WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union is using a retired minister, a college student, and a member of the military to challenge the government's "no-fly" list of people believed to be the greatest threats to commercial aviation.
The list is put together by the Transportation Security Administration and given to airlines with instructions to stop anyone on it.
"Many innocent travelers who pose no safety risk whatsoever are stopped and searched repeatedly," the ACLU said in a statement issued yesterday.
ACLU officials declined to comment in advance of today's news conference to announce a class-action lawsuit challenging the list. The civil rights group is representing seven plaintiffs, including the military person, the minister, and the student.
The ACLU wouldn't disclose the names of the plaintiffs or details of the suit.
TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield said there are two lists administered by the TSA: no-fly and selectee. Those on the no-fly list are not allowed to board an aircraft. Those on the selectee list must go through more extensive screening before boarding.
Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies request that the TSA put names on the list.
The TSA acknowledged the name-matching technology used by some airlines confuses people on the no-fly list with passengers who have similar names. In such a case, a passenger would be referred to a law enforcement official, who would be able to clear up mistakes by checking the person's identification and perhaps putting in a call to the FBI, Hatfield said.
Problems with the no-fly list have raised questions about the TSA plan to conduct computerized background checks of all airline passengers and to rank them according to their risk of being a terrorist. They say that if a no-fly list with relatively few names causes confusion and produces misidentifications, the government cannot be trusted with a far broader program.
Some people on the no-fly list have found it impossible to get off, said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"There doesn't seem to be any reliable way to resolve the problem that these people continuously confront," Sobel said.
Hatfield said such problems exist but added the agency has worked to help people who have been wrongly identified.
Separately, the TSA said yesterday that it is seeking proposals from companies to run a pilot "registered traveler" program in which low-risk frequent fliers could avoid extra security inspections at airports by submitting to background checks.
Companies are being asked to show how they'd manage the program.