TSA shows how interested it really is in public comments on its practices

On March 24th, 20 months after being ordered to do so by a Federal judge, the TSA quietly published a notice in the Federal Register “inviting” the public (that’s you!) to submit comments concering its use of ongoing use of virtual strip-search machines to determine who to subject to “enhanced” groping by checkpoint staff.

Does the TSA really want there to be a public written record of what you think of what it does?

You be the judge. Here’s what has happened.

Obviously, not many people read the entirety of the Federal Register every day. The TSA waited almost two weeks before publishing a notice about the public comment period on its official blog on April 4th.  The TSA News Blog has a copy of that original TSA blog post.

Perhaps realizing that, given a chance, the public might actually tell the TSA what we think, the TSA deleted its blog post.

Then the TSA asked Google to delete its cached copy. Google complied, although government publications are in the public domain so there was no issue of copyright infringement or any other legal basis for the government to require Google to go along with the TSA’s rewriting of its Web history.

Flooded with questions about its attempt to expunge its blog post, and why it wasn’t publicizing the “public notice and comment”, the TSA put up another less informative blog post at 7:39 p.m. Washington time today, on a Friday after the close of business and after most daily news deadlines.

Unlike the original deleted TSA blog post, which at least had one link to the correct docket, the entry published today doesn’t include any direct link to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the docket, the folder containing the supplementary documents and the comments submitted to date, or the page with the form to submit comments. Today’s TSA blog entry doesn’t even mention the name or URL of the domain on which the notice and comment form appear (Regulations.gov) or the docket ID number (TSA-2013-0004) that you have to search for to find any of this information if you don’t have a direct link to the correct docket.

All of which just goes to show how much the TSA fears having members of the public discover this opportunity to put our opinion of the TSA on the public record.

So please, tell the TSA (and the members of Congress, judges, etc. who will later be reading and relying on this record) what you think of its practices:

  • Tell the TSA that travel is a right, not a privilege to be granted or denied by the government.
  • Tell the TSA that searches or other conditions required for the exercise of your right to travel are subject to “strict scrutiny”. The burden of proof is on the TSA to show that they are actually effective for a permissible purpose (not just e.g. to catch drugs, which is not supposed to be the TSA’s job) and that they are the least restrictive alternative that will serve that purpose.
  • Tell the TSA how much it has cost you if you haven’t flown because you find the virtual strip-searches and/or the groping by checkpoint staff intolerable and/or traumatizing.
  • Tell the TSA that its current and proposed “rules” are unconstitutionally vague. You can’t tell what is and isn’t prohibited, or what is and isn’t forbidden, at TSA checkpoints. If there are to be any requirements or prohibitions on what you can and can’t do, the TSA needs to spell them out, publicly, so that you don’t have to get arrested to find out whether something is against the law or not.

You can get more ideas from this discussion we were part of last week on C-SPAN, and our previous article about the TSA’s notice and request for comment.

Don’t be put off by the long form. The only field on the comment form that is actually required appears to be your comment itself. You can type in the form, or attach longer comments as a file.

You can also submit comments by e-mail (to Chawanna.Carrington@tsa.dhs.gov), postal mail (to Chawanna Carrington, Project Manager, Passenger Screening Program, Office of Security Capabilities, Transportation Security Administration, 701 South 12th Street, Arlington, VA 20598-6016) , or fax (to 571-227-1931).

The deadline to submit comments is June 24, 2013.

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