Feb 06 2023

CBP proposes to require even more information from international air travelers

US Customs and Border and Border Protection (CBP) has proposed new rules to expand its Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) to require all international airlines serving the US to provide additional information about all passengers, prior to flight departures.

CBP’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), published last Thursday in the Federal Register, falsely claims that the proposed rules would not affect individuals, only airlines. But the mandate for airlines to provide additional information about each would-be passenger makes it a de facto requirement, as a condition of air travel, for travelers to provide this information to airlines and the government.

This would constitute a significant expansion of an ongoing unconstitutional surveillance and profiling program in which all international air travelers are required to respond to suspicionless, warrantless, interrogatories administered through airlines as intermediaries and outsourced government surveillance agents and interrogators.

APIS is not a passive surveillance scheme, however. It is part of a real-time system of  granular, per-passenger, per-flight government control of air travel:

After performing the security vetting, the CBP system transmits to the carrier an electronic message. This message is generally referred to as CBP’s response message. If the carrier is using an interactive transmission system, the response message provides certain instructions to the carrier. Specifically, it states whether each passenger is authorized to board, requires additional security screening, or is prohibited by TSA from boarding… Depending on the instructions received in the response message, the carrier may be required to take additional steps, including coordinating secondary security screening with TSA, before loading the baggage of or boarding the passenger at issue.

The Identity Project has objected to every step in the expansion of APIS since 2006, and we will be filing comments objecting to the latest NPRM. If you’d like to file your own objections, the deadline is April 3, 2023. We’ll post ours for others to use as a model.

Current mandatory APIS data fields include name, date of birth, gender, nationality, passport or travel document number, and flight details (airline, flight number, and departure and arrival airports, dates, and times). In addition to the information that CBP has been requiring since 2006, the new NPRM proposes that airlines operating flights to or from the US be required to collect and transmit to CBP additional information including:

  • Street address in the US (currently required of aliens but not of US citizens)
  • Telephone number and “alternate” telephone number (presumably the second phone number is required in order to help the government build social network maps and  guilt-by-association links of First Amendment protected associations between individuals)
  • Email address

What if a US citizen has no fixed address, or no address in the US — or doesn’t want to tell the US government? What if they don’t yet know at which hotel or with which friend or relative  they will be staying — or don’t want their host permanently linked with them in the government’s surveillance and suspicion-generating files?

Are two telephone numbers and an email address required as a condition of air travel?

The proposed rules are silent, but they imply that any airline that transports such a passenger would be subject to sanctions:

CBP cannot require that a passenger be denied boarding. However, if an air carrier boards a passenger who is then denied entry to the United States, the air carrier may have to pay a penalty and bear the costs of transporting that passenger out of the United States.

On arrival in the US, the US government has the duty to allow a US citizen to enter the country unless there is genuine doubt as to their US citizenship. They are not required to provide any information not related to, and needed to determine, their US citizenship.

If a CBP inspector at a border crossing or airport asks a US citizen their address in the US, phone number(s), or email address, they have the right to stand mute or to refuse to answer on the basis of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. CBP can search them, but cannot make them answer questions or deny them entry for standing mute.

If CBP would have no Constitutional authority to require a traveler to answer these questions after they arrive in the US, on what possible grounds would it claim authority to require answers to those same questions before a traveler even boards a flight to the US?

The NPRM does not mention the Fourth Amendment or any limits on the authority of the government or a common carrier to demand personal information or answers to interrogatories as a condition of carriage.  We believe that there is no such authority. The proposed rules would violate the First and Fourth Amendments, the Privacy Act, and US obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Since the creation  of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after September 11, 2001, the DHS has imposed more than a billion dollars in unfunded mandates to the airline industry  to collect additional information about all airline passengers, transmit that information to DHS components (CBP for international flights and the TSA for domestic flights), and receive and process instructions from the DHS before issuing any boarding pass.

The proposed new rules would send the airline IT industry back to the drawing board to modify all of its software, user interfaces, APIs, and business-process layers to collect and transmit additional data fields  about each passenger to CBP prior to departure of each international flight to or from the US.

CBP says that some airlines are already “voluntarily” providing personal information about passengers to CBP beyond what has been required by the current APIS regulations.

Why would airlines be willing to collaborate with the DHS in these schemes?

The proposed rules would leave airlines free to retain, use, share, sell, or otherwise monetize the additional personal information which travelers would be required to provide. This would amount to a huge informational windfall for airlines, and this is the quid pro quo to airlines for collecting this additional data for the government. To put it another way, the proposed rules would constitute a government-compelled taking and transfer to airlines of the value of travelers’ personal information.

