Judging by his prime-time speech last week, the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency will be marked by increased militarism abroad and authoritarianism at home. The centerpiece of the president’s speech was his demand for a new law forbidding anyone on the federal government’s terrorist watch list from purchasing a firearm. There has never been a mass shooter who was on the terrorist watch list, so this proposal will not increase security. However, it will decrease liberty.
Federal officials can have an American citizen placed on the terrorist watch list based solely on their suspicions that the individual might be involved in terrorist activity. Individuals placed on the list are not informed that they have been labeled as suspected terrorists, much less given an opportunity to challenge that designation, until a Transportation Security Administration agent stops them from boarding a plane.
Individuals can be placed on the list if their Facebook or Twitter posts seem “suspicious” to a federal agent. You can also be placed on the list if your behavior somehow suggests that you are a “representative” of a terrorist group (even if you have no associations with any terrorist organizations). Individuals can even be put on the list because the FBI wants to interview them about friends or family members!
Thousands of Americans, including several members of Congress and many employees of the Department of Homeland Security, have been mistakenly placed on the terrorist watch list. Some Americans are placed on the list because they happen to have the same names as terrorist suspects. Those mistakenly placed on the terrorist watch list must go through a lengthy “redress” process to clear their names.