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Ethical Discussion of the No Fly List

From the 'Hot Policy Issues' on the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Web site (www.epic.org), I shall analyze the 'EPIC Freedom of Information Act - FBI Watchlist' article. The article notes that there has been very little public information about the criteria for adding or removing names from the Terrorist Screening Center Database or the No Fly List. Furthermore, in the past five years, reports of the size of the No Fly List and Selectee List have varied from 44,000 and 75,000, respectively, in 2006, to 3,400 individuals on the No Fly List in 2009. Most recently, the No Fly List was said to have increased to 6,000 individuals between December 2009 and May 2010. There is a clear lack of accurate information in the public domain on the size of the No Fly List and Selectee List. There also appears to be no recent data on the number of United States citizens on the lists, even though tens of thousands of Americans are potentially affected. EPIC has created a Freedom of Information Act Request that requests the inclusion of all documents detailing the criteria used by the FBI to maintain the list and documents containing statistics of the enlisted individuals to the No Fly List website. According to article, on September 28, 2011, EPIC released documents obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a result of EPIC's FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request. The disclosed documents include previously secret FBI Watch List Guidelines from 2010, previously secret FBI Watch List Guidelines from 2009, a Report to Congress on the Terrorist Screening Center, and previously classified answers to questions by members of Congress.

I am against the No Fly List because there is a huge potential for ethnic, religious, economic, political, or racial profiling and discrimination in maintaining the list. The government did not provide a well thought out criteria for enlisting individuals to the list and this suggests that there is a lot of profiling in maintaining the list. It wouldn't be surprising if a large number of individuals on the list are Muslims as people tend to associate this religious group with terrorism. Furthermore, we may question the usefulness of the list, as security expert Bruce Schneier described a simple way for people to defeat the No Fly List:

'Use a stolen credit card to buy a ticket under a fake name. Print a fake boarding pass with your real name on it and go to the airport. You give your real ID, and the fake boarding pass with your real name on it, to security. They're checking the documents against each other. They're not checking your name against the no-fly list that was done on the airline's computers. Once you're through security, you rip up the fake boarding pass, and use the real boarding pass that has the name from the stolen credit card. Then you board the plane, because they're not checking your name against your ID at boarding.' (U.S. Airport Security Measures Are Ineffective and Purely Symbolic.')

From the Utilitarian theory, the utility principle is sometimes expressed as 'the greatest good of the greatest number.' Majority of people want terrorism to be prevented, and would like for the government to try every feasible measure to prevent terrorism, even if maintaining a No-Fly List were one of them. In addition, the government is violating the right to privacy of the enlisted individuals by making the list publicly accessible. I addressed the most important ethical theory that justifies the right to privacy from the government, which is Freedom, above. Potential employers or neighbors may use the information from the No-Fly List for their security purposes by refusing to employ or discriminate against individuals in the list. In addition, having that list would prevent some normal people from doing everyday activities such as getting a job, living in a good neighborhood, and of course travelling by air.


"U.S. Airport Security Measures Are Ineffective and Purely Symbolic." Gale Opposing Viewpoints. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. http://ic.galegroup.com/link

Spinello, R. Cyberethics morality and law in cyberspace. Jones & Bartlett Learning, print.