Travelers and airlines should just say no. Travelers should decline to answer questions unrelated to their admissibility to the US, and airlines should transport them anyway and challenge any attempt to impose sanctions on them for refusing to spy on their passengers by interrogating them and collecting surveillance data for the government.

Feb 04 2023

A blacklist is not a basis for search or seizure

A lawsuit filed last week in Federal court in Oklahoma City by the Council on American-Islamic Relations on behalf of Oklahoma native Saadiq Long challenges unconstitutional searches and seizures (sometimes at gunpoint) and interference with freedom of movement on city streets and highways on the unlawful basis of a combination of warrantless dragnet surveillance and arbitrary extrajudicial blacklists.

According to Mr. Long’s application for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to protect his rights and his life while the case proceeds:

In the span of only two months, Saadiq Long has been repeatedly pulled over, arrested twice, held at gunpoint, and had his car searched by Oklahoma City Police Department officers. It is not because Saadiq is a criminal or suspected of being one. Mr. Long is an American citizen and Air Force veteran who has never been indicted, tried, or convicted of any kind of violent crime.

There is a different reason behind these obvious Fourth Amendment violations. That reason involves the intersection of two different dystopian webs: the vast network of cameras and computers maintained by the Oklahoma City Police Department and a secret, racist list of Muslims that the FBI makes available to Chief Wade Gourley and his officers.

That secret FBI list—variously called the federal terror watchlist, the Terrorism Screening Database (TSDB), and most recently the Terrorist Screening Dataset (TSDS)—is a list of more than a million names, almost all of them Muslim and Arab. The FBI adds whatever names it likes, without meaningful review and in accordance with secret processes and standards, for a stunning array of flimsy reasons. Government suspicion of ongoing criminal activity is not a prerequisite to being listed.

The FBI distributes its list, via the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Database, to the Oklahoma City Police Department. That is all that the FBI distributes: a list of names. The FBI keeps its reasons and evidence about the placement to itself. Because of this, the Department knows that the FBI put Saadiq Long on a watchlist but the Department has no idea why.

Mr. Long’s mistreatment by the US government — the government of the country where he was born and of which he was and still is a citizen — began when, while serving in the US Air Force from 1987-1998 and living in Turkey, he converted to Islam and applied for discharge from the Air Force as a conscientious objector on the basis of his new beliefs.

The Air Force denied his application for conscientious objector status, gave him an “other than honorable” discharge — and, unbeknownst to Mr. Long at the time, had him put on the US government’s No-Fly List as a “known or suspected terrorist”.

After leaving the Air Force, Mr. Long moved with his family first to Egypt and later to Qatar, where he found work as a teacher of English. He discovered that he was blacklisted by the US government almost a decade later when he tried to come back to the US to visit his terminally ill mother in Oklahoma City.

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Jan 20 2023

The #NoFly list is a #MuslimBan list

[CommuteAir routes operated as “United Express”]

In news first reported by Mikael Thalen and David Covucci of of the Daily Dot, Swiss hacker maia arson crimew has found versions of the Transportation Security Administration’s “No-Fly” and “Selectee” lists dating from 2019 on insecure Amazon Web Services cloud servers used by the airline CommuteAir for software development and staging.

CommuteAir is little known in its own name, but operates as a subcontractor to United Airlines for flights by regional jets between United hubs and secondary airports marketed under the “United Express” brand with United Airlines flight numbers.

In a statement to the Daily Dot, CommuteAir confirmed that, “The server contained data from a 2019 version of the federal no-fly list that included first and last names and dates of birth.”

This isn’t the first time that information about the TSA’s “watchlists” (blacklists) and related procedures has been leaked or left exposed on the Internet. In 2009, the TSA posted an unredacted copy of its Standard Operating Procedures for “screening” of airline passengers on a Federal government website for contractors. In 2014, the Terrorist Screening Center’s Watchlisting Guidance, which describes the methodology and purported basis for entering names on the No-Fly, Selectee, and other blacklists, was obtained and published by The Intercept.

The lists found by maia and shared with journalists and researchers confirm the TSA’s (1) Islamophobia, (2) overconfidence in the certainty of its pre-crime predictions, and (3) mission creep.

The data in the files found by maia is limited to first and last name and date of birth and a sequence number for each listing, but there are headers for several other fields that are blank in most of the records: place of birth, citizenship, passport or ID number, “MISC”, and a blank field labeled “CLEARED” which may have been used to indicate those entries that were intended to be to be whitelisted rather than blacklisted.

