Jan 19 2021

“Put them on the no-fly list!”

Flowchart of no-fly lists and the U.S. government's no-fly decision-making process.

[“How do you get on the no-fly list?” Larger image; PDF with legend.]

In the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week, there’s been a confused cacophony of calls to “put the rioters on the no-fly list.”

At the same time, there have been equally confusing claims and denials that some people found out that they had already been “put on the no-fly list” when they were denied boarding on flights home from Washington.

Are these people “on the no-fly list”? Could they be? Should they be? Is this legal?

More generally:

How do you get on the no-fly list? How do you know if you are on the list? How do you get off? What substantive and procedural legal standards apply?

The answers to all of these questions are much more complicated, and different, than many people seem to think — including the chairs of relevant Congressional committees, who ought to know better. The reality is that:

  1. There isn’t just one U.S. Federal government no-fly list — there are several, created by different agencies for different purposes.
  2. There are also non-list-based ways that real-time no-fly decisions can be made.
  3. No-fly decisions can be, and are, made independently, on the basis of different lists and other criteria, by multiple Federal agencies and by individual airlines.

So a better starting point for understanding what’s happening — before we can begin to assess whether it is legal or what should be happening — is to ask, “How can a would-be passenger be prevented from boarding a scheduled airline flight?”

The diagram above (larger version; PDF with legend of acronyms and color-coding) gives only a summary of the U.S. government’s no-fly decision-making process, not including individual airines’ no-fly decision-making practices. (We’ve published versions of the diagram before. The latest version above has been updated to include the Angel Watch Center, the CDC Do Not Board List and Lookout List, and the Watchlisting Advisory Council.)

As discussed in more detail below, no-fly decisions can be based on any of the following:

  • U.S. government no-fly orders:
  • Airline no-fly decisions, based on:
    • Airline conditions of carriage.
    • Airline no-fly lists (created and maintained separately by each airline).
    • Other non-list-based “rules” interpreted and enforced by airlines (most significantly the entry requirements described in the Timatic “travel information manual”).

How does all this work? Here are some FAQs about the no-fly list and no-fly orders:

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Jan 03 2021

REAL-ID Act amended, but DHS doesn’t get the exemptions it wanted

Amendments to the REAL-ID Act of 2005 were included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law by President Trump on December 27, 2020.

But somewhere in the sausage-making that saw the REAL-ID Modernization Act and numerous other unrelated measures inserted into the 2,124-page omnibus pandemic relief and appropriations bill, the key provisions sought by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were removed from the final bill.

That leaves the DHS still required by existing Federal laws to respond to our objections, to request and obtain approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and to post OMB-approved notices at TSA checkpoints explaining what is required, and on what legal basis, before it can try to deny anyone passage through a checkpoint or travel by common carrier on the basis of their failure or refusal to show ID. Read More

Dec 21 2020

We say “No” to mug shots at airports and borders

Illustration from CBP website. The claim that facial recogntion “helps to prevent the spread of germs” is especially bogus, since facial recognition requires travelers to remove their face masks wherever it is used.

Today the Identity Project (IDP), Restore the Fourth, Privacy Times, and the National Workrights Institute  filed joint comments with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in opposition ot the CBP proposal to require mug shots (and possibly collection of other biometrics) from all non-U.S. citizens at all border crossings and international airports and seaports:

The purported NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulermaking] was promulgated under purported authority delegated by an official purporting to exercise the duties of the Secretary of Homeland Security. That official was not appointed in accordance with the Vacancies Reform Act and therefore lacks authority to promulgate notices of proposed rules or final rules, or to delegate authority to do so which they do not themselves hold….

The proposed rules and procedures would violate the Privacy Act, and must therefore be revised or withdrawn.

The proposed rules and procedures would violate the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), and must therefore be revised or withdrawn.

The impact assessment in the NPRM is incomplete, inaccurate, and grossly underestimates the costs which would be imposed on individual travelers by the proposed rule. The NPRM fails to consider how many (more) individuals would opt out of collection of biometrics, if they were provided with the notices required by the PRA, or the cost to those travelers who are so delayed that they miss their flights. The impact assessment must be revised.

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Dec 17 2020

Lawyers who challenged “no-fly” order finally get paid

Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim’s lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security came to a close this week with an order by Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissing Dr. Ibrahim’s complaint after the Federal government finally paid  out a settlement to Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers for successfully representing her in more than a decade of litigation.

