Malaysian Professor Can Sue to Find Out If She Remains on No-Fly List

By Carlton Purvis

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that a Malaysian woman who was arrested at an airport because her name was on the U.S. no-fly list can sue the government to find out whether she is still on the no-fly list.

The U.S. government has never revealed who is on its watch list or the standards that qualify a person for the list, but among the new standards is that a person does not have to be considered only a threat to aviation, the Associated Press reported last week.

Rahinah Ibrahim is a Malaysian professor, who was completing a doctorate in construction engineering at Stanford University, when she was arrested at San Francisco National Airport on Jan 2., 2005 after her name was flagged as a person of interest on a no-fly list while attempting to travel back to Kuala Lumpur.

Ibrahim’s suit alleges that a United Airlines employee found her name on the no-fly list and contacted authorities who arrested her and placed her in a holding cell for two hours. The FBI later ordered her release and an unidentified person told her that she was no longer on the no-fly list.

Because she missed her original flight, she had to book a flight for the next day. Before boarding, she was told that she was still on the no-fly list but was allowed to continue to Malaysia. She was not allowed to return to the U.S., however. Stanford allowed her to complete her doctoral work from abroad.

Ibrahim filed a complaint in 2006 in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California for violations of her state and federal civil rights. She also wants to know if her name is still on the no-fly list, and if it is, to have it removed from the list so she can return to the United States for professional development opportunities. Her complaint was dismissed after a judge said she could not sue because she was not a U.S. resident, did not live in the country, and did not have "a significant voluntary connection" with the United States.

On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling, allowing her to continue with her suit, saying Ibrahim established that connection by attending Stanford and planning to return to finish her doctorate.

In the last year, the list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying to or within the United States has doubled. A year ago, the list had around 10,000 known terrorists and now has 21,000.

♦ Photo by curimedia/flickr


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