The most obvious pattern in the data is the overwhelming preponderance of Arabic or Muslim-seeming  names. More than 10% of the entries on the No-Fly list (174,202 of 1,566,062)  contain “MUHAMMAD” in either the first or last name fields. “It’s just crazy to me how big that Terrorism Screening Database is and yet there is still very clear trends towards almost exclusively Arabic and Russian sounding names throughout the million entries,” maia told the Daily Dot.

[Some of the listings for Osama Bin Laden — already long dead — on the 2019 No-Fly List]

The “NOFLY.csv” file found by maia contains 1,556,062 entries. The “SELECTEE.csv” file contains 251,169. The youngest of those on this version of the No-Fly List, as of 2019, were three four-year-olds. The oldest were twenty-five centenarians.

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Dec 06 2022

TSA argues for impunity for checkpoint staff who rape travelers

[Jonathan Corbett argues on behalf of Michele Leuthauser]

Two years ago, at least a dozen women on a Qatar Airways flight to Sydney were ordered off the plane at Doha Airport in Qatar and subjected to forced vaginal examinations.

Australia made diplomatic protests, as both the airline and the airport are controlled by the government of Qatar. The Qatari government issued a public apology and said that, “Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office.” Last month, just before the start of the World Cup soccer tournament in Qatar, some of the women filed a lawsuit in an Australian court  against the airport operator and the airline.

If you think that this couldn’t happen in the USA, or that the victims would fare better with government authorities and in the courts in the USA than in Qatar, think again.

Today a panel of judges of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument in San Francisco in a lawsuit (Michele Leuthauser v. USA) brought by a woman who complained that she was digitally penetrated — a finger pushed into her vagina, i.e., raped — in 2019 by Transportation Security Administration staff after they ordered her into a back room at the airport in Las Vegas for a “pat-down” after she went through a whole-body imaging  machine.

It’s bad enough to require that, if anything “anomalous” is spotted on the images taken by  the “virtual strip-search” machine, you have to go through a hands-on strip search. It’s another thing to turn that into a body cavity search involving groping and penetration.

Local police who were standing by refused to take a complaint from Ms. Leuthauser. Traumatized and unable to face TSA checkpoints again, she lost her job, which required frequent air travel. Eventually, after her claim against the US government for damages was administratively denied, she sued the TSA employees and the US government for damages.

Unlike the government of Qatar, however, the US government hasn’t apologized, said that what happened was illegal (or would be illegal if the complaint is proven to be true), or referred the TSA checkpoint staff for investigation and possible prosecution.

The TSA hasn’t even tried to dispute the truth and factual accuracy of the complaint.

Instead, the TSA has argued that, even if all of the allegations in Ms. Leuthauser’s complaint are true, the TSA and its employees have absolute impunity. Regardless of what “torts”, even rape, TSA checkpoint staff commit against travelers, the government claims that Federal courts have no jurisdiction to hear lawsuits or consider claims against them.

One might think that “sovereign immunity” would be a doctrine invoked by, say, the Qatari monarchy to dismiss lawsuits against the Emir. But in this case, it’s being invoked by the US government to exempt the TSA and an accused TSA rapist from any legal accountability.

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Dec 05 2022

DHS resets the clock on its threat to stop flyers without ID

 

Soccer fans have been noticing unusually large amounts of stoppage time added on to extend the final whistle in many of this year’s World Cup matches. But FIFA and World Cup referees have nothing on the US Department of Homeland Security when it comes to extending the end of the game of REAL-ID chicken that the DHS has been playing with air travelers.

Just a few months after adding a countdown clock to its website to add artistic verisimilitude to its threat to start “enforcing” a nonexistent law prohibiting flying without ID, the DHS has set that clock back by two more years.

The change announced today — only the most recent in a seemingly endless series of postponed empty REAL-ID threats — again postpones, but does not withdraw, the DHS threat to start preventing people without ID from traveling by airline within the US.

The DHS says it plans to promulgate another set of amendments to its regulations implementing the REAL-ID Act of 2005, postponing “enforcement” of the REAL-ID Act at airports until May 7, 2025. Conveniently for current Federal officials, that punts the problem of how to respond to the inevitable resistance to an attempted ban on flying without ID into the next Presidential administration.

Today’s press release from the DHS says, in part:

Under the new regulations, beginning May 7, 2025, every traveler 18 years of age or older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification at airport security checkpoints for domestic air travel.

We  doubt, however, that the revised regulations will contain any such provision. None of the previous versions of the REAL-ID regulations contained any provision requiring air travelers to identify themselves, and any such regulatory provision would exceed the implementing authority granted to the DHS by the REAL-ID statute.