The dismissal come more than fifteen years after Dr. Ibrahim was denied boarding and wrongly arrested at San Francisco International Airport when she tried to board a flight to a conference in Hawaii where she was scheduled to present a paper related to her doctoral research in architecture at Stanford University. Dr. Ibrahim was recovering from an emergency hysterectomy and in a wheelchair, and needed assistance from paramedics while in the lockup at the airport before she was eventually released without charges.

Seven years ago, after two interlocutory appeals to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then the first and to date only trial in a case challenging a “no-fly” order by the US government, Judge Alsup ruled that Dr. Ibrahim’s rights had been violated by the government’s secret and wrongful blacklisting of her and denial of her right to travel, and ordered the government to remove Dr. Ibrahim from  its “no-fly” blacklist.

Before the trial, Attorney General Eric Holder signed an apparently perjured declaration certifying that it would cause grave harm to national security to disclose whether or why the government put Dr. Ibrahim on the no-fly list. But in his decision, Judge Alsup revealed what the government had known all along: The only reason Dr. Ibrahim was put on the no-fly list in the first place was that an FBI agent on the mosque-watching detail mistakenly filled out the blacklist and watchlist “nomination”  form incorrectly.

The government chose not to appeal Judge Alsup’s trial judgement, which became final.

But where does that leave Dr. Ibrahim, or her lawyers?

Read More

Dec 10 2020

Old business for a new administration

What should the new Presidential administration do about the Department of Homeland Security and the associated laws, regulations, and homeland-security industrial complex?

Neither freedom of movement, other human rights, nor the DHS are among the self-described priorities of the incoming Biden Administration.

But for better or worse, it isn’t hard to come up with our short list of recommendations to the Biden transition team and to members of Congress who will be questioning nominees for Secretary of Homeland Security and other DHS leadership positions including the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.

The same agenda of unfinished business (PDF) that we called out in our submissions to Congress and the Obama transition team after the election twelve years ago still face the incoming administration today, three Presidential terms later.

These include actions that could have been taken by previous Presidents, and should be taken by the new President, by executive order or by promulgating regulations.

They also include legislation that could and should be taken up by Congress, as well as questions that Congress and the public should ask of nominees for the DHS.

We wish that some of this unfinished business had been attended to by previous administrations and members of Congress.  But it hasn’t. The problems with the DHS and the attacks on freedom of movement are bipartisan. Nothing has been done by either Republican or Democratic administrations or members of Congress to address them.

But we’re here, and we’re not going away. Ignoring these problems won’t make them disappear, or silence the critics of the DHS and the defenders of the right to travel.

It’s time for the President and Congress to act — and for the public to resist if they don’t.

Dec 02 2020

Speaking Spanish is a not a lawful basis for being made to show ID

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has agreed to pay a “monetary sum” to two native-born US citizens and Montana residents  who were made to show ID and detained for about 40 minutes (including continuing detention even after they showed their Montana drivers licenses) solely because a CBP agent overhead them speaking Spanish to each other.

The amount of the settlement has not been made public.

The ACLU of Montana represented the two Latinx residents of Havre, MT, in their lawsuit, which initially sought a declaratory judgement “that race, accent, and language cannot create suspicion to justify seizure and/or detention” (which ought to go without saying) in addition to money damages.

The facts alleged in the complaint are supported by cellphone video of a CBP agent’s admission that the detention and ID demand were based solely on the language spoken by the agents’ Latinx victims. On discovery, CBP turned over additional self-incriminating video of statements made by CBP agents in interviews with internal CBP investigators, as well as grossly racist text messages exchanged by the CBP agents. Havre is a border town with two crossing points to Canada, where French is a national language, but the Havre-based CBP agents freely admitted that they wouldn’t treat speaking French as suspicious.

After the lawsuit got local and national publicity, the two plaintiffs and their families were harassed and driven out of town. “At his high school, a teacher asked Mimi’s son whether he had brought his ID to class,” one of the victims says. “Our clients bore the brunt of local backlash as a result of coming forward. They both ultimately left Havre for fear of their families’ safety,” according to the executive director of the ACLU of Montana.

Nov 30 2020

CBP proposes to require mug shots of all non-US citizen travelers

Last December we called attention to plans  by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to require mug shots of all travelers entering or leaving the US by air or sea, including US citizens.

Within days, CBP issued a press release falsely accusing us of incorrectly reporting  the official CBP notice of its plans, and saying that it would withdraw its notice the next time the regulatory agenda was published.

So what happened?

Earlier this month, CBP withdrew the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM)… and issued a new notice of proposed rulemaking the same day that wouldn’t apply to US citizens, but would require all non-US citizens, including permanent US residents (green-card holders) to be photographed whenever they enter or leave the US by any means: air, land, or sea.

