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Ask Slashdot: How To Determine If One Is On a Watchlist? 400

An anonymous reader writes: On Slashdot, we joke about it all the time: 'I did a Google search for 'pressure cooker' and I connected a bunch of times to the Tor network to download some Linux distribution .torrent files... I must be on some sort of watchlist now.' There have been news articles about people being questioned in airports and given special attention for being political activists. How can one determine is one is on a watchlist of some sort? Are there any Slashdot users who are knowingly on a watchlist? What sort of suspicious special attention have you received?
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Ask Slashdot: How To Determine If One Is On a Watchlist?

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  • Board a plane? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:00PM (#50917691)

    Board a plane for a domestic or international flight, and you will definitely find out.

    • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @07:01PM (#50918197) Homepage

      The sign is when they won't let you check-in online.

      My neighbor's kid has the same name as an IRA terrorist ... so they had to go through loads of crap every time, to explain that he's 3 ... he might be a terror, but he's not a terrorist.

      I don't know if they still have problems flying with him or not. (He's now in high school)

      This is part of the reason why the 'there are only (x) number of people on the terrorist watchlist' is problematic -- you have (x) people with (y) permutations of their aliases which means (z) people are stopped every time ... except for the people who we deem *so* dangerous that we don't want them to find out they're being watch ... so they're allowed to fly.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I used to have this problem as well. It disappeared when I started traveling with my middle initial. And for any airline/website that doesn't have a field for the middle initial, just append it to the first name, since that's what the ticketing system does internally anyway. Problem solved.

      • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @07:15PM (#50918265) Homepage Journal

        Happened to me once... Was heading to Vermont to pick up my daughter from college. For various reasons, it was easier to split it up into two one-way flights (mostly to guarantee adjoining seats on the return flight).

        Anyways, I couldn't check in online. I go to the counter to check in, and was asked a bunch of leading questions ("You're going to Logan, right?" "No, Burlington Vermont!") over and over. Eventually I checked in.

        While waiting for the gate, I realized... I hit all the flags... Male, travelling alone, no bags, one way.... DING DING DING DING!!

      • Maybe parents should think about this *before* they give their child a name.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @09:17PM (#50918839)
        It's interesting someone can get in trouble in the USA for having the same name as an IRA guy but if you are a Senator it's OK to have raised funds for them and actually met a bunch of the terrorists back when they were setting off bombs in the UK (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_T._King).
      • I'm a frequent flier, and the extended search happens regardless of watchlists. I get it randomly about every 30 flights - 2-3 times a year. It's a bit annoying as it takes me out of the priority line, but the extra search is not really that extensive - a palm check for chemicals and a few extra questions.

        Granted, frequent fliers know how to expedite these things: look bored, tired, and very slightly annoyed. Have everything exactly in order. Fly carry-on. Have your FF badge visible and be part of TSA

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @08:25PM (#50918577) Journal

      My name came up as similar to a listed person when I opened a bank account. A banker friend may be able to run your name.

      I also got more attention from the TSA, but that may be because I used the same bag for a carry-on that I had previously used to go to the gun range, leaving a bit of powder residue all over the bag.

      I assume I'm on a few lists because I work in internet security, meaning I frequent web sites related to hacking and such, plus I (legally) work with fireworks, so I order chemicals and such that could be used to make explosives. Lastly, I'm a conservative who once checked out a Tea Party event, so the current administration is definitely notices that. The IRS started calling after I followed a tea party page on Facebook. Might be coincidence.

    • How To Determine If One Is On a Watchlist?

      Measure the thickness of their tin hat.

  • All of us (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We are all on a watchlist because the US government deems itself to be above the law.

    • Re:All of us (Score:5, Interesting)

      by meerling ( 1487879 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:34PM (#50917983)
      I'd be shocked if I wasn't with the way those paranoid asshats 'work' since I was in the military as a Munitions Systems Specialist (IYAAYAS!), and am an old school computer geek, and several other things that though totally legal, are things the paranoid TLAs (3 letter acronym/agency) has listed as stuff the are paranoid about. So yeah, I always assume they are reading my every posts, and by now their file must be getting full because I like to sprinkle in the occasional keyword like terrorist or explosives just to try and trigger their alert script. I figured if the creeps are spying on me without a warrant and valid suspicions, I should make their work as hard as possible! Personally I haven't met many people from any of those groups, but the few I have were uniformly egotistical, paranoid, irrational, and rather low on the intellect scales. I'm sure there must be somebody intelligent working for them, and pity that poor damned soul.
      • by mi ( 197448 )

        the few I have were uniformly egotistical, paranoid, irrational, and rather low on the intellect scales

        Exactly the types, in other words, attracted by the tedious stability of working for the government (except the military).

