A U.S. Federal Appeals Court has held that Americans can sue FBI agents for wrongful placement on the “Do Not Fly” List.
In short, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recruited several Muslim-Americans to become government informants. A handful of those who refused were placed on the “Do Not Fly” list, a confidential list which bans those on it from flying on a commercial flight to/from/within the USA. This addition occurred despite no evidence that they posed a threat to passenger or airline safety.
Last May, a three-judge panel on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that three American citizens/permanent residents, Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwar, could seek damages because their placement on the list appeared to be an act of retaliation rather than a genuine safety concern.
The U.S. government appealed to the full court, which upheld the three-judge panel in a 7-3 decision. The lawsuit was filed on the basis of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law introduced by Chuck Schumer (D – NY) and Ted Kennedy (D – MA) that “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.” For more on that act, click here.
The plaintiffs argued that their placement on the list resulted in social alienation, the inability to visit relatives, and job loss.
Meanwhile, the dissent argued that the decision places an unacceptable burden on federal employees tasked with protecting national security. The dissent feared these professionals will become too intimidated to protect national security for fear of being held personally liable. The dissent also argued that Supreme Court precedent specifically limited the liability of government officials for such misconduct.
This story is more law than travel, but since the focus is on commercial flying, I feel it is worthy of coverage.
While I agree with the dissent that this decision seems to stretch Supreme Court precedent, should not government officials be held accountable for essentially bullying innocent parties who do not wish serve as government informants? Perhaps it is time for Congress to change the law.