There is basically no standard of evidence for being placed on a watch list. It’s hard to even determine if you’re on one or not. And it’s nearly impossible to challenge one’s status. These watch lists have caught up innocent university professors, young children, members of Congress, and many others.
As Kevin Drum points out, even after a federal judge ruled such practices unconstitutional earlier this year and ordered the government to implement at least a modicum of due process, Uncle Sam is still dragging his feet. U.S. lawyers argue (in keeping with Bush-vintage theories of expansive executive authority) that it harms national security to tell people why they are on the watch list — thus making it impossible for people to challenge their status.
These arguments for curtailing civil liberties to better attack terrorism are backwards. The NSA’s dragnet surveillance, for instance, likely harms anti-terrorism efforts, because no detection method is possibly accurate enough to avoid creating a gigantic deluge of false positive reports. Similarly, a watch list with 680,000 people on it, 280,000 of whom have “no recognized terrorist affiliation” and 16,000 of whom are dead, is unquestionably stuffed full of innocent people and thus a hindrance to quality anti-terror efforts (not to mention that neither Syed Farook nor Robert Dear were on any such list). Investigating false leads wastes time as well as inconveniencing innocent people.