Archive for the ‘Freedom To Travel’ Category

11th Circuit Court of Appeals panel kowtows to TSA

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

By a vote of two judges to one, a panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to consider a petition by Jonathan Corbett for review of the TSA’s use of virtual strip search machines and “enhanced patdowns” (genital groping), and has opined that if the court were to consider Mr. Corbett’s petition, it would deny it.

If that sounds irregular, it should. Normally, once a court has found a reason it doesn’t need to decide a case on its “merits”, but can resolve it on procedural or jurisdictional grounds, judicial economy dictates that the court won’t issue any opinion on issues it doesn’t have to reach.

In this case, the two judges in the panel majority went out of their way to erect as many barriers as possible to future court challenges to TSA actions, in contravention of normal principles of appellate adjudication and over a cogent dissent, on exactly these grounds, by the third member of the panel.

The ruling on the “merits” of the petition, while bad, is not unprecedented: Every other petition for Court of Appeals review of the TSA’s virtual strip-search practices has already been dismissed.  That’s largely because Congress has directed the Courts of Appeals to limit their “review” of TSA orders to the “administrative record” supporting the TSA’s actions, as provided to the court by the TSA itself, and to treat any “findings of fact” by the TSA, “if supported by substantial evidence” (and even if controverted by more persuasive evidence) as “conclusive”.

Conclusory declarations by TSA employees, not subject to cross-examination and allegedly based on secrets not in the record (”if you knew the secrets we know but can’t reveal, you’d agree with us”) are almost always deemed sufficient to constitute “substantial” evidence for this purpose.

In other words, the TSA gets to tell the Court of Appeals which evidence to consider, and what factual conclusion to draw from it.  Given that the TSA is allowed to make up the facts to suit its own interests, and submit them to the court in secret, it’s scarcely surprising that the decisions made by the Courts of Appeal on the basis of those “conclusive” factual claims by the TSA are almost invariably in the TSA’s favor.

If you think that’s unjust, ask Congress to change this law and support those who argue to the courts, especially the Supreme Court, that this law is unconstitutional.

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TSA finalizes fine of “Naked American Hero”

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The TSA has issued a final order assessing a $500 civil penalty (administrative fine) against John Brennan, the “Naked American Hero” who took off all his clothes at a TSA checkpoint at the Portland, Oregon airport.

The authority to make the TSA’s final decision in this weighty matter was delegated by the Administrator of the TSA to his second-in-command, Deputy Administrator Melvin Carraway.  Mr. Carraway agreed with lower-level TSA staff that Mr. Brennan’s nudity “interfered” with the ability of TSA staff to “screen” him.

Only now — after a kangaroo-court administrative hearing, a decision by a so-called Administrative Law Judge (not actually a judge), and an administrative appeal to the designated TSA decision-maker — is Mr. Brennan eligible to seek his day in court.

All of the proceedings to date have been purely administrative and internal to the TSA’s decision-making process.  TSA staff are not — at least according to TSA administrative rules — allowed to consider, in carrying out these administrative decision-making functions, whether the TSA rules and procedures they have been hired to carry out are unconstitutional or otherwise illegal.

In an effort to frustrate judicial review of TSA actions, Congress requires the victims of TSA orders to exhaust administrative remedies, as Mr. Brennan has now done, before they are eligible to seek review of the TSA’s final orders by judges who are allowed to consider the Constitutionality of the TSA’s actions.

Mr. Brennan has 60 days from the date of the TSA’s final order, September 19, 2014 (i.e. until November 18, 2014) to file a petition for review of the TSA’s decision in either, at Mr. Brennan’s choice, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals.

We’ve received no response to our May 2013 FOIA request for the TSA’s records of its administrative actions and proceedings against Mr. Brennan.   The most recent estimate provided by the TSA was that they didn’t expect to provide any response until February 2015.

Contributions toward Mr. Brennan’s legal expenses, or offers of pro bono legal assistance, can be made directly to Mr. Brennan at NakedAmericanHero.com.

GAO audit confirms TSA shift to pre-crime profiling of all air travelers

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

A Congressional hearing last week on the so-called “Secure Flight” system for “screening” domestic air travelers confirmed that the TSA has completed a shift from blacklist and whitelist matching to a comprehensive real-time pre-crime profiling system that assigns each air traveler a  “risk assessment” score on the four-step scale we’ve previously described and which is illustrated above in the latest GAO report.