The REAL-ID Act restricts what ID credentials a Federal agency can accept, in circumstances where ID is required by some other Federal law or regulation. But neither the REAL-ID Act nor any other current or proposed Federal law or regulation requires travelers to show any ID to pass through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints or board domestic flights within the US — as the TSA itself has argued whenever ID to fly has become an issue in court.

It should go without saying that one doesn’t have to take a “flying test” to obtain a drivers license. A drivers license is not a permit to fly, and possession (or not) of a valid drivers license is entirely unrelated to entitlement to travel by common carrier. The REAL-ID Act has done nothing to make flying safer, any more than preventing people without ID from flying would make flying safer. The only real impact of the REAL-ID Act  has been the creation of an (outsourced, privately held, opaque and uncontrolled) national ID database  (SPEXS) aggregated from state and territorial driver’s license records.

By the time the two more years of added “stoppage time” runs out on the DHS threat clock, twenty years will have passed since the REAL-ID Act was rushed through Congress in post-9/11 panic, without debate and with hardly time for legislators to read the bill.

Time is running out on the REAL-ID Act: Time for Congress to admit that the REAL-ID Act was wrong from the start, has enabled the creation of a de facto national ID database  overwhelmingly opposed by the American public, and should be repealed.

Nov 23 2022

The airport of the future is the airport of today — and that’s not good.

[Facial recognition at each step in airline passenger processing. Slide from presentation by Heathrow Airport Holdings Ltd. to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Traveler Identitification Program symposium, October 2018]

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, will probably be the busiest day for air travel in the USA since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

If you are flying this week for the first time in three years, what will you see that has changed?

Unfortunately, many of the most significant changes made during the pandemic are deliberately invisible — which is part of what makes them so evil.

During the pandemic, largely unnoticed, the dystopian surveillance-by design airport of the future that we’ve been worried and warning about for many years has become, in many places, the airport of today.

While travelers were sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, airports have taken advantage of the opportunity to move ahead with expansion and renovation projects. While passenger traffic was reduced, and terminals and other airport facilities were operating well below capacity, disruptions due to construction could be minimized.

A characteristic feature of almost all new or newly-renovated major airports in the U.S. and around the world is that they are designed and built on the assumption that all passengers’ movements within the airport will be tracked at all times, and that all phases of “passenger processing” will be carried out automatically using facial recognition, as shown in this video from a technology vendor, Airport of the Future:

[Stills from 2019 vendor video, Airport of the Future.]

In the airport of the future, or in a growing number of present-day airports, there’s no need for a government agency or airline that wants to use facial recognition to install cameras or data links for that purpose. As in the new International Arrivals Facility at Sea-Tac Airport, which opened this year, the cameras and connectivity are built into the facility as “common-use”  public-private infrastructure shared by airlines, government agencies, and the operator of the airport — whether that’s a public agency (as with almost all U.S. airports) or a private company (as with many foreign airports).

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Oct 04 2022

ICAO expands travel tracking and control through RFID passports

The triennial general assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is underway in Montreal for its first session since the outbreak of COVID-19, with speakers at its opening plenary last week including US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

It’s been many years since the US delegation to an ICAO meeting has included a Cabinet member. Secretary Buttigieg’s presence brought greater public attention than usual to the ICAO general assembly and related side events.  Unfortunately, news reports have focused on what Secretary Buttigieg said (mainly his comments about Taiwan) rather than on what ICAO is actually doing.

Despite its ostensibly limited role as a specialized international organization with a mandate to administer aviation treaties — a role which would make it logical for the US delegation to be headed by the Secretary of Transportation — police in the US and other ICAO members have coopted ICAO into functioning as a policy laundering venue for imposition of surveillance mandates on all travelers, whether or not they travel by air.

Rather than “faciliating” travel, ICAO’s Facilitation Programme is increasingly devoted to facilitating government control of travel. This includes a new ICAO standard, as discussed below, to enable global blackballing of travelers disfavored by any ICAO member country.

So far as we can tell, no representative of a data protection authority or a ministry primarily responsible for protection of human rights or civil liberties has been included in any country’s ICAO delegation or appointed to any ICAO technical working group.

But that hasn’t stopped ICAO from issuing mandates, under the purported authority of aviation treaties but directly contrary to human rights treaties, for the creation of a new surveillance and pre-crime profiling agency in every ICAO member, and for deployment and use of passports containing remotely-readable RFID chips.

ICAO’s lack of expertise in this non-aviation policy area makes it exceptionally vulnerable to capture — and indeed it has been entirely captured — by a malign convergence of interest between proponents of government  surveillance and control of travel and a travel industry which has been given a free ride for its shared use of government surveillance infrastructure and information for its own business process automation.