        The uniformed kind are even worse, for those jobs provide an occasional right to order other people around — which is especially attractive to assholes, whose most glorious days peaked in highschool.

        Next time somebody wonders, why the silly Americans resent their government so m [prisonplanet.com]

      • Munitions Systems Specialist (IYAAYAS!) An ammo troop, huh? I used to wait for you guys all the time. I might have even been waiting on you personally. You know who I am...:)...that crew waiting on your delivery.
        But yes...you and I are probably on some 3rd level 'list', by virtue of having knowledge of how and where.

        BTW...happy belated Veterans Day.
  • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:02PM (#50917707)

    Don't ask if you're on the watch list. If you weren't before, you are now.

    Alternatively: Realize that everyone is on a watch list and nothing will happen to you unless you stir up some shit. If you're a journalist investigating this shit your life will be hard. If you're a nerd who likes to Google a lot of shit and post about how you hate the government they'll just laugh at you.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:19PM (#50917867)

      Don't ask if you're on the watch list. If you weren't before, you are now.

      Alternatively: Realize that everyone is on a watch list and nothing will happen to you unless you stir up some shit. If you're a journalist investigating this shit your life will be hard. If you're a nerd who likes to Google a lot of shit and post about how you hate the government they'll just laugh at you.

      The US is not a free country. As much as I think it is good to try and restore our freedoms, I think people need to stop and think before asking too many questions. Most of us have families and careers or want to have... this isn't the 1960s when you could protest the government and assume that the FBI record keeping was so bad that in a few years nobody gave a shit. Once you get on a watch list for being uppity in the 20 teens you are fucked for life. So unless you want to make a career of being against the man and holding up a cardboard sign as the world actually is ending around you, then you should work towards policy changes with polite suggestions made through your elected representatives or actually staying below the radar and becoming part of government and not annoying public officials who may abuse their power over you just because they can.

      • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @07:48PM (#50918405) Journal

        The US is not a free country. As much as I think it is good to try and restore our freedoms...

        It was never a free country, not for everyone. The reason we're hearing all about "losing our freedoms" is that now it's finally happening to white people who have money.

        When it was just the blacks, or the Indians or the Jews or the Japanese, or whomever, then it was "What a free country we are! And freedom isn't free, y'all."

        But now that Biff Biffington has concerns about back doors in his crypto, it's "HOLY SHIT THIS AIN'T RIGHT!" Well, welcome to the party.

      • That's basically the same everywhere, but some places are worse than others. The US is good at making sure there's a legal framework for a lot of this crap. It does nominally restrict what they can get away with. If you stick to the letter of the law, and they fail to, you will eventually win (after much suffering). Many other places are notoriously bad about it, willfully breaking their own laws and often just erasing you.
      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        then you should work towards policy changes with polite suggestions

        Unfortunately that's how it works - "these pictures of Benjamin in green politely suggest you push for a change in policy".

    • nothing will happen to you unless you stir up some shit

      If you are being denied access to transportation, something already happened to you.

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:03PM (#50917719) Homepage Journal

    Back in the late 1980's going to the 2600 meetings in NYC got you automatically photographed by the FBI. These days, attend a conference such as HOPE or DefCon, and I guarantee you're on a watchlist.

    • by msimm ( 580077 )
      That would be weird. Security professionals get CE/CEU/CPE(s) for attending such conferences. Maintaining baseline DoD Directive 8570.01 require such certifications. Good security requires up-to-date training and conferences such as these provide a wealth of information.
  • by dohzer ( 867770 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:05PM (#50917727) Homepage

    I've had you on my watchlist for the last few months because your apartment is across the road from mine and you don't close your bedroom curtains at night. In case it matters, you're in the 10:25-10:35 time slot.

  • Cooking devices and Linux torrents a domestic terrorist do not make. You must be a little on the (possibly overly) cautious side to use Tor (private) for torrents (public) in the first place. FOIA requests would probably work. But a cup of chamomile tea might do you more good in the long run.
    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:30PM (#50917943) Homepage

      In fairness, there is no standard of evidence to be put on these lists. Damned near anybody in law enforcement can put someone on a list, just because they feel like it or have a hunch, or because they don't like you.

      And then you're on a list managed by idiots who have no real idea why you're on the list. Then the idiocy becomes self-fulfilling, because if you're on the list, it must be for a reason.

      If you are on a list, there is a very good chance the people who maintain that list have no idea why. Which means without evidence, documentation, or recourse your life can get somewhat screwed up, and the idiots who maintain the list don't know or care how you got there; which means there's not a damned thing you can do to fix it.