(This proposed rule is for collection of biometrics from international travelers at airports, cruise ports, and land borders. There’s a separate pending proposal which we and others have criticized  for collection of biometrics including fingerprints and DNA samples, in advance of travel, from visa applicants, other would-be US visitors, and their US sponsors.)

At airports, the scheme contemplated by CBP would follow the public/private partnership model that CBP and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been collaborating on with airlines and airport operating authorities in the USA and abroad:

Generally, when travelers present themselves for entry or exit, they will encounter a camera connected to CBP’s cloud-based TVS facial matching service via a secure, encrypted connection…. The camera may be owned by CBP, the air or vessel carrier, another government agency such as TSA, or an international partner governmental agency….

At the departure gate, each traveler stands for a photo in front of a partner-provided camera. Aided by the authorized airline or airport personnel, the partner-owned camera attempts to capture a usable image and submits the image, sometimes through an authorized integration platform or vendor, to CBP’s cloud-based TVS facial matching service.

The key element in this partnership, CBP makes clear, is that airlines and airports will pay to operate cameras and send photos of passengers to CBP, in exchange for getting uncontrolled use of the CBP facial recognition system for their own business purposes:

The hardware cost in the regulatory period will be borne by the carriers and airports who partner with CBP.  CBP will give carriers and airports access to its facial recognition system and the carriers and airports will choose (and pay for) the hardware that best fits their needs. While this partnership is voluntary, CBP expects that all commercial carriers and major airports will elect to participate within five years.

Unless airlines and airports were given free use of the CBP facial recognition service for their own purposes, they would have no business reason to bear the cost of installing and operating cameras at all departure gates, or to send the photos to CBP. CBP has limited authority to force airlines to surveil their customers, so CBP’s scheme depends on successfully bribing them — all of them — to collaborate by giving them free access to the facial recognition service. This quid pro quo is the key to CBP’s confidence in its plans.

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Nov 25 2020

Airlines call for new app-based air travel controls

During  its online annual general meeting this week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) rolled out a  new proposal for an app-based system of control over air travel that IATA is proposing for use by its member international airlines and by governments.

The scheme is being promoted as a response to the COVID-10 pandemic, but would institutionalize structures and practices with the potential for continuing and wider abuse.

IATA is calling its scheme the IATA Travel Pass. As described in these slides,  it would require would-be air travelers to enter both personally identifying information (most likely passport or other ID-card details) and records of tests and/or vaccinations into an IATA  smartphone app.  The data would  be processed by the algorithms of a “rules engine” to detemine whether to issue an “OK to travel” permission message. The output of this algorithmic decision would be available for use by both airlines and governments.

The intent of the IATA proposal is to create an infrastructure for sharing of data and travel permission decisions, at any point before or after the journey, with both airlines and governments, on the basis of an open-ended ruleset:

Of course IATA’s new proposal has all the defects of any smartphone-based travel surveillance or control regime that we discussed back in April when Hawaii tried out such a scheme. IATA is silent on what is to happen to  a traveler who doesn’t have a smartphone, charged-up and operable, with them when they try to travel.

And what about travelers without passport? No passport is currently required, even for international flights, within some free-movement zones such as within Mercosur, ECOWAS, or the European Union, or between the UK and Ireland.

But that’s not the worst aspect of the IATA proposal. Unlike Hawaii’s app-based location reporting system, the IATA app would go beyond surveillance to incorporate an algorithmic decision-making system for prior restraint of the right to travel.  Very disturbingly, there’s no mention in the IATA proposal of who would control the algorithmic ruleset, leaving it wide open to mission  creep and abuse by governments worldwide.  There’s no apparent way to restrict the nature of the rules or the purposes — blacklisting? discrimination? profiling? retaliation? — for which they could be used. Deployment of a general-purpose algorithmic travel control app for use worldwide would invite abuse.

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Nov 10 2020

What does REAL-ID Act “enforcement” really mean?

For the last fifteen years, as both Republican and Democratic administrations have come and gone, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been using the threat of “enforcement” of the REAL-ID Act of 2005 to extort state legislators, governors, and driver licensing agencies into complying with the REAL-ID Act of 2005 and uploading their residents’ drivers license and state-issued ID card data to the national REAL-ID database, “SPEXS”.

The threat has been that the DHS and/or its components (such as the Transportation Security Agency) will harass or turn away residents of noncompliant states when they try to pass through TSA or other Federal checkpoints or enter Federal facilities.

Not wanting to provoke riots or protests at airports, the DHS has repeatedly postponed its arbitrarily self-imposed “deadlines” for REAL-ID enforcement at TSA checkpoints, most recently until October 1, 2021.  And the TSA, despite repeated trial balloons suggesting what new rules it might try to adopt to require ID to fly, has not yet tried to finalize such a  rule. So we don’t really know what, if anything, REAL-ID Act enforcement at airports might mean.

However, the REAL-ID Act has supposedly been being enforced for access to some other Federal facilities for more than five years, starting on October 15, 2015.

We’ve been trying for almost that long to find out what that “enforcement” has really meant, so that we and the public can assess the meaning and impact of the DHS threats.

How many people have been turned away for lack of acceptable or compliant ID, or ID issued by a “compliant” state, when they tried to enter Federal facilities? At what types of facilities has this happened? And for what purposes were these people seeking entry?

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Nov 06 2020

Canada copies US “Secure Flight” air travel controls

While we were watching US election returns, our neighbors to the north were adopting new travel regulations that incorporate some of the worst aspects of the US system of surveillance and control of air travel, and in some respects go even further in the wrong direction.

Canadian authorities don’t generally want to be seen as imitating the US or capitulating to US pressure. There was no mention in the official analysis of the latest amendments to the Canadian regulations of the US models on which they are based. But according to the press release this week from Public Safety Canada, the latest version of the Canadian Secure Air Travel Regulations  which came into force this week for domestic flights within Canada as well as international flights to or from Canada include the following elements, each of which appears to be based on the US Secure Flight system:

  1. All air travelers will be required to show government-issued photo ID. The Canadian ID requirement to fly is now explicit, unlike the de facto ID requirement that the US Department of Homeland Security is attempting to impose and already wrongly enforcing, in some cases, without statutory or regulatory authority. The Canadian rules appear to reflect the authority to deny passage to air travelers without ID that the DHS has sought, but has not yet been granted, in the US.
  2. Fly/no-fly decision-making will be transferred from airlines (making binary fly/no-fly decisions on the basis of a no-fly list provided by the government) to a government agency. After receiving information about each passenger from the airline, Public Safety Canada will transmit a permission messages to the airline with respect to each would-be passenger on each flight,  with a default of “not permitted to board” if no message is received by the airline from the government. Exactly this change was made in the US through the Secure Flight regulations promulgated in 2008. This change serves two purposes for the government: (A) it provides a basis for building positive real-time government control over boarding pass issuance into airline IT infrastructure, converting every airline check-in kiosk or boarding-pass app into a virtual government checkpoint that can be used to control movement on any basis and for any reason that the government later chooses, and (B) it enables the switch from blacklist-based no-fly decision-making to more complex and opaque real-time algorithmic pre-crime profiling  based on a  larger number of factors.
  3. Air travelers in Canada will be required to provide the airline  with their full name, gender, and date of birth, as listed on government-issued ID, and airlines will be required to enter this data in each reservation and transmit it to the government 72 hours before the flight or as soon as the reservation is made, whichever comes first. All of this is exactly as has bene required for flights within the US since the coming into force of the DHS Secure Flight regulations. This additional information about each passenger enables the government to match passengers’ identities, in advance, to other commercial and government databases, and thus to incorporate a much wider range of surveillance and data mining into its profiling algorithms.
  4. Travelers will be able to apply to the government for a “Canadian Travel Number” which, if issued, they can enter in their reservations to distinguish themselves as whitelisted people from blacklisted people with similar names and/or other similar personal data.  This Canadian Travel Number is obviously modeled on the “redress number” incorporated in the US Secure Flight system. The goal of this “whitelist number” is to reduce the complaints and political embarrassment of the recurring incidents of innocent people with similar names, including  children, being mistakenly identified as blacklisted people, and denied boarding on Canadian flights. The problem, of course, is that this does nothing to help the innocent people who are correctly identified as having been blacklisted by the government, but who were wrongly blacklisted in the first place.

As our Canadian friends at the  International Civil Liberities Monitoring Group put it in a statement this week:

These regulations do not address the central, foundational problems that plague Canada’s No Fly List system and will continue to result in the undermining of individuals’ rights as they travel….

The Canadian government had a solution from the beginning, and they still do: abolish the No Fly List. If someone is a threat to airline travel or to those in the region they are traveling to, charge them under the criminal code and take them to court where they can defend themselves, in public.

It’s time to be done with secret security lists once and for all.