Amtrak lied to travel agents who questioned ID requirements

September 19th, 2017

The encouraging disclosure in the latest installment of documents released by Amtrak in response to one of our Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests is that some travel agents resisted Amtrak demands that they collaborate in surveillance, profiling, and control of train travelers by entering passport or ID numbers and details in each reservation for cross-border Amtrak travel.

According to an email message to Amtrak from a product manager at Worldspan (one of the major computerized reservation systems), “We have one subscriber [i.e. a travel agency that uses Worldspan] that has checked the Federal Register and is quoting ‘chapter and verse’ that it is not mandated … to provide the data”:

Some travel agents pushed back repeatedly, read the official notices and instructions to travel agents about the rail API program carefully (and correctly), and made a travel agency “policy decision of non-provision” of ID data about their customers:

Kudos to the unnamed travel agencies that refused to help the government spy on their customers and called Amtrak on its lies that this was required.

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TSA says it doesn’t know how to copy files

September 18th, 2017

We’ve gotten used to delays, obstruction, and slander from TSA privacy and Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) officers. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether these result from incompetence, under-staffing, lack of diligence, mendacity, malice, or some combination of these and/or other factors.

The latest in these TSA FOIA follies is a letter we got last week from the TSA’s FOIA appeal officer, saying that the TSA doesn’t know how to copy computer files, and doesn’t know the names of any of the files on their computers or any other filesystem information or metadata about those files:

You assert that TSA should be able to reproduce digital files as bitwise copies. TSA does not maintain records in bitwise format nor can we produce records in such a format. Additionally,… the file or filesystem data or metadata from the raw format of the records are not available.

Where does this nonsense come from? Do the officials making these statements really believe them, or expect us to?

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Federal court can review the Constitutionality of Federal blacklists

September 13th, 2017

A Federal judge has ruled that yes, he can review the Constitutionality of Federal blacklists (euphemistically but misleadingly labeled “watchlists”).

That should be an unsurprising finding. But “pre-crime” and predictive policing programs, including decisions to put people on blacklists that are used to control what they are and aren’t allowed to do, have largely operated in secrecy and outside the rule of law.

Rather than defending blacklisting programs or individual blacklisting decisions, the Federal government — under both Democratic and Republican administrations — has consistently argued that it should not be required to disclose, explain or defend these decisions, the identity of the decision-makers, the criteria for their decisions, or the “derogatory” information on which these decisions are purportedly based, either to the people who have been blacklisted or to the courts.

Too often, even sixteen years after 9/11/2001, courts still traumatized by memories and fears of 9/11 have acquiesced to these Executive-branch claims that the conduct of the “war on terror” is exempt from judicial review.

In this context, the decision last week by Judge Anthony Trenga of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Virginia, rejecting the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit by blacklisted Muslim Americans, is one of the most significant steps to date toward legal accountability for the DHS and its accomplices in the war at home against Americans secretly accused and extrajudicially sanctioned through Federal blacklisting.

The decision comes in a case brought by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of 24 individuals and as as a class action on behalf of all those who have suffered adverse consequences as a result of arbitrarily and without due process being named on Federal blacklists (“watchlists”) . As we reported when this case was filed last year, it’s the most fundamental challenge to date to the Constitutionality of the entire scheme of DHS and FBI pre-crime blacklists based on secret administrative procedures and algorithms rather than on court orders such as criminal convictions, injunctions, or restraining orders.

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California DMV proposes to “comply” with the REAL-ID Act

September 11th, 2017

On September 1, 2017, the California Department of Motor Vehicles quietly published a notice of proposed regulations that would purportedly allow the California DMV to issue drivers licenses and state ID cards that would be “compliant” with the Federal REAL-ID Act of 2005:

For many years, the California DMV has appeared intent on eventual “compliance” with the REAL-ID Act, regardless of whether that compliance was authorized by the legislature. The current DMV rulemaking proposal to bring California into “compliance” with the REAL-ID Act by administrative fiat is the latest and most significant step along that path, and a disturbing effort to bypass legislative debate.

We encourage all Californians who are concerned about freedom of movement, Federal commandeering of state agencies to function as agents for enforcing Federal restrictions on individual rights, and lack of transparency, oversight and accountability for biometric and ID databases to submit comments opposing the proposed regulations and, if you can make it to Sacramento, to testify at the hearing on October 16th.

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No US passports for “terrorist sympathizers”?

September 8th, 2017

Bills are moving forward in both houses of Congress which, if approved, would mandate the administrative, extra-judicial revocation, non-renewal, and refusal of issuance of a US passport to any US citizen, even if their citizenship is unquestioned and they have been accused of no crime, but “whom the Secretary [of State] has determined is a member of or is otherwise affiliated with an organization the Secretary has designated as a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189).”

The proposed legislation would leverage administrative determinations related to immigration (which US courts have allowed to be largely exempted from judicial review insofar as they only affect foreigners who aren’t considered by the US to have the same human rights as US citizens) to impose a categorical ban on certain US citizens leaving or entering the US except at the (standardless, i.e. arbitrary) “discretion” of the Secretary of State.