      Really, as long as it's so trivial to put people on the list, there's probably tons of people who are there for no reason at all.

      This whole bullshit notion of you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide is just that ... bullshit. If using Tor is enough to get you on a watchlist, the people who run those lists are idiots, and ignoring things like evidence and probable cause.

      Fascists just love things like that.

  • BTW, having a wireless password of password is just asking for it.
    • BTW, having a wireless password of password is just asking for it.

      Hello? When it says 'enter password' it won't work if you've changed it from "password" will it? You'd have to re-program it to say 'enter pX?#@V32L9=)4!*7!$%!Ka&%M3zPk82' or whatever clever and unbreakable new word you decide on.

  • I spoke with a friend on the phone not too long ago, and we may have mentioned a bunch of ECHELON keywords. I don't TOTALly RECALL...;)

    My phone did auto-restart though (which it has never done in the 2 years I've had it, no updates either...) after that I only got 3g, and crappy reception in my apartment.

    I was like for someone in IT, couldn't you afford a 4G stingray?
    • A few years ago I spoke over the phone to someone in a former communist country and may have mentioned 'America'. Suddenly we heard what must have been old soviet era analog recording equipment engage and the line became noticeably noisier from then on. Nice subtle touch, guys. Probably worked OK back when telephone was entirely analog and noise was the norm, but lines are mostly digital now. If your country's broke, don't fix it :-)
  • by ShaunC ( 203807 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:17PM (#50917843)

    Do you use the internet? You are on a watchlist. The more interesting question would be which ones, and of course most of us have no way to know.

    I spend a lot of time reading and commenting on current events on another site, and I like to back up my comments with citations, so this leads me to Google all sorts of things. Offhand today I've searched for feces swastika (re: the U of Missouri stuff) and officers shot or killed (a story about one officer shooting another off-duty officer). Last night I was reading a thread about the Mazda RDX and so I Googled RDX; RDX is also the name of a military explosive. Around that time I was also searching for various terms related to the Missouri protests.

    Some overzealous algorithm might see a person searching for RDX and Mizzou and officer and shooting all within close proximity, and get me on a list I really would rather not be on. That's one of the big problems with automated bulk surveillance, I imagine it's connecting a lot of dots that truly aren't connected.

    See you on the list!

    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      >> Do you use the internet? You are on a watchlist.

      That would be cool, because if literally everyone is on it the list would be totally useless. It is actually in the black chopper guys best interest to keep their watch lists as short as possible too. Whether they also think that is of course a whole other question.

      • because if literally everyone is on it the list would be totally useless.

        Only if it's an unordered list. You could have a list of (nearly) every person in the USA, but if it's ordered by some sort of threat metric as long as you're not in the first couple million or so entries you shouldn't have a problem.

        That being said, that's actually the problem that the NSA has been having. Sure, they grab huge amounts of data, but only the tiniest fraction receives more than cursory automatic analysis, and only a tiny fraction of that is actually looked at by a human.

        In short, they spend

  • They'll tell you when they come for you.

  • In My Case ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DakotaSmith ( 937647 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:20PM (#50917873) Homepage

    In my particular case, I first learned I was on a terrorist watch list in 2004, when I renewed my drivers' license.

    The lady at DMV informed me of it, and said there would be an additional three-week wait for my license while they did a background check on me.

    Ever since, every time I've flown, I've been pulled aside for additional searches and questioning,

    The fun part is that there's no way to get off the list. I've now have three Congressman and a Senator from two different States tell me this.

    The really infuriating part is that I suffer from an anxiety disorder. The only danger to those around me is if I go off my meds and then fly to pieces so fast people get hit by the shrapnel.

    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      >> The only danger to those around me is if I go off my meds

      Maybe thats why you're on a watchlist :-)

    • In my particular case, I first learned I was on a terrorist watch list in 2004, when I renewed my drivers' license.

      In my case, I am quite certain that I am not (or was not last year). I flew with my wife and daughter to Seattle (domestic). Both on the way there and the way back, my wife and I were "randomly" selected for the pre-check line (less intrusive scanning). Bizarrely, my daughter, who was travelling with us on the same booking, was not selected for pre-check for either flight.

      We did see the ai

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Yet a Senator who raised money for the IRA and met a lot of active members back when they were blowing people up in the UK is not on such a list. You are on it but a known associate who provided material support to known terrorists, and is proud of it, is on the committee responsible for the list!
  • by ArchieBunker ( 132337 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:23PM (#50917893) Homepage

    Why were you downloading torrents through the TOR network? Its pointless and clogs exit nodes.

