Security

What If You Were Mistakenly Put on a Watchlist?

Innocent until the government makes a mistake.

|

In the 1985 dystopian science fiction movie Brazil the plot centers on the authorities' apprehension of an innocent man named Archibald Buttle. He was mistaken for the outlaw, Archibald Tuttle, after a fly landed on a printer head in a government office, thus causing the "T" to print as a "B" on the arrest warrant.

Typical of its dark humor, the movie's real criminal is an unlicensed heating and air-conditioning repairman played by Robert De Niro. It's a satire of our modern society's impenetrable bureaucracies and the powerlessness we can feel when we're at their mercy. No wonder the Orange County Register named it one of the best libertarian movies of all time.

I'm reminded of Brazil as I read news about federal efforts to crack down on "bad guys." Conservatives often express support for the "waterboarding" of terrorists. That sounds OK, provided the bureaucrats actually got the right guy.

Same goes with those "no fly" lists that the Transportation Security Administration uses to keep suspected terrorists off airplanes. The lists and their criteria are secret. There's no due process, meaning that if you get pulled out of line you have no way to appeal that decision. The New York Times reported on an 8-year-old who a few years ago was stuck on a TSA "watch" list. Often, people with names similar to someone else's—think Buttle versus Tuttle—get stopped.

Liberals can be just as unconcerned as conservatives over the veracity of these lists. For instance, California is the only state with the Armed Prohibited Person System (APPS). It's a state Department of Justice database used to send agents to people's homes to confiscate their weapons after the state determines they no longer are eligible to own them (e.g., after being convicted of a crime or being the subject of a restraining order).

No one wants dangerous people to have access to an arsenal, but we again run up against the problem of lists. Anyone who has compiled lists realizes how quickly they become out of date, or how easy it is for a clerk to misspell a name. An analysis of the APPS list from the state auditor and a gun-rights group found that anywhere from 37 percent to 60 percent of the people on the list actually had a legal right to still own firearms.

In a free society, it's not OK for an innocent person to have guns confiscated or kept from flying because of some mistaken entry on a ledger. It's infuriating how difficult it is to clear one's name after an error is detected. There are few things more aggravating than clearing up bureaucratic snafus—whether it's with a government agency or health insurance company.

In August, the California state auditor looked at the CalGang program, which is a database, or list, used voluntarily by the state's law enforcement agencies to track gang members. The recent audit—focusing on four agencies, including the Santa Ana Police Department—found wild inaccuracies that are causing real harm to real people.

For instance, the auditor analyzed the names of 100 people entered into the database and found "they lacked adequate support" for including 13 people on the list. Furthermore, "we found 42 individuals in CalGang who were supposedly younger than one year of age at the time of entry."

Again, no one has sympathy for gang members. But what about people who aren't gang members who are included in the list? They are monitored by the police, "potentially violating their privacy rights," the auditor notes. It can also harm their job prospects, given that a number of agencies use the database to disqualify applicants. Santa Ana police officials agreed with the recommendations and vowed to correct the problems, which is the right attitude.

But I have little faith in any government list of the citizenry that's been created without due process. We all want to get tough on criminals, but we have to be sure that innocent folks don't land on the list because of a bad printer, a dead fly or an inaccurate typist.

Advertisement

NEXT: Alexander Hamilton May Rule Broadway, But He Was No Banking Genius

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

    1. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do… http://www.14earnpath.com

  1. “Conservatives often express support for the “waterboarding” of terrorists.”

    Conservatives are constitutional originalists by definition, and thus opposed to extra-judicial punishment and depravation of due process, cruel and unusual punishment, etc. so…no.

    Not everyone who claims the title is one, just like the majority of people claiming to be libertarians are just leftists in L clothing.

    1. Yeah, I was gonna say. Maybe Trump personally does, and maybe some of the neoconservatives do, but as a whole I don’t think that’s a fair statement to apply to the whole right wing.

      I also take some issue with the subsequent sentence. “That sounds okay, provided the bureaucrats actually got the right guy.” Does it, though? It kinda doesn’t to me.

      1. I guess I fall more under “that sounds okay, as long as the person who does it gets an appropriate jail sentence afterward”. I mean, if the situation is bad enough that it requires torture to protect others, surely serving some jail time is a small price to pay for protecting people. But if it isn’t and you just want an excuse to hurt someone you despise, maybe not.

        1. I have always thought this was the way to handle the “24” scenario. “There is an atomic bomb somewhere in LA”. If you have in custody someone who may have information, torture is still illegal. But if the agent in charge is willing to put his life on the line to arrest terrorists, why shouldn’t he be willing to put his career on the line to save many innocent lives. The judge and jury would be the place to discuss the extenuating circumstances.
          But you can’t just build into the law that torture is ok if X. Aside from the Constitution X will morph into Y is like X, and Z is almost as bad as Y, and A feels like it could stretch into Z therefore lets go ahead and torture the kids running the illegal lemonade stand just in case.

  2. So I’m reading along and

    “Orange County Register named it one of the best libertarian movies of all time.”

    jumps out at me. Now, I recognize that finding lists of “best libertarian movies of all time” is probably difficult… but really? Orange County Register?

    It just sounds off. Like arguing with a Trump supporter and pulling editorial quotes from the Starkville Daily News. I mean, sure their opinions are probably just as valid as anyone else’s, but it just doesn’t have the same ring of authority, does it?