Since June 1, 2009, US citizens have been forbidden by Federal law and regulations from crossing any border into or out of the US by any means (land, sea, or air) without a passport, passport card, or Federally-approved “enhanced” drivers license. Denial of a passport thus amounts to a categorical ban on leaving or returning to the US. As such,  it is a blatant violation of the rights of US citizens pursuant to the First Amendment “right of the people… peaceably to assemble” and their human rights pursuant to Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

2. Everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own….

4. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.

The proposed law would not define how, on what basis, according to what procedures, or using what standard of proof the Secretary of State would make determinations as to membership or other “affiliation” of a US citizen with a blacklisted organization.  To make matters worse, the bills proposing this travel ban for US citizens associated with blacklisted organizations contain no definition of “member” or “otherwise affiliated”.

If you don’t like the decision of the Secretary of State, the bill would provide you with a “Right of Review” entitling you to a hearing before … the  Secretary of State.

Substitute “Communist” for “terrorist” in the proposed legislation, and it becomes clear that these bills would recreate the worst of the guilt-by-association witch-hunting of the MyCarthyist and other Red Scares.

Commie sympathizer? No passport for you! Terrorist symp? No passport for you!

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Biometric entry/exit tracking of US citizens

August 1st, 2017

We were invited to a briefing session today at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) headquarters: “an information sharing session and open dialog …  with external privacy stakeholders” to discuss “recent enhancements to CBP’s biometric exit initiatives” and “CBP’s implementation plans for a biometric exit system“.

Although we weren’t able  to make it to Washington for today’s meeting, we have many questions about CBP’s ongoing (and illegal, as discussed below)  photographing of the faces of US citizens entering the US, and the agency’s plans to expand the current (also illegal) trials of exit photography to include most or all US citizens leaving the country.

We look forward to another chance to quiz CBP officials about these programs and their (lack of) legal basis. More importantly, we hope that members of Congress and the public will ask hard questions about these programs if regulations or legislation are proposed that would purport to authorize them.

We share the general concerns raised by others about the use of biometric information such as facial photos (mug shots) for suspicionless dragnet surveillance of any travelers. The right to leave any country is explicitly guaranteed by international treaty (Article 12 of the ICCPR) as a human right independent of citizenship.

But we find it especially objectionable — and likely to be illegal — that CBP is extending these surveillance schemes to US citizens. Here are some of the issues: Read the rest of this entry »

Fact-checking the FAQs on ID to fly

July 20th, 2017

In May and June of 2017, several new FAQs about “requirements” for travel on common-carrier airlines were posted on TSA.gov and DHS.gov:

Statements about current and future ID “requirements” similar to those on these websites have also appeared on official signs in some airports.

It should go without saying that neither government websites nor informational signs in airports create legal rights or obligations or can be relied on as authoritative statements of the law.

Federal law is contained in the US Constitution, international treaties duly ratified by the US in accordance with the US Constitution, the US Code, and US Public Laws. Federal regulations are contained in the Code of Federal Regulations. The Freedom of Information Act requires that binding Federal agency rules, regulations, and orders of general applicability be published in the Federal Register.

If you want to know what the law says, you need to read the law, not press releases from government agencies or anyone else (including us!).

This is especially important with respect to the TSA, since the TSA website and TSA signs in airports have for years included statements about ID requirements to fly that have been disclaimed by TSA witnesses testifying under oath and by TSA lawyers arguing before Federal courts.

So what is the TSA saying now about ID to fly? Is it true? And is it legal?

The TSA’s latest public statements are more accurate than some of the agency’s previous press releases about ID to fly, and may (although we can’t really tell, given the absence of fomal proposals or published rules) accurately describe the changes the TSA intends to implement. But major questions remain about the legality of both current and possible future ID practices at TSA and contractor checkpoints at US airports.

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CBP is taking mug shots of US citizens who leave the country

July 16th, 2017

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has expanded its photography of the faces of all non-US citizens entering or leaving the US (under the “US-VISIT” program) to add mug shots of US citizens leaving the country, starting with all passengers on a daily flight on United Airlines from Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) to Dubai, U.A.E. (DXB).

This exit photo scheme is part of a larger program of biometric traveler tracking for which CBP and DHS recently opened an entire new database management and airport procedures simulation facility.

US citizens have the legal right not to submit to this mass surveillance and travel control scheme. But as with your right to fly without ID, CBP notices at airports won’t tell you that. You need to know your rights and be prepared to assert them.

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TSA reveals that “Naked American Hero” John Brennan wasn’t alone

May 23rd, 2017

Last week three judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the TSA’s administrative decision to fine “Naked American Hero” John Brennan $500 for taking off all his clothes to protest TSA’s practices and to show that he wasn’t hiding any explosives under his clothes despite a false-positive result from a TSA swab test for residue of explosives.

At the same time, the TSA revealed that Mr. Brennan was not alone: At least two other air travelers have been fined in  recent years for taking off all their clothes in response to TSA demands that they submit to “pat-down” searches for weapons and explosives.