    • by Skewray ( 896393 )

      Why were you downloading torrents through the TOR network? Its pointless and clogs exit nodes.

      Now *that* is a good reason to put someone on a watch list!

      • Why were you downloading torrents through the TOR network? Its pointless and clogs exit nodes.

        Now *that* is a good reason to put someone on a watch list!

        That's what I was thinking. What would be the motivation for hiding a Linux download?

    • Are you honesty suggesting people should only use Tor when they're doing something shady? Because that would be stupid.

      See, things like encryption, the goal is to use it all the time, and deny anybody the ability to differentiate when you're doing something you feel needs some extra security.

      It is legal to use Tor, as such, there is no reason why you wouldn't use it for everything just to send a big "fuck you" to the people who want to snoop on you. That the people who spy on you would prefer you didn't u

  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:26PM (#50917913) Homepage Journal

    You are already on a watch list. Somewhere.

    After all, most NSA people are geeks, and so they read Slashdot. To the point they did a MITM using a fake Slashdot page. [techdirt.com]

    Oh, and by the way: hi NSA!

    A more serious reply is this one: they don't want you to know you are on a watch list. If you represent a serious target, they REALLY don't want you to know. On the other hand, if you have any reason to suspect you are a serious target, assume the worst and unplug now.

    • A more serious reply is this one: they don't want you to know you are on a watch list. If you represent a serious target, they REALLY don't want you to know. On the other hand, if you have any reason to suspect you are a serious target, assume the worst and unplug now.

      Why would anyone tip their hand and let them know you know? This is the kind of advice meted out by amateurs and NSA shills.

      Oh, and by the way: hi NSA!

      Figures... wave to your pals.

      After all, most NSA people are geeks, and so they read Slashdot.

      You would know.

  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:40PM (#50918031) Homepage
    If the government didn't know about you before, they will after you get hired for a government job. My two-hour background interview lasted four hours because I had to list every I.T. contract job I did since the Great Recession. Security folks frown on the practice of having two jobs at the same time, say a weekday job and a weekend job, which I had to do after being out of work for two years and filing for chapter seven bankruptcy. Living in the same studio apartment for ten years was another flag, as that was inconsistent with being unemployed for two years and filing for chapter seven bankruptcy. We went back and forth on those two points. And then Chinese hackers stole my background file along with millions of other government employees.
  • Of course not, citizen. Thank you for asking. Could you step this way for a moment, please?

  • What sort of suspicious special attention have you received?

    Back in '97, my roommate and I went over to Vietnam. She's from there and we went over to visit some friends--purely tourist stuff. While I was there, I visited the Cu Chi tunnels and picked up a Vietnamese Officer's cap from the gift shop--My "Commie Hat," as I call it. I brought it with me on the flight back and was wearing it when I got to the airport in the US.

    So I get off the plane and I stop and look at the big sign they have discussing th

  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @06:45PM (#50918073)
    congratulations! you're on /.
  • 1. Make a FOIA request with your name and possibly other identifying information
    2. Congratulations! You are now on a watchlist

  • At this point, what difference does it make?

    If you are on a list, you are on it. You won't know one way or another until some authority who uses the list when dealing with you, and even then you may not know. Apart from actually doing something illegal, chances are you will never be on a list beyond the IRS's.

    IMHO - I'm just guessing here, but I seriously doubt that you have caught the attention of *anybody* compiling lists of people to watch compiled by the government if your identity wasn't already sus

  • Not part of Thomas Jefferson's plan for democracy. Who is the enemy? YOU ARE!
  • If you get a plane ticket and it's has the 3 letter code SSSS
    then you are on list to be pulled aside for special screening.

    But this watchlist is kinda arbitrary. got a couple cousins that work for TSA, of course it's easy to infiltrate TSA as they hire anyone when there's openings. Even highschool dropouts work for TSA minimum wage.

    Anyhow they've fucked with assholes before by tossing them in the list so any future plane tickets they ever purchase will be tagged SSSS

    SSSS = the new "SS" hehe

    but yea you see t

    • Just to let you know that you might not be on that list if you see that code though. That code is also given out "randomly" to flyers from time to time. I have had it 2 times in the past, both times were when I had open ended tickets with no return flight booked because I didn't know how long I was going to be needed at the destination. I also fit the single, male, in mid-late 20's, flying alone categories... All in all, enough to flag me. But I have also flown many times as well both before those incidents
  • Pressure Cooker + Ina Garten = cool

