responses to the DHS’s initial No Fly List determination and submit information that might prompt a reconsideration of their inclusion on this list. The final decision is still the government’s but at least it’s open to basing its decision on more than its own security-first worldview and limited, supposedly inculpatory data.

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