Redacted versions of three audit reports on Secure Flight by the Government Accountability Office (1, 2, 3) were made public in conjunction with GAO testimony at the hearing.  According to one of those reports, “Secure Flight” started out as a blacklist and whitelist matching system:

Since implementation began in January 2009, the Secure Flight system has identified high-risk passengers by matching SFPD [against the No Fly List and the Selectee List, subsets of the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), the U.S. government’s consolidated watchlist of known or suspected terrorists maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, a multiagency organization administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)…. To carry out this matching, the Secure Flight system conducts automated matching of passenger and watchlist data to identify a pool of passengers who are potential matches to the No Fly and Selectee Lists. Next, the system compares all potential matches against the TSA Cleared List, a list of individuals who have applied to, and been cleared through, the DHS redress process.

But that’s not how it works any more. According to the same GAO report:

Since January 2009, the Secure Flight program has changed from one that identifies high-risk passengers by matching them against the No Fly and Selectee Lists to one that assigns passengers a risk category: high risk, low risk, or unknown risk. Specifically, Secure Flight now identifies passengers as high risk if they are matched to watchlists of known or suspected terrorists or other lists developed using certain high-risk criteria, as low risk if they are deemed eligible for expedited screening through TSA Pre-Check — a 2011 initiative to preapprove passengers for expedited screening — or through the application of low-risk rules, and as unknown risk if they do not fall within the other two risk categories. To separate passengers into these risk categories, TSA utilizes lists in addition to the No Fly and Selectee Lists, and TSA has adapted the Secure Flight system to perform risk assessments, a new system functionality that is distinct from both watchlist matching and matching against lists of known travelers.

We’ve said from the start that Secure Flight would not be limited to “list matching” and would assign risk scores to all travelers. Now that’s been confirmed by GAO auditors.  When the TSA talks about “risk-based screening”, what they mean is “pre-crime profiling” of all air travelers.

The diagram at the top of this article shows what the GAO says the current “Secure Flight” profiling process, and its consequences, look like. Note the references to “risk assessments” and “rules-based lists”, although in fact these are real-time scoring systems and there are no publicly-disclosed “rules”.

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Government asks for “do-overs” and delays in no-fly lawsuits

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Faced with a series of Federal court rulings upholding challenges to “no-fly” orders, or allowing them to proceed toward trial, the US government agencies responsible for “no-fly” orders have responded by pretending that they don’t understand what the courts have ordered them to do.

Instead of complying with court orders, the responsible agencies are asking for months of additional time.

In one case, the request for delay is to get “clarification” of a straightforward court order — and to prepare and submit a different set of pleadings than the exhibits and summaries of testimony the court had demanded.

In another case, the government has asked the court — which has already found that the defendants’ secret no-fly decision-making process unconstitutionally denied the plaintiffs due process of law — to remand the case to the defendants themselves, and give them six months to devise and subject the plaintiffs to yet another extra-judicial “review” of the no-fly list by the defendants, before the court even considers whether that (yet to be devised) new-and-improved administrative no-fly listing and internal kangaroo-court “review” system would be Constitutional.

The first court ruling that the no-fly system or a specific no-fly decision was unconstitutional came in January 2014, following the trial last December in San Francisco in Ibrahim v. DHS.  But Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim is not a US citizen, the US government won’t give her a visa to return to the US, and under US law visa denials are generally not subject to judicial review.  So Judge William Alsup’s ruling in that case has had little practical effect either on Dr. Ibrahim or on no-fly listing and decision-making practices affecting other would-be travelers.

Two other pending cases, however, involve US citizens (and in one of the cases some permanent residents or  green-card holders as well) who would be able to travel freely if they weren’t on the no-fly list.

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Sai v. TSA: A case study in TSA secrecy

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Time and time again, the TSA has acted as though its middle name was “secrecy” rather than “security”.

Case in point: Sai v. TSA.

There’s a lot at issue in this case, but here are some of the problems with the TSA that it has exposed:

Sai poses no threat to aviation security. He has an unusual but recognized medical condition, attested to by documentation from his doctor that he carries when he travels, for which he needs ready access to liquids.  The TSA is required by law to accommodate such medical disabilities, as it easily could.  TSA press releases claim that travelers are allowed to bring medically necessary liquids through TSA checkponts in any quantity.

But TSA employees at airport checkpoints at Logan Airport in Boston and the TSA contractors who staff the checkpoints at San Francisco International Airport have, among other improper actions, seized Sai’s medical liquids, denied him access to his medical liquids while detaining him, and refused to allow him to pass through checkpoints or travel by air unless he abandoned his medical liquids.

While detaining Sai, TSA employees and contractors have conducted searches unrelated to weapons or explosives (but directly related to activities protected by the First Amendment), including reading through and copying documents Sai was carrying.

The TSA has never tried to claim that any of these actions were justified by “security” concerns. Instead, the TSA has responded to Sai’s requests for information, administrative complaints, and eventual federal lawsuit solely on the basis of secrecy, when it has responded at all, arguing that it isn’t required to divulge anything about what it has done, why, or whether it is justified.

