Analysis of Critical U.S. Supreme Court Watchlisting and Surveillance Case: FNU Tanzin v. Tanvir

As The Legal Coop continues addressing the many causes of harassment, there is one difficult topic that keeps coming up: misdirected police and intelligence resources.

These types of cases recur on corruption or flaws within our law enforcement system, and are difficult but not impossible to address. One common denominator is false charges or rumor, translating into prolongued surveillance, watchlisting, and harassment of law abiding citizens.

If you do not believe such situations occur, FNU Tanzin v. Tanvir (“Tanvir”) is an excellent source of clarity. In Tanvir the allegations are of persons watchlisted who did not commit a crime. Rather, in a very good example of a flaw in the system, they were allegedly watchlisted because the government wanted to recruit them.

That’s right, watchlisting, as a means to eager labor.

This alleged ground for watchlisting is interesting, and one of the most baseless reasons we see : some official wanting a certain person, to rope them into their prized den of Confidential Human Source informants.

As in, they wanted a snitch, and they thought watchlisting would make the recruiting easier.

Little credence if any, seems given to the individual’s wishes on the matter. Once watchlisted, some leaders in the community are told to ‘watch’ the person for reasons unkown, and word gets around. Then, lore has it that some will endeavor to expedite a calamitous ‘fall,’ where recruitment offers are more likely to succeed. Exclusion, job losses, and harassment eventually become the norm; there is no chance to confront the accuser, and no amends made for the ensuing suffering and economic losses.

Tanvir is among the cases aimed at changing that, first by establishing the destructive nature of watchlisting. There are many harrowing tales of pursuit, derision, and aggression, all of which establish watchlisting is not really subtle watching, rather devolving into baiting and thus bringing undeserved and devastating consequences on good people. Tanvir also implicates religious freedom, due the well documented practice of heavy watchlisting, entrapment, and surveillance being leveled against muslim communities.

The second critical aspect of Tanvir is enabling fee awards to the few attorneys who pursue such cases. Fee awards make sense: Most victims are bewildered, shamed, and otherwise paralyzed by the inexplicable obloquy; they wait too long before enforcing their rights. This predictably renders many of them destitute. As a result, legal avenues for relief become inaccessible and underutilized, simply because victims lack means to hire counsel. Absent fee awards, even pro bono attorneys are not incentivized to stand up for these people.

The presence of this case on the US Supreme Court docket has already created additional benefits. Scholars have been motivated to expose flaws in our watchlisting system, resulting in several useful amicus briefs. Amicus briefs are authored by “friends” of the court, who supplement the work of counsel in an important case. Quite frequently, the presence of several amicus briefs signals an important case. There are over a dozen amicus briefs in Tanvir.

These amicus briefs are frequently from leaders in the field, and useful for educating legal scholars, lawyers, law enforcement. They will provide a means to stem the excesses that are occuring within our current watchlisting and surveillance system. Two of the amicus briefs discuss current flaws in the process and the effects watchlisting is having on good citizens. Discussion Sections of interest include:

“The Combination of Substantial Control and
Low Oversight Invites Error and Misuse.”

“Once Individuals Have Been Swept Up
Into The System, It Is Almost Impossible
For Them To Escape It.”

“Watchlisted Individuals Suffer

The Legal Coop is providing the briefs for download here, so they can be used to enlighten people who fail to understand the consequences of our current watchlisting system:

In our country we have established that certain impairments to our freedom or property require notice of the causal charge, and a meaningful opportunity to contest it. These principles are mostly embodied in our right to trial by a jury of our peers. Flaws in our current watchlisting system allow the transformation of simple rumors into secret and devastating charges, from which no one can extricate themselves through a trial, nor have the opportunity to confront the accusers. Our will and resources should align to prevent these unlawful practices from continuing – to preserve the essential and delicate freedoms that protect us all.

Here is a link to the Tanvir docket, the case is up for Oral Argument at the U.S. Supreme Court this Fall.

In viewing cases like Tanvir, it is good to see good work being done by good people, trying to put an end to the flawed practices which imperil our basic freedoms. If you appreciate this work, please encourage us by going to and making a small donation.

Thank You.

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