New Haven — When a police officer pulled over Peter Santilli last December in Newtown, Ohio, it seemed like a routine traffic stop. But when the officer ran his data in the law enforcement database, Mr. Santilli’s name came up as a match on a terrorist watch list. The cop “pulled out his weapon immediately,” Mr. Santilli said, and told him to put his hands up.
The police later admitted that it was a false match. It’s likely that the match came from a huge, secretive database called the Known or Suspected Terrorist File. The file is linked to the National Crime Information Center database, which law enforcement officers across the country access over 12 million times a day.
Although less known than watch lists like the no-fly list, the K.S.T. contributes to the secret blacklisting and surveillance of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Without due process protections, the file has the potential to ruin innocent people’s lives, while its size dilutes its effectiveness in tracking actual terrorist threats. Moreover, in light of the continuing debate about whether a no-buy list ought to prevent watch listed people from purchasing guns, it is vital that we re-examine the accuracy and effectiveness of these lists.