Intelligence: Watch Lists

Intelligence: Watch Lists



Intelligence: Watch Lists

The fight against terrorism has led to massive changes in the way the security officials interpret and apply the law. The use of watch lists is no longer seen as an exception for the security officers. It has become more of a norm and this has caused untold suffering for many people. Some people have had to endure countless hours of interrogation at airports. They have had to disrupt and change their travel plans because of this. The government has watch lists containing names of many people suspected of terrorism and terror related activities. It does not inform people of how or why it acquires the names. People with similar names have problems proving their real identity as well as the nature of their activities if their names are on the watch lists. Others cannot obtain visas if their names are on the list. Despite the government’s use of all the resources available, it has failed to capture some of the names of real terror suspects. This has led to some security scares in the past. This shows that the watch lists are not comprehensive or entirely effective in their efforts to combat terrorism.

Susan Herman describes cases of watch lists in her book Taking Liberties. She writes about people who have suffered because of their names. Names reveal people’s identity. Since the terrorist attacks in 2001, many people have had to change the way they do business. Some are cautious of doing business with Muslims. Others are wary and they are taking more precautions to ensure that they comply with the rules set by different security agencies. Financial institutions have had to drop some of their clients because they believe that continuing to do business with them poses a major risk and they could be subjected to heavy penalties. This has affected institutions such as banks and credit card companies as well as individuals. She also notes that some businesses have had to use software as a way of ensuring compliance. Such software is not always reliable as it can produce the wrong information (Herman, 2011).

Herman’s writing of the subject is important because it is very informative. It highlights various cases concerning the effects of watch lists. Since the government treats the issue of watch lists as a matter of national security, people cannot get the information they need despite their attempts. They cannot depend on their constitutional rights and privileges under freedom of speech and expression to get the information they need. The security agencies recognize the fact that they may not have all the important information and other relevant details concerning people. Some of the people in their lists are innocent. However, they confess that they do include names of innocent persons on the list until such a time when they can get adequate information to remove them if they are assured of the people’s innocence (Angwin, 2012).

Herman shows how security officials are reluctant to observe individual constitutional rights on matters concerning national security. Therefore, it would be futile for people to attempt to get the information they want from the government watch lists. Herman also shows how a majority of the population are unaware of how the security laws affect them as individuals. They tend to have the assumption that the government does not need their details since they are law-abiding citizens. Herman shows how this can be a problem. She highlights the case of a former footballer who underwent suffering under the hands of the government because he had changed his religion and he used an Islamic name.

Herman is indeed justified and ethical in her presentation. The many cases she highlights actually demonstrate abuse of office by some of the security officers. Some of them have blatantly refused to regard the constitution and they have not observed people’s rights even as they try to ensure that the country remains secure. Therefore, it is within people’s rights to know how the established privacy laws affect them as individuals.


Angwin, J. (2012). U.S. terrorism agency to tap a vast database of citizens. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Herman, N. S. (2011). Taking liberties: The war on terror and the erosion of American democracy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press

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