The TSA claims to practice “layered security,” but Sai’s saga shows how the TSA actually practices “layered secrecy” to shield its activities from public and judicial accountability.

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Another brick in the (falling) REAL-ID wall

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

July 21, 2014 marked “Phase 2″ of implementation of the REAL-ID Act.

What does this mean, and does it matter?

As of July 21, drivers’ licenses and other state ID credentials issued by US states or territories that haven’t been certified by the DHS to comply with the REAL-ID Act cannot be accepted by Federal agencies for access to ID-controlled “restricted” areas of Federal facitlties (”i.e., areas accessible by agency personnel, contractors, and their guests”).

Because Federal agencies typically issue their own ID credentials to their own employees and regular contractors, this will mostly affect occasional visitors to Federal facilities. NASA, for example, which has facilities in states that have not been certified by DHS as sufficiently compliant, has issued this advice to would-be visitors:

Effective July 21, 2014, the implementation of Phase II of the Real-ID Act (2005) restricts the use of state ID from non-compliant states (including New York) as an acceptable form of identification for federal facilities (including NASA GISS). If you are intending to visit GISS and only have a standard drivers license from a non-compliant state, please ensure that you have a second form of ID (passport, military ID, etc.) to avoid unnecessary complications.

It isn’t clear from this notice, or others we’ve seen, what these “unnecessary complications” will amount to. Visitors with ID credentials from non-compliant states will, presumably, be treated as visitors without “valid” state ID credentials, but that begs the questions of whether or on what basis they will be allowed entry after additional scrutiny or some form of alternate ID verification, allowed entry but only if escorted by staff and not allowed unescorted, or denied entry entirely.

In its eseence, the REAL-ID Act was intended to mandate the creation of a distributed national identity card system. The key “compliance” requirement for states and territories is participation in a linked, distributed database of ID-card and biometric information about all ID cardholders nationwide.

The intent of the Federal law is to force states to particpate in (and absorb the cost of) this scheme, sparing the Feds the costs and hassle of issuing national ID cards and providing (implausible) deniability as to whether it’s a “national ID” at all: “See, it’s not a ‘national’ ID card. It’s still issued by your state.”

But since the Feds probably don’t have jurisdiction over state issuance of drivers’ licenses or state ID cards, the REAL-ID Act relies on threats, rather than direct orders, to extort compliance by states resistant to registering their citizens and residents in a national ID database.

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One million people are on watchlists, but all travelers are being watched

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

A million people around the world were listed in the US government’s “Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment” (TIDE) as of August 2013, of whom 680,000 were included in the “Terrorist Screening Database” (TSDB), according to a classified breakdown of watchlist entries and uses published today by The Intercept.

Two weeks ago, The Intercept made public the US government’s watchlisting/witchhunting manual. Now the same publication from the aptly named First Look Media has provided a first look at how many people are affected by “watchlisting” practices, and who these people are.

(Ironically, these revelations come at the same time that the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) is advertising “Watchlisting” jobs.)

The internal government documents published by The Intercept categorize TSDB entries by “group affiliation”, rather than by what (if any) threat these people are believed to pose. But 280,000 of the 680,000 people listed in the TSDB were described as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation”.

Of the entries on the watchlists in the TSDB, 47,000 were on the no-fly list, and 16,000 were on the “selectee” list of people subjected to more intrusive “screening” whenever they fly.  Five thousand “US persons” (US citizens and permanent residents or green-card holders) were on watchlists, including 800 on the no-fly list and 1,200 on the “selectee” list.

As of August 2013, according to these documents, 240 new names were “nominated” to these lists each day, while only 60 entries were removed. That means the million-entry TIDE list was growing at the rate of 180 entries per day, or 65,000 entries per year.

But don’t be misled by the government’s Orwellian use of the term “watchlist” into thinking that “only” a million people are being “watched” by the government or treated as supected terrorists when they travel. US government surveillance of travelers is a dragnet that affects all travelers, not just those on watchlists.

All air travelers are “watched” and our movements and associations are recorded in secret, permanent government dossiers.  All travelers are profiled and assigned secret “risk assessment” scores each time we fly.  All travelers must obtain individualized, per-passenger per-flight government permission before any airline is allowed to issue a boarding pass.

The million people on US government watchlists (as of August 2013) are those who are subjected, on the basis of this blacklisting and dragnet surveillance, to even more intrusive surveillance and/or other restrictions on the exercise of fundamental rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and freedom of movement.

