May 18 2009

GAO moves the goalposts to “approve” Secure Flight

We were surprised last week to see that the GAO has issued a report certifying that, “As of April 2009, TSA had generally achieved 9 of the 10 statutory conditions related to the development of the Secure Flight program and had conditionally achieved 1 condition (TSA had defined plans, but had not completed all activities for this condition).”

Surprised, that is, until we we saw how the GAO had defined (re-defined?) those statutory conditions in ways very different from what we thought they meant, or what we think Congress thought they meant: Read More

May 18 2009

Time to stop tinkering with “watchlists”

This month the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Justice has released a report on their recent audit of the FBI’s “Terrorist Watchlist Nomination Practices”.

The OIG report contains far more detail than has previously been made public about how and by whom (although very little about why) the government’s watchlists are compiled. It’s must reading for anyone interested in how the US government is deciding who to allow, and who not to allow, to travel or to engage in other activities for which these watchlists are used as blacklists.

As we discuss in our FAQ about Secure Flight, these watchlists serve as the primary determinant of who the DHS (both the CBP for international flights and the TSA for domestic flights, although eventually the TSA under Secure Flight for both) gives permission to fly.

Unfortunately, because it is confined to the “nomination” component of the system, the OIG report fails to address the more fundamental problems with the watchlist system — problems that cannot be resolved by the sort of tinkering with the watchlisting process that is suggested by the OIG’s recommendations. A much more fundamental change is required in how the watchlists and their use are conceptualized.

Read More