Judge Rules Terrorism Watchlist Violates Constitutional Rights

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a federal government database that compiles people deemed to be “known or suspected terrorists” violates the rights of American citizens who are added to the watchlist, calling into question the constitutionality of a major tool the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security use for screening potential terrorism suspects.

Being on the watchlist can keep people off planes, block them from entering the country, subject them to greater scrutiny by the police and deny them government benefits and contracts. More than a million people are on the list, which is maintained by the F.B.I.’s Terrorist Screening Center.

Although the vast majority of the people on the list are foreigners abroad, several thousand are American citizens who are protected by the Constitution. Among them, a group of 19, represented by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, filed a lawsuit charging that their inclusion violated their due-process rights.

In a 32-page opinion, Judge Anthony J. Trenga of United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia agreed. He granted the plaintiffs summary judgment, although he stopped short of saying what should happen next, asking the Justice Department and the lawyers for the plaintiffs to submit briefings on that topic.

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