The ACLU is concerned that in its zeal to protect the flying public in the wake of the attempted Christmas terrorist attack on an airplane that civil liberties may be trampled in the process.
The organization believes that "fear and panic" could lead to the surrendering of liberities - and in return - it says - creating a false sense of security.
The ACLU is urging Washington to enact procedures that both pose the least threat to civil liberties and are proven to be effective. It argues that racial profiling, routine full body scanning and overly expansive terror watch lists do not fit that criteria.
"Singling out travelers from a few specified countries for enhanced screening is essentially a pretext for racial profiling, which is ineffective, unconstitutional and violates American values,” said Michael German, national security policy counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office and a former FBI agent. “Empirical studies of terrorists show there is no terrorist profile, and using a profile that doesn't reflect this reality will only divert resources by having government agents target innocent people."
The ACLU says that full body scanners present serious threats to personal privacy and are of unclear effectiveness. It says that, according to security experts, the explosive device used in the attempted attack on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day may well not have been detected by the body scanners.
The current terrorist watch lists, the ACLU says, are bloated and keep innocent travelers from flying. Their enormous size not only harms innocent travelers but also wastes the time of screeners and obscures true threats. To be effective, it says, no-fly lists must be narrow and focused on the very few true terrorists who pose a genuine threat to flight safety.
"We welcome President Obama's emphasis on better information and intelligence sharing between government agencies,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. “Our limited security resources should be invested where they will do the most good and have the best chance of thwarting attacks, and that means developing competent intelligence and law enforcement agencies that will stop terrorists before they get to the airport."