The judges on the 9th Circuit panel claimed not to believe that viewers would understand Mr. Brennan’s symbolic speech — notwithstanding the public reaction that made clear that Mr. Brennan’s expressive intent and message were perfectly clear to those who heard about what he had done. According to thre court’s “unbpublished” (it;s actually public, but can’t be cited as precednt in future cases) opinion:

Brennan’s core contention is that stripping naked in the middle of a TSA checkpoint is expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. But Brennan fails to carry his burden of showing that a viewer would have understood his stripping naked to be communicative. Therefore, his conduct is not protected by the First Amendment.

The TSA fine was based on the claim that Mr. Brennan “interfered” with TSA screening because the TSA stopped screening him in order to stare at, or perhaps in order to avert their eyes from, Mr. Brennan’s naked body, or diverted their attention to trying to shield other travelers from sight of him.

But the TSA never claimed that Mr. Brennan’s nakedness violated any Federal law or regulation, and the local courts dismissed the criminal charges brought against him under state and municipal law on the grounds that his nakedness was, in the circumstances, protected by Oregon law. Mr. Brennan could legally have shown up at the TSA checkpoint already naked, and the duty of the TSA would have been to allow him to proceed unless “screening” showed him to be a threat to aviation security.

TSA staff and contractors are often distracted from their duties by the appearance of the travelers they are inspecting and groping. But that’s not a lawful basis for sanctions against those travelers. Mr. Brennan is not responsible for the decision of the TSA staff to stop doing their job because of what he looked like or how he was (legally) dressed or undressed.

The court found that the TSA rule against “interfence” isn’t unconstitutionally vague, even as applied to Mr. Brennan’s entirely peaceful and nonviolent conduct:

We have long recognized that “‘interfere’ has such a clear, specific and well-known meaning as not to require more than the use of the word[] . . . in a criminal statute.” In other words, the word has a “settled legal meaning[].” And courts have often defined and applied it, but never in a way that would lead a person of ordinary intelligence to think that he or she could strip naked at a TSA checkpoint and refuse to get dressed, leading to the closure of the checkpoint.

The court’s error, of course, is the mistaken claim that it was Mr. Brennan’s actions, rather than the choice of the TSA to abandon their duties and refuse either to screen a naked man or allow him to proceed once they could see he had no concealed weapons, that “led to” the closure of the checkpoint.

The 9th Circuit was the first (and only) court to review the Constitutionality of the TSA’s administrative fine of Mr. Brennan. TSA administrative decision-makers are forbidden from considering whether the regulations, policies, and practices they enforce are legal or Constitutional.

Brennan v. TSA and DHS was fully briefed before the 9th Circuit two years ago. Earlier this year, after a long silence, the court scheduled oral argument, which was to have been held earlier this month in Portland. Then, on its own initiative and without explanation, the court cancelled the scheduled oral argument, and decided the case a few days later on the written arguments. Our best guess is that one of the three judges on the panel had questions about a draft opinion, but was persuaded or decide to withdraw them.

Mr. Brennan discussed his original protest and his thoughts on the 9th Circuit decision in a lengthy interview with Portland TV station KGW. Some excerpts:

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New long form proposed for (some) applicants for U.S. visas

May 10th, 2017

The Department of State has requested “emergency” approval  from the Office of Management and Budget for a new questionnaire which some applicants for U.S. visas would be required to complete.

The questions on the proposed new “long form” for disfavored visa applicants would include:

  • Travel history during the last fifteen years, including source of funding for travel [how many frequent business travelers would be able to provide a complete and accurate 15-year retrospective itinerary of their travels?];
  • Address history during the last fifteen years;
  • Employment history during the last fifteen years;
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant [for an unspecified time period, so perhaps meaning for your entire life];
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
  • Name and dates of birth for all children;
  • Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years; and
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.

Applicants required to complete this form could include tourists and other short-stay visitors (business, visiting friend and relatives, etc.) as well as applicants for work, student, refugee, or other visas.

As with the “long form” supplemental questionnaire for U.S. citizens applying for passports, some but not all applicants for visas to visit or reside in the U.S. will be required to complete the proposed new form. The State Department says it expects to require about 65,000 people a year, or half a percent of all applicants for U.S. visas, to complete the proposed new long from.

As with the long form passport application, there are no publicly-disclosed standards or procedures for judicial review of decisions by State Department staff to require particular individuals to complete the long form. Those decisions would be “discretionary”, meaning that they would be arbitrary and could be discriminatory.

Most people would be unable to provide complete answers to some of the questions on the long from, or would inevitably leave things out or make mistakes that would provide a basis for denial of their application.  The proposed “discretionary” long form is thus a pretext for arbitrarily selective denial of entry to the U.S., at the whim of State Department staff and/or on the basis of secret pre-crime algorithms, as well as of arbitrarily selective surveillance of certain foreign citizens.

Comments on the “emergency” proposal for this new questionnaire can be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget through May 18, 2017.