US government’s witchhunting manual made public

Monday, July 28th, 2014

The Intercept has published the March 2013 edition of the US government’s Watchlisting Guidance. This 166-page document, previously kept secret as Sensitive Security Information (SSI), provides standardized but not legally binding “guidance” to Federal executive agencies as to how, on what basis, and by whom entries are to be added to or removed from terrorism-related government “watchlists”, and what those agencies are supposed to do when they “encounter” (virtually or in the flesh) people who appear to match entries on those lists.

The Intercept didn’t say how it obtained the document.

The “Watchlisting Guidance” is the playbook for the American Stasi, the internal operations manual for a secret political police force.  As such, it warrants careful and critical scrutiny.

Most of the initial reporting and commentary about the “Watchlisting Guidance” has focused on the substantive criteria for adding individuals and groups to terrorism watchlists.  Entire categories of people can be added to watchlists without any basis for individualized suspicion, as discussed in Section 1.59 on page 26 of the PDF.

These criticisms of the watchlisting criteria are well-founded. But we think that there are at least as fundamental problems with what this document shows about the watchlisting procedures and the watchlist system as a whole.

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Is it a “state secret” that the no-fly list is unfair?

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Faced with a series of decisions by federal District Court judges that the procedures for putting names on the “no-fly” list lack the due process of law required by the Constitution, and with more no-fly and “watchlist” (blacklist) cases on track toward trial, the government is trying to claim that the basis (if any) for putting a US citizen on the no-fly list is a “state secret” exempt from judicial review.

The case of Gulet Mohamed, a Virginia teenager who was placed on the US no-fly list while he was visiting family members overseas, is one of the most egregious examples of the FBI’s systematic abuse of the no-fly list. It appears that Mr. Mohamed was placed on the no-fly list in order to pressure him to become an FBI informer, as was done with many other US citizens. When Mr. Mohamed’s visa expired and he couldn’t fly home to the USA, he was taken into immigration detention in Kuwait, where he “was repeatedly beaten and tortured by his interrogators,” one of whom spoke “perfect American English.”

After a series of government attempts to get Mr. Mohamed’s complaint dismissed for on jurisdictional and other grounds were rejected, the case was set for the first trial ever on the merits of a no-fly order. (The government had avoided such a trial in the case of Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim by conceding, on the eve of trial, that her initial placement on the no-fly list had been an FBI mistake.)

At this point, however, the government has invoked the “nuclear option” by moving to dismiss Mr. Mohamed’s complaint on the basis of a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder that the reason (if any) why Mr. Mohamed is on the no-fly list is a “state secret” and that it would endanger national security to allow the court to review the no-fly decision or the evidence (if any) supporting it.

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Court rules “no-fly” review procedures lack due process

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

In a significant reaffirmation of the decision earlier this year in Ibrahim v. DHS, another federal District Court has now found that the US government’s administrative procedures for reviewing and appealing “no-fly” decisions violate both Constitutional standards of due process and the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ruling this week by Judge Anna J. Brown of the US District Court for the District of Oregon, in Portland, comes in the case of Latif, et al. v. Holder, et al. This lawsuit was brought in 2010 by the ACLU on behalf of ten US citizens and permanent residents (green card holders). Their stories, as summarized in Judge Brown’s latest ruling, vary, but all of them have been prevented from boarding international flights to or from the US, and/or overflying US airspace.

Some of the plaintiffs in Latif v. Holder have been trapped in the US, separated from family and/or employment opportunities abroad, while others are trapped overseas, unable to return home. At least one of the plaintiffs who booked passage on a passenger-carrying ocean freighter to return to Europe from the USA was denied boarding by the ship’s captain as a result of a “recommendation” from the US Customs and Border Protection division of DHS.

In 2012, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the government’s effort to prevent the District Court from hearing this case. Last year, finally beginning to consider the merits of the complaint, Judge Brown ruled that international travel by air is a right that can only be restricted in accordance with due process of law.

Judge Brown’s latest ruling addresses whether the government’s current procedures, particularly the DHS “Traveler Redress Inquiry Program” (TRIP), provide such due process. Judge Brown has now decided that they do not, and must be changed to provide the subjects of no-fly orders with:

  1. Notice (at least after they have been denied boarding on an international flight and sought redress) of whether they are on the US government’s no-fly list.
  2. At least a summary of the nature of the “suspicion” and the evidentiary basis for the administrative decision to place them on the no-fly list.
  3. An opportunity for some sort of in-person hearing to present evidence to rebut the allegations and evidence against them.

Echoing Judge Alsup’s finding in Ibrahim v. DHS, Judge Brown found that the opportunity to submit exculpatory or rebuttal evidence through the TRIP program is meaningless without notice of what allegations have been made, on what evidentiary basis, and thus of what needs to be rebutted.

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