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Liberty, safety, and the TSC

A precis of protection against violation of Americans’ Constitutional rights

The Terrorist Screening Center officially celebrates seven years of fighting terrorists in the United States late next week. Established as part of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6 — signed by President George W. Bush on September 16th, 2003 — TSC was given specific instructions that it “shall be implemented in a manner consistent with the provisions of the Constitution and applicable laws, including those protecting the rights of all Americans.”

As Benjamin Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” So, how does TSC achieve that balance of liberty and safety for American citizens?

Well, for starters, the vast majority of individuals on the watch list are not even located in the United States — in fact, TSC says that about 95 percent of all the individuals on the consolidated terrorist watch list are not U.S. citizens. Secondly, only individuals who are “known or reasonably suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism” are listed in the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB).

Further, if TSC discovers that someone has errantly been added to the TSDB — it’s rare, but it does happen — there are procedures in place to remove individuals who no longer meet the HSPD-6 terrorism criteria. Among the staff members of TSC there are people specifically assigned to quality assurance. These individuals constantly conduct comprehensive “reviews of TSDB records to ensure they are current, accurate, and thorough.”

The Terrorist Screening Center does not maintain information on persons who are not reasonably suspected of terrorism — that’s part of what makes the system so effective.

And TSC is very, very effective. The Government Accountability Office said in October 2007 that TSC has “helped federal, state, and local screening and law enforcement officials obtain information to make better-informed decisions when they encounter an individual on the list as to the threat posed and the appropriate response or action to take, if any.”

GAO said further that it credits the rise in positive matches with the watch list to TSC’s efforts to “educate federal departments and agencies, state and local law enforcements, and foreign governments about appropriate screening opportunities.”

The TSDB is an effective weapon in the war against terrorists because TSC allows law enforcers and government screeners (such as embassy officials and TSA workers at airports) to use a single terrorist watch list, which is constantly and meticulously updated with up-to-the-minute information about known and suspected terrorists.

Learn more at FBI.gov.

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