Newly released FBI documents reveal just how hard it is to get off the US government’s terrorist watch list once you’re on it, reports the New York Times in a look into the list's inner workings. Though agents are typically instructed to remove a person’s name if the investigation is closed with no charges, if the person is acquitted, or if charges are dropped, the FBI is allowed to keep such a person on the list if it still has “reasonable suspicion” that he or she poses a national security risk. “In the United States, you are supposed to be assumed innocent,” says a counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “But on the watch list, you may be assumed guilty, even after the court dismisses your case.”
But an FBI director says the files, which make the standards and procedures related to the watch list public for the first time, prove that the list is not “haphazard” as some have complained. Rather, the FBI follows “a very detailed process” in adding people to and removing them from the list. Currently, the list includes about 420,000 names, about 8,000 of whom are Americans; about 16,000 of those people are not allowed to fly, including about 500 Americans. Suspects are not informed they are on the list or given a chance to challenge the allegations that put them there. An ACLU counsel calls it “a secret determination, that you have no input into, that you are a terrorist."