Feb 20 2009

“Homeland Security USA” shows how to travel without ID

The new “reality” television show Homeland Security USA has prompted a Facebook group calling for it to be taken off the air, and protests against its bigotry outside the ABC-TV / Walt Disney Corp. offices in Burbank, even while ratings and viewership have been falling steadily since the first episode.

This week, though, the show gave us a useful lesson: how to fly (within the U.S.) without showing ID.

You can watch Benjamin fly without showing ID in the first half of Episode 5 here on the ABC.com website. (The player won’t work unless it thinks you are running Windows XP or Vista, but it’s possible — sometimes — to get it to work in Linux by using the Windows version of Firefox in the “wine” environment.) Read More

Feb 11 2009

ID checks and government logs of hotel guests

Demands for ID credentials from hotel guests are once again in the public eye, with commenters in travel journalist Christopher Elliott’s blog weighing in with opinions on his recent article about an Orlando hotel, Hotel shows customer the door after he refuses to show ID — can it do that?

This sort of thing doesn’t happen only in the land of Disney World, though. Coincidentally, one of the final public acts of the outgoing Chief Privacy Officer of the DHS last month was to release a lengthy analysis of European laws and practices for requiring hotel guests to identify themselves, and for government access to those records: Interim Report on the EU Approach to the Commercial Collection of Personal Data for Security Purposes: The Special Case of Hotel Guest Registration Data. Read More

Feb 09 2009

Exit permits, ESTA, APIS, and asylum seekers

According to a recently-released European Commission staff working document, the U.S. Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is not “tantamount to the … visa … process” required for admission to the European “Schengen Zone”, and therefore does not give cause for the imposition of reciprocal visa requirements for US citizens seeking to enter Schengen countries.

That’s may be correct. But the EC appears to have asked the wrong question: the ESTA is not an entry permit but an exit permit scheme — which is a much more fundamental violation of human rights, U.S. treaty obligations, and the sovereignty of European and other countries from which people might wish to travel to the U.S.

The same is true of other U.S. travel control schemes (including the APIS and Secure Flight regulations), the proposed European PNR regulations, and the “carrier responsibility” rules in both the U.S. and the E.U.  Regardless of whether it is referred to as “travel authorization”, “pre-departure clearance”, or “permission to transport”, the only meaningful way to construe a “travel authorization” that isn’t an entry visa is as a de facto exit visa. Read More

Feb 04 2009

Amtrak police arrest participant in Amtrak photo contest

On December 21, 2008, Amtrak police arrested a photographer taking pictures on a public platform at Penn Station in New York … in response to an Amtrak photo contest calling for the public to submit photos of Amtrak trains.

We had heard about this story before, but now the Colbert Report has the story including an interview with the photographer, Duane Kerzic, and a reenactment of the incident, in the form of a great parody of the new Homeland Security USA “reality” show.   Kerzic’s own Web site includes his own description of what happened and actual photos before and after his arrest (including his injuries from the police).

Full episodes of the “real” Homeland Security USA are available in a peculiar streaming video format on the ABC television Web site.  (The player will only work if it thinks you are running Windows XP or Vista, but you can get it to work in Linux by using Firefox for Windows in the Wine environment.)

Episodes of the show broadcast to date, and available online, include such incidents as the warrantlesss “dump” of the data in a cell phone carried by a person trying to enter the U.S. from Canada, and their (and their companions’) being refused entry to the US based on a phone number in the cell phone believed to match a number associated with an entry for a different person on the no-fly list.  All without any hearing or involvement by a judge, of course, and without their being told anything about the data in the no-fly list entry used as the basis for refusing to allow them into the U.S.

Feb 03 2009

Drive-by reader for RFID drivers licenses and passport cards

Hacker and researcher Chris Paget has demonstrated the ability to read the globally unique serial numbers on RFID chips in passport cards and electronic drivers licenses in the purses and pockets of pedestians on the street from a passing car, at least 30 feet (9 m) away, and to make cloned copies that broadcast the same ID numbers, using a laptop computer and commercial surplus hardware bought on eBay for $250.

Read More