    1. LOL

      At least it wasn’t the Hooterville World Guardian.

  3. We all want to get tough on criminals, but we have to be sure that innocent folks don’t land on the list because of a bad printer, a dead fly or an inaccurate typist.

    “I support the First Amendment, but ….”

  4. “The Constitution isn’t a suicide pact”
    –Every liberal about guns, “homophobes”, “racists”, and putting people on watch lists, and every conservative about porn, drugs, and “sex offenders”.

    1. “Then amend the damn thing”

      All too few Americans.

  5. In a free society, it’s not OK for an innocent person to have guns confiscated or kept from flying because of some mistaken entry on a ledger.

    Ah, but that’s only true if you’re coming from the perspective that individual people actually matter, that they inherently possess certain natural rights, and that the legitimate role of government is to help them to preserve those rights. If, on the other hand, you are a Progressive or a collectivist (but of course I repeat myself), you believe that Society, not individuals, is the thing that matters, that rights are bestowed by the government, and that the government has the right to violate those rights at will in the interest of society at large.

  6. I like how it’s “conservatives often” while it’s “liberals CAN (emphasis added)”. The message is conservatives very much approve infringement, while liberals SOMETIMES, as an exception to the rule, approve infringement. Of course we can go – yet again – down the semantic rabbit hole, but today’s “liberal” is a fascist who thinks nothing of using broadcast Force against whomever it wants, and feels saintly about it. It’s not an “exception” from the consistent norm to infringe.

    1. There is a litany, but I think the visceral, rabid-dog reaction to “Citizens United” is a perfect illustration of your point.

      There really cannot be a more straightforward example of the meaning of the first amendment and free speech – literally political speech about a candidate seeking election. This is precisely the speech they were talking about when they wrote “shall make no law”. Much more so than Klansmen marching, or Black Panthers holding up a fist, or strippers dancing on poles. And today’s progressives come down on the side of censorship of purely political speech.

      Passionately. They want the speech of those they oppose silenced. They are prosecuting companies for questioning global warming. They are once again moving in congress with their “fairness doctrine” in an attempt to silence conservative voices like Rush Limbaugh.

      These offenses against freedom of thought and speech are far worse than the religious right’s attacks on porn, nude dancing and naughty song lyrics.

      Yet the left fancies themselves the defenders of civil rights.

  7. I’m making $86 an hour working from home. I was shocked when my neighbour told me she was averaging $95 but I see how it works now. I feel so much freedom now that I’m my own boss. This is what I do,

    ?? ? ? ? http://www.review40.com

  8. This whole Tuttle family is obsessed with faking their deaths.

    At least Trapper and Hawkeye used the money from the Captain’s back pay to help the orphans.

  9. RE: What If You Were Mistakenly Put on a Watchlist?
    Innocent until the government makes a mistake.

    We are all put on a watch list because we are all guilty of some sort of crime against The State. We’re all guilty until proven innocent. We should all turn ourselves in and confess to all the heinous crimes we have committed against our beloved socialist slavers. This way we can obtain a merciful sentence, say death by firing squad, instead of being forced to watch “Three’s Company” 20 hours a day for the next fifty years. Secondly, there is no privacy afforded the little people in this country. That is rightfully reserved for our benevolent slave masters in the White House dascha, the members of the Politburo, the Supreme Soviet Senate and their cronies. They watch over us so they can control us in a benign and utilitarian manner so we can all can serve our obvious betters in a much more efficient ways. Indeed, shouldn’t we all be grateful we are watched and controlled so we won’t start sinning by thinking for ourselves, creating financial freedom for ourselves and wander off Uncle Sam’s plantation? I think we all know the answer to that one.

  10. “Santa Ana police officials agreed with the recommendations and vowed to shut down the CalGang database before tendering their resignations, which is the right attitude.”

    I fixed that for you Mr Greenhut. The issues with “bad guy” lists are instrinsic and cant be resolved with a onetime scrub of obviously ridiculous data. The solution is not to have them, and its symptomatic of just how resigned Americans are to tyranny that watchlists have such bipartisan support.

  11. uptil I looked at the paycheck which had said $7458 , I did not believe that my brothers friend woz like actualy earning money parttime from their computer. . there neighbor has done this 4 only thirteen months and a short time ago paid for the morgage on their mini mansion and bourt a top of the range BMW M3 . more information..

    CLICK THIS LINK?? ? ? ? >> http://www.earnmax6.com/

  12. my classmate’s ex-wife makes $79 /hr on the laptop . She has been without work for 9 months but last month her check was $14221 just working on the laptop for a few hours. you could check here
    http://WWW.WORK.JOBSS1.COM

  13. ” Furthermore, “we found 42 individuals in CalGang who were supposedly younger than one year of age at the time of entry.”
    It’s tragic when someone so young goes bad.

  14. my buddy’s mother makes $66 an hour on the laptop . She has been unemployed for ten months but last month her check was $18065 just working on the laptop for a few hours. blog here..
    ?????->> http://www.earnmax6.com/

  15. Mason . if you think Jesse `s rep0rt is incredible… yesterday I bought Smart ForTwo from bringing in $6885 this-past/four weeks and-more than, 10/k this past-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-work I’ve ever done . I began this six months/ago and pretty much immediately got me at least $71 per hour . look at this site ..
    ??????>> http://www.earnmax6.com/

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.