    Pressure Cooker + ISIS = no fly

    Pressure Cooker + Anthony Bordain = check for drugs

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Thursday November 12, 2015 @07:20PM (#50918275) Homepage Journal
    Apply for a security clearance for work or to improve looking for gov/mil work.
    Look into getting a police check or certificate for local work.
    That would induce paperwork see if a person has been placed on a basic, direct national not trusted list.
    The "political activists" can face a very passive surveillance just to see who a person talks to, walks with, sends emails, letters, phones, spends hours with.. IM lists, IRC, web 2.0, international VOIP, IM with a person not added to a friends list or not shared with a common third persons IM list, any contact with 1950-80's activists or their work.
    A lot of advanced "charity" and "corporate" network tracking is often shared with or sold to gov, mil to see what political connections people make.
    If you are a journalist, press, media expect gov backed malware crafted just for your computers, cell phone. No consumer grade protection will have any record of it and view it as normal OS like functionality. Traces of such efforts can point to gov interest in a person.
    What are most Western governments looking for at this time is passive collect it all databases that show hops, links, connections, people talking politics, crypto.
    Build up too much of an online reputation and have the ability to sway, protect or publish mil or gov whistleblowers material is really when the gov and mil take note.
    Crypto and advance maths skills? Creating open source projects with advanced crypto skills passed on from advance university learning that was for placement for mil or gov jobs. Changing from closed source well paid private sector skills to open source crypto.. that will get a lot of gov attention and for anyone in the same project forum, IRC chats, code site.
    What books a person buys online on what topics. Years of bulk non fiction can show a person deep in thought about political issues. Some more nonfiction book orders can help with that list..
    Basically a person is waiting for enough of a gov database to move form a person of interest to active protest group or political group creation.
    Another tracking point is *who* is reading your work, code, looking for you online. If workers with security clearances are been tracked looking up your blog, your work as a journalist, chatroom, code project, as an author...in own time, at home.. your work is an issue for a gov or mil.
    University presentations on open, public papers surrounding crypto, gov, mil whistleblowers material even if your nation has freedom of the press, freedom after and of speech.
    'How Covert Agents Infiltrate The Internet To Manipulate, Deceive, And Destroy Reputations" (Feb. 25 2014) https://theintercept.com/2014/... [theintercept.com]
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Just another note, writing/speaking on collating economic and open source financial intelligence data or related computer programming and polygraph research (lie detector for security interviews in some nations) will make a list too :)
  • First, if you're a US citizen or Green Card Holder, or applying for a Green Card or citizenship you're on a passive watch list by the FBI.

    This is a thought of as a protective service, an insurance policy provided by the government by investing in you, as a citizen to be a part of this country, and by you choosing to be a part of this country.

    What this passive watch list means is - first and foremost - if you show extreme pattern disruptions and interruptions in your behaviors which can be detrimental to you

  • The NSA have set up a hotline for this. The number is +49 174 276 6483 and you'll be added to the watchlist with no further fuss. More details here: http://hop3.de/konzept_en.html [hop3.de]
  • Every time i fly i am subject to the "random" bag search.

  • And have a background processes constantly browsing livegoatporn.com so they have something interesting to look at while they're watching you.
  • I was on a list. I don't know what list. Or why. Or how I got added. Or how I (eventually) got removed (I think the latter has something to do with a review process that my senator's staff helped initiate.)

    For me it took the form of an additional ID check. When flying, I was not permitted to print boarding passes in advance or check in at a kiosk in the airport - I received a non-specific error message if I tried either of those things and was told to check in with an agent. Then, when I would check i

  • ...and ask. Whatever the answer you know for sure you're now on a watchlist.
  • they can watch me pick my nose, and scratch my ass, and then i will wash my hands and cook lunch, since i almost killed myself on a motorcycle i am as harmless as a kitten, i can barely walk anymore, now that i am more comfortable in a chair i am considering teaching myself some basic coding on linux and maybe if i am lucky i will make some software that will make people happy
  • if you got a name and/or a face and/or have ever left the woods, your're leaving trails that will be collected, linked and analysed. but there's only so much money the lizard people can give to the illuminaliens to pay for your anal probes. also, unfortunately the financial crisis affects the interstellar export of soylent green and glagnar's human rinds too, so that leads to budget cuts as well. so, until our new & cheap robot overlords take over, you're pretty much safe.
  • The last time I flew into the U.S. the TSA guy was typing my family's details into the computer while still wearing his (hopefully unused) blue surgical gloves. He sent the rest of my family through but not me. He asked me to accompany him, and at that stage I started to clench. Thankfully I just had to sit in a room for 5 minutes and then answer some inane questions, and I was on my way, rectum unscathed.

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