Airline “no-fly” lists trample the rights of people of color. Seattle should not allow hotels to create “no stay” lists

Friday, July 19, 2019
In America, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Yet throughout history, the creation of “blacklists” used to ban and/or surveil people has eroded this principle. (The term itself is a product and propagator of racism, as scholars have pointed out.)

In the McCarthy era, public sector employees and union activists were targeted for government surveillance because of their political beliefs.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, “no-fly” lists were created, and continue to be administered in secret, resulting in the unfair and harmful racial profiling and harassment of Muslims and members of the South Asian community.

And this month, the ACLU of Washington was troubled to learn that Seattle is seeking to delegate to private, for-profit corporations the creation, administration, and enforcement of a list of individuals suspected of wrongdoing.

It’s 2019, and the lists persist.

We ought to know better. History has repeatedly shown that lists like these fail to make us safer, lack procedural protections for the rights of those listed, and disproportionately target people of color. And now, in our digital age, such lists present yet another risk: Unless necessary and appropriate steps are taken to protect sensitive data, the information they collect is insecure.  

Seattle’s list proposal comes with good intentions. Known as Chapter 14.26, it was added by the Seattle City Council to a package of voter-approved ordinances that appropriately recognize that hotel workers, who are typically women and often women of color, often work in isolation in hotel rooms, putting them at heightened risk for assault and harassment on the job.

Seattle should implement safeguards for the protection of vulnerable workers. However, having hotels create their own “no-stay” lists is no way to do this. 

In a letter sent to the Seattle City Council, the ACLU-WA explained that Chapter 14.26 is problematic because it contains language that is vague and open to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement; doesn’t provide people accused of sexual assault with appropriate notice and an opportunity to be heard; and delegates law enforcement, adjudication, and sentencing authority—core responsibilities of government in a democracy— to private for-profit corporations, essentially privatizing public functions.

The letter also raises concerns about the disproportionate impact a list provision will likely have on men of color in particular; and about the security of the data hotels would be required to maintain.

We urged the Seattle City Council to delete the sections of the ordinance that pertain to the creation and maintenance of lists and leave the rest intact.