Numbers Tell the Story of Our Government’s Watchlisting Binge

The government is adding people to its already bloated watchlisting system at breakneck pace, and it’s still hungry for more. That’s the unavoidable conclusion from documents published yesterday in The Intercept.

Those documents vindicate our concerns and warnings about a massive, virtually standardless government watchlisting scheme that ensnares innocent people and encourages racial and religious profiling.

The documents confirm what we have long suspected: It doesn’t take much to get yourself on a terrorist watchlist. The government’s recently leakedWatchlisting Guidance starts with a poorly defined “reasonable suspicion” standard and then subjects it to so many exceptions and caveats as to render it virtually toothless. The unsurprising result, as is clear from these documents, is a set of watchlists experiencing explosive growth.

Here are some of the numbers that stood out for us (unless otherwise indicated, as of August 2013):

  • 1,000,000: The number of people in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE). TIDE is the government’s central repository of classified information that serves as the basis for various watchlists, including the master watchlist, or Terrorist Screening Database. The National Counterterrorism Center has acknowledged that as of August 1, 2014, TIDE held 1.1 million names — roughly the combined population of Wyoming and Vermont. The documents show that when the government includes people in TIDE, it seeks out and adds to the secret database information, such as photos from state DMVs, and biometric data, like fingerprints, facial images, and DNA strands.

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