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Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Stanford Student on ‘No-Fly’ List


U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco, California, recently ruled that a Malaysian Stanford student’s legal rights were violated because she was wrongly put on the “no-fly” list nine years ago. The judge noted that the “government concedes that the plaintiff is not a threat to national security.” He said she is “entitled by due process to a … remedy that requires the government to cleanse and/or correct its lists and records of the mistaken information.”

Rahinah Ibrahim attempted to board a flight in 2005 to Hawaii from San Francisco International Airport, but was told she was on the no-fly list. After a two-hour ordeal at the airport, during which she was questioned and denied any connection to terrorism, an agent of the Department of Homeland Security told her that her name had been removed from the no-fly list and she was free to fly to Hawaii. She then flew from Hawaii for a visit home to Malaysia. But when she tried to return via Kuala Lumpur International Airport two months later, she was stopped and the U.S. Embassy said her U.S. student visa was cancelled due to a suspected connection to terrorism. An eight-year legal battle followed, during which she was unable to return to the United States. She finished her Stanford education remotely.

Her attorneys filed suit seven years ago against several agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. Government attorneys have been secretive, citing national security issues, Judge Alsup noted, and it was difficult to gain access to information. “It has gone so far as even to redact from its table of authorities some of the reported case law on which it relies! This is too hard to swallow,” Judge Alsup noted.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit in a similar case, representing 13 U.S. citizens who were blocked from air travel after a failed bombing attempt on Christmas Day 2009. The 13 citizens were not told why they were blocked or how to remove their names from the list. ACLU attorney Nusrat Choudhury said, “The Constitution prohibits the government from smearing people as suspected terrorists due to an entirely secret process, then not giving them a fair chance to defend themselves.”

See also: background on the Ibrahim case and similar cases

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