Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The "Lone Wolf Initiative", profiling, and government by blacklist

Republished from Freedom Democrats

USA today has a cover story about the Federal Lone Wolf Initiative, an Obama administration program to foil the plots of "lone offenders"-- terrorists who plan their attacks in the absence of coordination with terrorist networks. Information about the program is sparse, and USA Today seems to be getting a few vague descriptions from anonymous informers within the FBI. Some of the tactics used by this initiative are reasonable (taking a second look at the records of convicts and the evidence in closed terrorism cases), while others sound a lot like profiling of the general civilian population ("suspicious purchases at fertilizer or chemical suppliers"). The ACLU says that they are concerned about the risk of racial and political profiling. Frankly, I think this type of profiling will be inevitable; the FBI will want to maximize the chance that all would-be terrorists are on this list, so they'll face constant pressure to incorporate any information that could improve predictions. They will inevitably use information that has implications for civil liberties.

The article doesn't indicate how this new watch list will be used. If the lone-wolf initiative casts a broad net, then one likely use will be to tag individuals for the secret no-fly list--which will also be the "no gun" list if some people have their way. If you believe Michael Chertoff (fat chance), there are currently only 250 Americans on this list, but the FBI estimates that 20,000 Americans are in the Terrorist Screening Database, which probably feeds information to the no-fly list, and the ACLU gives even higher estimates. We already know that the Feds tried to use consumer profiling techniques to build this list, and I feel pretty sure that they will try again.

Independent of the risk of profiling, any broad attempt to screen the civilian population will be rife with corruption, resulting either from the prejudices or political agendas of the administrators.

PS. We have previously discussed the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, which places even more extensive restrictions on people. While both lists represent a threat to due-process and a move towards government by blacklist, I believe that the no-fly list is substantially more threatening. In contrast to the SDN list, the no-fly list is secret and can include Americans. I don't mean to dismiss the unfairness of putting an innocent foreign national on such a list, but there is a big difference between being harassed in your homeland and being harassed in a foreign land.

No comments: