Mar 13 2019

US government blacklisting system is unconstitutional, victims say

The Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) “fails to provide constitutionally sufficient procedural due process,” according to a motion for summary judgement filed this week in a lawsuit brought by people who have been placed on the TSDB blacklist.

We’ve been following this case, Elhady v. Kable, since it was filed in 2016. Discovery and depositions taken in the case, as well as leaks by whistleblowers while the case has been pending, have revealed an unprecedented level of detail about the operation of the blacklisting system, the inter-agency “Watchlisting Advisory Council” which overseas the blacklist, and the dissemination of blacklist information.

The TSDB is described euphemistically by the US government as a “watchlist”, but in reality it’s a blacklist. Individuals — including infants and children as well as adults, and US citizens and residents as well as non-residents — are subjected to adverse government and private action by having the government place them on the TSDB blacklist and disseminate this stigmatizing designation — with the intent that the designation will be used against listed indioviduals — to Federal, state, and local government agencies and  private entities.

The government has refused to disclose the criteria for TSDB listings, but has conceded that being listed does not require suspicion of having committed or intending to commit any crime. Listings are determined through a secret, extrajudicial administrative process, without those being blacklisted being notified or having any opportunity, before or after the fact, to know whether or why they are being blacklisted, what the basis  is for their blacklisting, or what the evidence against them is.

The case has survived multiple attempts by the government to have it dismissed on jurisdictional and procedural grounds and to avoid discovery and depositions.  Now the plaintiffs motion for summary judgement that the TSDB is unconstitutional is scheduled for oral argument on April 4, 2019, before US District Court Judge Anthony Trenga in Alexandria, VA.

Mar 12 2019

Newly released DHS documents prompt new questions from Senators on facial recognition at airports

Newly released government records confirming plans by the Department of Homeland Security to take automated mug shots of all airline passengers have prompted and immediate bipartisan statement by Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) renewing their  repeated previous calls for DHS to give public notice, take public comment, and adopt published rules — including “how [travelers] can opt out of the program altogether” — before deploying automated facial recognition at airports.

A petition for rulemaking on facial recognition at airports submitted to the DHS last year by the World Privacy Forum remains pending, but has not yet been acted on.

The report by Davey Alba published Monday by Buzzfeed News, in which we were quoted extensively, was  based on documents released in response to a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request and lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

The documents confirm that, as we’ve noted previously, the DHS intends and is already working systematically toward  a vision of worldwide biometric surveillance and control of air travel through automated facial recognition systems integrated and shared with airlines and airports. The most recently released DHS records show no provision for travelers to avoid being photographed, and no restrictions on commercial use, retention, or sale by airlines and airports of images captured under government duress.

As Edward Hasbrouck of the Identity Project told Buzzfeed News:

The big takeaway is that the broad surveillance of people in airports amounts to a kind of “individualized control of citizenry” — not unlike what’s already happening with the social credit scoring system in China. “There are already people who aren’t allowed on, say, a high-speed train because their social credit scores are too low,” he said, pointing out that China’s program is significantly based in “identifying individual people and tracking their movements in public spaces though automated facial recognition.”

“This is opening the door to an extraordinarily more intrusive and granular level of government control, starting with where we can go and our ability to move freely about the country,” Hasbrouck said. “And then potentially, once the system is proved out in that way, it can extend to a vast number of controls in other parts of our lives.”

Meanwhile, EPIC filed a follow-up FOIA lawsuit today for information about whether air travelers are, in fact, being allowed to “opt out” of being photographed. The DHS has claimed that US citizens can opt out of ongoing and expanding “pilot programs” and “tests” of automated facial recognition at airports.

But our own experiences and numerous reports from other travelers are that the DHS claim that US citizens can “opt out” often isn’t true: Travelers are often told that mug shots are required even for US citizens, and are prevented by “line minders” (contractors working for airlines and/or airports) from approaching Customs and Border Protection staff until after they submitted to being photographed.  When we and other civil liberties advocates pointed this out to senior CBP officials in a meeting a year ago, they flatly denied that this ever happened.  But no details of any “opt-out” notices, policies, or clauses in agreements between DHS, airlines, or airports have yet been disclosed.

As we noted in our comments to Buzzfeed News about these so-called tests, “CBP is ‘testing’ how to structure the program to make it technically work, and what tweaks the agency might need to make to appease, or suppress, or frustrate protests and legal challenges.  But the biggest thing they’re testing is how much legal resistance there will be — whether that’s people saying ‘no’ [to their faces being captured at the airport], or challenging it in court.”

Mar 11 2019

US government strategy for surveillance and control of travel

In December 2018, the White House announced that President Trump had sent Congress a  classified “National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel”.

Two months later, in February 2019, the White House released both this “National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel” (supposedly as signed in December 2018, and with no indication that it had ever been classified) and a companion “National Strategy for Aviation Security” (also unclassified and dated December 2018).

Together, these two documents give an overview of both the extent and the manner in which the US government intends — and believes that it has the authority — to surveil all travelers, monitor and log all movement of persons in the US and worldwide, and exercise administrative prior restraint over all such travel based on extrajudicial “pre-crime” predictions.

Nowhere in either of these vision statements is there any mention of the First Amendment, the right of the people peaceably to assemble, the right to travel, or international human rights treaties.

Nor is there any mention of existing legal means for restricting movement through court orders (injunctions or restraining orders), of judicial review of administrative controls, or indeed of any role at all for the courts.

While these documents were signed by President Trump, they express goals that have been pursued by both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Here are some of the main themes in these road maps for government action: Read More

Feb 08 2019

Government permission to travel: “Authority to Transport”

A white paper on the use of PNR and API data (airline reservations), published by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in January 2019, lays out more starkly than ever before the goal of governments around the world: a permission-based system of government control and prior restraint in which a common carrier must receive “Authority to Carry” (authority to transport) with respect to each passenger, before allowing them to  board any flight.

We’ve talked about this sort of permission-based travel control before, including in this 2013 overview of the system of US government surveillance and control of travel. (See our slides from that presentation).  But we’ve rarely seen governments spell out so explicitly their intent to convert travel from a right to a privilege which can be exercise only by permission of the police:

An iAPI system allows for a two-way communication in near real-time. The airlines transmit the API message on a per-person basis to the requesting authorities at the time of check-in, while law enforcement agencies have the opportunity to decide whether a certain person is allowed or not to board a plane by issuing a board/no-board message.

The OSCE document, brought to our attention by Statewatch and NoPNR, is the latest revision of a white paper on “the use of Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR)” data, revised following an OSCE seminar on “Passenger Data Exchange” with governments held in November 2018.

The diagram and description of the iAPI permission system and the mention of “Authority to Carry” — transforming the use of API and PNR from passive surveillance to active government control and prior restraint — have been added since the previous version of the white paper posted by OSCE in March 2018, less than a year ago.

Why the new openness about this government agenda? As the white paper and other recent international initiatives for surveillance and control of travel make clear,  governments have been emboldened by their largely successful (to date) policy laundering efforts to get travel surveillance and control mandated by the UN Security Council in the name  of the War On Terror and/or “aviation security” mandate.

This purported authority is of questionable validity, given that it contravenes rights to freedom of movement recognized by international treaties and the  US Constitution. And the actual basis, if any, for declining to give “Authority to Carry” a particular disfavored individual often has nothing to do with terrorism, aviation security, or any crime.

But the willingness of governments such as the members of OSCE to talk openly about their travel control agenda reflects their belief that they have obtained all the legal authority they need, and no longer have to worry about public outrage at the idea that they think freedom of movement is a special privilege, not a right.

The OSCE white paper also includes this chilling map of the countries where governments already obtain copies of commercial information about air travelers, before their flights:

These travel surveillance and control systems rely on systems for identification of travelers, which are being developed and mandated in parallel. Those efforts will be the focus of the next  annual symposium and exhibition on ICAO’s Traveller Identification Programme (TRIP)  at ICAO headquarters in Montreal from June 25-28, 2019.

Only public expressions of outrage, and public acts of resistance, will get governments that want to control our movements to back down before this sort of permission-based control  of our movements becomes, as they intend, the global norm.

Jan 23 2019

New US push for an ICAO air travel surveillance mandate

Having successfully used the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as a vehicle for policy laundering on RFID transceivers in passports, the US government is making a new push toward its decade-old goal of getting ICAO to adopt a standard mandating (a) government access to Passenger Name Record (PNR) data and (b) the creation of airline passenger surveillance and profiling units, in all ICAO member countries.

As first noticed by Statewatch, the US made a proposal to ICAO’s High-Level Conference on Aviation Security in late November 2018, “for ICAO to establish a Standard(s) regarding the collection, use and analysis of PNR data.”  The US argued that:

Of urgent concern to combat would-be terrorists and terrorist activities, is the need to elevate the collection, use, processing and protection of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data to standards within Annex 9 and/or Annex 17.
To insure compliance with aviation safety norms, many countries’ laws require airlines to comply with ICAO standards.  So elevating an ICAO “recommendation” to a “standard” amounts to making it a de facto international legal obligation for airlines — without the need for the potentially messy and public process of adopting new national laws or ratifying a new treaty.

The US proposal for an ICAO PNR standard also alludes to resolutions regarding government access to and use of PNR data, which the US has pushed through the UN Security Council in a parallel policy laundering campaign:

At the Tenth ICAO Facilitation Panel that took place in Montréal in September of 2018, the Panel noted that UNSCR 2396 had urged ICAO to work with its Member States to establish a Standard for the collection, use, processing and protection of PNR data. This issue was raised as one with some urgency to help address issues relating to the protection of such data and to help resolve the conflict of laws between requirements to disclose and to protect the data. Several States offered to support the Secretariat in working towards developing the Standard in question without which States cannot derive the full benefits of using PNR data.
What this really means is that requiring airlines to allow governments to use their commercial data about travelers for purposes of surveillance and control of air travel would violate national laws which can be overridden only by making this an obligation through an international treaty body such as ICAO.

The US proposal calls for restrictions on freedom of air travel based on “risk-based  assessments” (i.e. pre-crime predictive profiling)  and on “associations” between individuals (i.e. how and with whom individuals exercise rights of assembly and association protected in the US by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution) :

Effective border security incorporates analysis of secure electronic data, some of which is provided at the time a passenger buys a ticket and some that becomes known when a passenger boards an aircraft. Passenger identification controls must be applied before the arrival of the passenger in the country of destination, to enable relevant border agencies to perform risk-based assessments of passengers and the goods they are carrying. Analysis of this data can illuminate the hidden connections between known terrorists and their unknown associates.
The recommendations made by the 2018 High-Level Conference  on Aviation Security will be considered by ICAO’s governing Council of member countries in 2019. There doesn’t yet appear to be a publicly-disclosed PNR standard ready for adoption, but it couldn’t be clearer that this is the goal toward which the US continues to push ICAO.
Jan 22 2019

9th Circuit: Passengers in a car don’t have to identify themselves

Passengers in a car stopped by police don’t have to identify themselves, according to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That holds even in a state with a “stop and identify” law, and even if the initial stop of the car (for a traffic violation committed by the driver) was legal.

The opinion by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit earlier this month in US v. Landeros is one of the most significant decisions to date interpreting and applying the widely-misunderstood 2004 US Supreme Court decision in Hiibel v. Nevada.

Many police think that the Hiibel decision upheld the Constitutionality of requiring anyone stopped by police to show ID. But that’s not what the Supreme Court actually said.

The 9th Circuit panel that decided US v. Landeros read the Hiibel decision carefully and correctly, and gave important and explicit guidance on the narrowness of its findings and what it actually means for people who are stopped and asked for ID by police.

What does this mean for you, especially when or if you are in the 9th Circuit or want to raise the 9th Circuit’s latest decision as persuasive authority in another circuit?

Read More

Jan 21 2019

“Refugees could travel to Europe or America by air. What’s stopping them?”

An article by Saad Hasan for TRT World (the English-language news service of Turkey’s national public broadcasting  network) highlights a life-and-death issue for refugees: Why are thousands of asylum seekers who could afford to buy a plane ticket to Europe or the USA dying every year trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the Sonoran Desert to reach a country where they can find sanctuary from persecution?

The answer, as we told TRT World, is that, “These deaths of the asylum seekers during migration are a direct consequence of carrier sanctions. Sanctions imposed by governments on airlines for transporting unsuccessful asylum seekers are killing thousands of people a year directly around the world.”

The article notes that, “The Geneva Convention allows an asylum seeker to board a commercial flight even without a visa. But airlines face the risk of paying a fine if that person’s application is rejected and he has to be flown back.”

We’ve raised this  issue repeatedly with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Just last week, we asked the UN Human Rights Committee to include it in its list of issues for the upcoming review of US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

An asylum claim cannot be made or adjudicated until after a claimant arrives in a country of refuge. Asylum seekers cannot be required to have any specific documents, and their inability to obtain travel documents from a government from which they arefleeing may be part of the evidence supporting their asylum claim.

A common carrier has an obligation to transport all passengers willing to pay the fare in its tariff.

But the U.S. imposes civil fines on airlines and other carriers that transport unsuccessful asylum seekers. These “carrier sanctions” turn inherently unqualified airline ticket sales and check-in clerks into de facto asylum judges of first and last resort, with a government-imposed financial incentive to err on the side of denial of transport. For asylum seekers, denial of air transportation either acts as a categorical bar to reaching U.S. territory to make a claim for asylum, or leads asylum seekers to use irregular and often fatally unsafe routes and modes of land or sea travel to reach the U.S.

Some other sources interviewed by TRT World suggested that the consequences of “carrier sanctions” could be mitigated by issuance of “humanitarian visas” for asylum seekers. But as we pointed out, “Foreign embassies and airports are closely watched by local police. If someone comes to the embassy seeking asylum and isn’t immediately given sanctuary then they can be subject to additional persecution.”

Solving the problem of deaths in transit doesn’t take a lengthy legislative process like introducing a humanitarian visa. Almost by definition, not everybody who applies will be given such a visa. And any visa will have to be applied for at a consulate or embassy in a country where an asylum seeker may be subject to retaliation for visiting such a consulate.

All it takes to reduce these deaths is a small change in administrative practice: Stop fining airlines when they bring people to a border or port of entry and the people are not admitted, and enforce their duty as common carriers to transport anyone willing to pay the fare in their tariff.

If the country and the airline don’t want the expense of returning failed applicants for asylum, airline regulations could require that an airline must transport passengers without visas if they have purchased a return ticket or a ticket onward to another country.  This is already required for most visitors to the US or the European Union, even if they have visas. This would double the revenue to the airline for each such refugee. For legitimate refugees, most of those return tickets would expire unused, making them free money for the airline — but not risking the lives of refugees by denying them access to safe air transport.

It’s tempting to some people to think of freedom of movement as something “abstract” or important only to the “jet set”. But nothing could be further from the truth. Administrative restrictions like carrier sanctions, and failure to enforce the duties of common carriers, are a life-and-death matter for some of the world’s most destitute and deserving refugees, those who would qualify for asylum if they could only reach a country of refuge.

Jan 14 2019

Issues for the next UN review of human rights in the USA

Today the Identity Project submitted recommendation to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) for two issues to be included in the upcoming periodic review of US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the provisions of the ICCPR recognizing the right to freedom of movement:

  1. Lack of Remedies for Violations of the ICCPR by the USA (joint submission by the Identity Project and the US Human Rights Network)
  2. Interference by the USA with Freedom of Movement (including violations of rights recognized in the ICCPR to freedom of movement, assembly, association, and privacy)

The Identity Project participated actively In the most recent previous periodic review of US compliance with the ICCPR, the fourth since the US ratified the ICCPR.

We reported to the UNHRC in 2013 on violations by the US government of rights recognized in the ICCPR, including the right to travel. A year later, as part of a delegation of nongovernmental organizations coordinated by the US Human Rights Network, we met with members of the UNHRC and with US officials before and during the two days of public questioning of the US  by the UNHRC in Geneva in 2014.

At the conclusion of its review, the UNHRC called out the failure of the US to “effectuate” the ICCPR, leaving most victims of human rights violations by the US government with no means of legal redress. “There was no suggestion that any of those responsible for any of the past criminal violations of our Covenant [i.e. the ICCPR] would be brought to justice or that its victims would have access to their day in court,” the chair of the UNHRC noted at a  press conference announcing the committee’s concluding observations.

The UNHRC recommended that, “The State party [i.e. the US] should … Taking into account its declaration that provisions of the Covenant are non-self-executing, ensure that effective remedies are available for violations of the Covenant, including those that do not, at the same time, constitute violations of U.S. domestic law, and undertake a review of such areas with a view to proposing to the Congress implementing legislation to fill any legislative gaps.”

In one of our submissions to the UNHRC today, we remind the committee of this recommendation, and point out that no action has been taken on it by the US in the five years since.

Together with the US Human Rights Network, we recommend that, “The U.S. should enact legislation implementing and effectuating the ICCPR by giving U.S. federal and state courts jurisdiction to hear cases arising under the ICCPR, and creating a federal cause of action for violations of the ICCPR.”

In our other submission today, we call attention to the ongoing and increasing surveillance and control of travelers being carried out by the US government.

We recommend that, “The U.S. should restrict travel by common carrier, including domestic or international air travel, only on the basis of judicial orders issued through adversary proceedings in which the right to freedom of movement is recognized, ” and that, “Personal information pertaining to the exercise of the right to freedom of movement, such as details of airline reservations, should be collected or retained only on the basis of individualized orders based on probable cause to suspect violations of law.”

This March, the UNHRC will adopt a list of issues that it will focus on its next review of the US. Following a report from the US government on those issues, the UNHRC will conduct its fifth review of US implementation of the ICCPR in Geneva in 2020 or 2021.

Jan 10 2019

CBP finalizes rules for social media surveillance

Is suspicionless spying on what US citizens, foreign residents, visitors to the US, and their families, friends and associates do and say on social media an “essential” function of the US government?

Federal employees deemed “inessential” have been furloughed. But those still working for deferred paychecks apparently include staff  of the Department of Homeland Security, including the DHS Privacy Office, responsible for promulgating rules exempting DHS surveillance from the minimal limitations imposed by the Privacy Act.

In 2017, the DHS gave notice of a new system of social media and travel surveillance records, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Intelligence Records System (CIRS). At the same time, the DHS proposed to exempt these records from as many as possible of the requirements of the Privacy Act. The proposed exemptions would purport to authorize the DHS to include social media and other information in the CIRS database without regard to its accuracy or relevance to any investigation or suspicion of unlawful activity, and to keep these files and any recrods of how thety are used and shared secret from the individuals to whom they pertain.

Joined by eight other national civil liberties and human rights organizations, the Identity Project filed comments with the DHS in October 2017 opposing both the creation of this illegal database of records of suspicionless surveillance of activities protected by the First Amendment and the proposed Privacy act exemptions.

More than a year later, on December 27, 2018 — a week after the Federal government had partially shut down, and during a holiday week when fewer people than usual would be scrutinizing the Federal Register —  the DHS finalized the proposed Privacy Act exemptions for CIRS.

The DHS analysis of the comments on the proposed rule completely ignored some our objections. There’s no response from the DHS to our comments on the Privacy Act’s prohibition (from which an agency cannot exempt itself) on the collection of information about how individuals exercise rights protected by the First Amendment without explicit statutory authorization, which is lacking for collection of social media data.

Others of our objections were brushed off with conclusory claims that such broad surveillance is “necessary” for predictive profiling:

Comment: DHS’s collection of records in CIRS is overly broad because, as stated in the NPRM, DHS may be collecting information that ‘‘may not be strictly relevant or necessary to a specific investigation.’’

Response: In order to conduct a complete investigation, it is necessary for DHS/CBP to collect and review large amounts of data in order to identify and understand relationships between individuals, entities, threats and events, and to monitor patterns of activity over
extended periods of time that may be indicative of criminal, terrorist, or other threat.

Comment: Proposed routine uses would circumvent Privacy Act safeguards and contravene legislative intent.
Response: DHS’s collection of records in CIRS is intended to permit DHS/CBP to review large amounts of data in order to identify and understand relationships between individuals, entities, threats and events, and to monitor patterns of activity over extended periods of time that may be indicative of criminal, terrorist, or other threat.
The CIRS database has already been in operation since at least October 2017. The Privacy Act exemptions took effect December 27, 2018, so it is no longer possible for anyone to find out what information about them is contained in CIRS, or to whom it has been disclosed.
Jan 09 2019

How many times will the DHS cry wolf on REAL-ID?

The last time we checked in on the status of the seemingly endless game of “chicken” being played by the US Department of Homeland Security with its threats to start harassing air travelers who reside in states the DHS deems insufficiently “compliant”, every state and territory had been given another “extension” of time to demonstrate commitment to compliance until at least January 10,  2019.

Since then, the DHS, in its standardless administrative discretion, has announced further extensions until at least April Fools Day, 2019 (for the US Virgin Islands), for every state and territory except California and Guam.

But as of today, the DHS website says that, “California has an extension for REAL ID enforcement, allowing Federal agencies to accept driver’s licenses and identification cards from California at Federal facilities, nuclear power plants and federally regulated commercial aircraft until January 10, 2019.”

As of this morning, with the “deadline” less than 48 hours away, we got the following response to our questions about this from a spokesperson for the California DMV:

The State of California has been working for the better part of a year to be deemed compliant with the REAL ID act, unfortunately due to a lack of response on the part of the Federal Government with the ongoing shutdown there has been no final confirmation.

So was that a real deadline for REAL-ID in California?

Is the DHS really prepared to have TSA checkpoint staff — working for indefinitely deferred pay — start trying to carry out time-consuming “ID verification procedures” for everyone who shows up at an airport checkpoint with a California drivers’ license or ID, starting the day after tomorrow?

The answer turns out to be, “No.”

The DHS and TSA have blinked yet again in the face of insufficient state “compliance”.

We’ve just received the following updated statement from the DMV:

The California DMV has confirmed with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that they will be granting California an extension to April 1, 2019. Due to the furlough, the letter might not arrive until tomorrow and DHS will likely not be updating their website until the furlough ends. All driver licenses will remain valid and can continue to be used for federal purposes.

And this from a spokesperson for the TSA:

I recently learned from DHS that California’s extension has been extended through April 1, 2019…. Updates to their website are underway.

California doesn’t actually comply with the REAL-ID Act. That would require uploading data about all California drivers’ licenses and ID cards to the SPEXS national ID database, which California hasn’t done and which would probably violate multiple provisions of California’s state constitution. But DHS certifications and extensions are discretionary, and need not be based on any specific criteria or on actual compliance.

There’s still no public word about Guam, the extension for which is also scheduled to expire tomorrow.

Phase 4b” of REAL-ID Act enforcement at airports supposedly started on January 22, 2018. Since then, the only state or territory where the DHS has let a REAL-ID  extension lapse, even temporarily, has been American Samoa, for which another extension has now been granted until October 10, 2019. We’re still waiting for any response to our FOIA request for records of what happened to American Samoans who tried to fly during the period last year when the extension had lapsed.