Here’s the bad news about what’s happening at ICAO with RFID passports:

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Sep 22 2022

Freedom to travel to get an abortion

[Arrows indicate populations of states where abortion is, or is likely to become, illegal, and directions and distances to the nearest states where abortion is legal. Note that some of the routes shown are more likely to be followed than others, since abortion is more or less heavily restricted in some states where it is shown on this map as legal. Diagram by Bloomberg News based on data from the Guttmacher Institute.]

Increasing variations between state laws related to abortion are prompting an increase in the already large numbers of women who travel across state lines to obtain abortions.

For women in many states, bans on abortion are making the right to interstate travel an essential prerequisite to the right to obtain an abortion.

Both anti-abortion vigilantes and state laws criminalizing actions related to abortion, including facilitating abortion-related travel, are prompting women seeking abortions as well as those who support abortion rights to think about how to protect abortion travelers and their supporters against identification, surveillance, stalking, harassment, or legal sanctions.

In this context, the right to anonymous travel has acquired new importance and urgency. If you’ve wondered, “Why would anyone want to travel anonymously?” now you know one of the reasons.  But what’s needed is “right to travel” legislation, not just “privacy” legislation. Current Federal “privacy” bills would do little to protect abortion travelers.

What are the patterns of abortion-related travel? How could state authorities or private vigilantes identify or track the travels of these women — whether they drive or take buses, trains, planes, or automobiles? What, if anything, can women traveling across state lines to obtain abortions do to protect themselves against being identified, tracked, and potentially prosecuted or subjected to retaliation, harassment, or other sanctions?  What could the Federal government do to protect these women’s right to travel, and to do so privately and safely?

As discussed in detail below, the possibilities for technical self-defense against threats to the right to travel are limited. Congress needs to act to include protection for the right to travel — regardless of the purpose for which you  travel — in any abortion rights legislation.

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Sep 19 2022

CBP aggregates and disseminates travel data from warrantless searches

A series of revelations in recent months have highlighted a pattern of misuse by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of data about travelers and their activities.

Information obtained without a warrant or probable cause under a under a variety of exceptions to the Fourth Amendment (including administrative searches and mug shots at airports, border searches, and “consent” to collection of location information by private third parties) has been aggregated, indexed, and made available for search and retrieval by other CBP staff, other law enforcement agencies, and foreign governments.

Use of the fruit of this surveillance of travelers hasn’t been limited to the government agency that first obtained it from travelers or commercial third parties, or to the purpose that purportedly allowed CBP to obtain it without warrant or probable cause. No access logs are maintained for some of these databases of travel surveillance data, so it’s impossible to audit how they have been used.

Here’s some of what CBP has been up to with its travel surveillance databases:

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Sep 16 2022

Countdown to a crackdown on flying without ID

The Department of Homeland Security has added a Countdown to REAL ID Enforcement at airports to its website. But questions remain as to what this really means, despite our best efforts to find out.

What — if anything — will really change at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints when this countdown clock runs out on May 3, 2023?

Nothing in the law will change on that date. The REAL-ID Act of 2005 established criteria for which ID credentials can be “accepted” by Federal government agencies, in circumstances where individuals are required by Federal law or regulations to possess and/or show some evidence of their identity. But the consistent position of the DHS and TSA in litigation has been that no law or regulation requires air travelers to possess or show any ID. And the REAL-ID Act did not create any new requirement to have or show ID to fly.

Since the REAL-ID Act applies only to which IDs are accepted from those who choose to show ID to fly, it should have no effect, now or at at any date in the future, on those who don’t have, or choose not to show, ID to fly. They still have the right to fly without ID — as more than a hundred thousand people do every year — subject at most to a more intrusive administrative search of their person and baggage.

The “deadline” announced by the DHS and TSA might indicate plans for new regulations that would impose a requirement for air travelers to have or to show ID. But no such regulations have been proposed or included in DHS or TSA agendas of planned rulemaking.

Despite the lack of any apparent legal authority, however, it appears from the latest extrajudicial DHS and TSA rulemaking-by-press-release that these agencies plan to begin preventing anyone from flying without ID on or after May 3, 2023, on unknown grounds.

The following statement now appears on the DHS and TSA websites:

What happens if I show up without a valid driver’s license or state ID?

Starting May 3, 2023, every traveler will need to present a REAL ID-compliant license or an acceptable form of identification to fly within the U.S. Passengers who do not present an acceptable form of identification will not be permitted through the security checkpoint.

This would be a major change, with no legal basis, from current practice or any previously disclosed DHS or TSA plans.

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