| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO Feb 6 A long court battle waged
by a Malaysian architect over her mistaken inclusion on the U.S.
government's no-fly list may never have started if a federal
agent had marked the correct boxes on an official form.
Rahinah Ibrahim sued the U.S. government in 2006 after she
was placed on the no-fly list and was then denied a U.S. visa.
After years of litigation and appeals, U.S. District Judge
William Alsup in San Francisco issued a short statement last
month saying that existing procedures to correct mistakes on the
no-fly list do not provide adequate due process protections.
The judge's detailed opinion, publicly filed on Thursday,
describes how Ibrahim wound up on the no-fly list in the first
According to the ruling, an FBI agent in San Jose,
California, had not intended to place Ibrahim on the list, but
checked the wrong boxes on a form.
"That it was human error may seem hard to accept - the FBI
agent filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite
from the instructions on the form," Alsup wrote, "a bureaucratic
analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit - human error,
yes, but of considerable consequence."
A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment
on the ruling.
The no-fly list has become the subject of multiple legal
challenges. Ibrahim's case is believed to have been the first to
go to trial, which took place in December.
Ibrahim attended Stanford University on a student visa,
according to court filings. In early 2005, she was detained for
two hours at San Francisco's airport because authorities
believed she was on the no-fly list.
Eventually, she was allowed to travel to Malaysia. However,
her U.S. visa was revoked under a legal provision relating to
suspected terrorist activities, though she was not told the
specific factual basis for that action. She has not been allowed
to return to the United States.
Ibrahim petitioned U.S. authorities to clear her name, but
instead received a letter that did not say whether she was still
on the no-fly list. She filed a lawsuit, claiming that her
inability to return to the United States damaged her
The U.S. government has since conceded that Ibrahim is not a
national security threat. She is currently the dean of
architecture at Universiti Putra Malaysia.
In his ruling, Alsup wrote that it is reasonable to believe
that the FBI agent's original mistake led to Ibrahim's
subsequent visa problems.
Once false information is entered into one government
database, Alsup wrote, "it can propagate extensively through the
government's interlocking complex of databases, like a bad
credit report that will never go away."
Law enforcement must track terrorists and maintain secret
watchlists, such as the no-fly list, Alsup wrote. However, this
case "involves a conceded, proven, undeniable and serious error
by the government," he wrote.
The judge ordered U.S. authorities to correct any mistaken
information about Ibrahim and also to disclose more information
relating to the denial of her visa application.
The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of
California is Rahinah Ibrahim vs Department of Homeland Security
et al, 06-545.
(Reporting by Dan Levine, editing by G Crosse)