Jul 17 2009

PASS ID or REAL-ID? Tweedle-dum or Tweedle-dee?

The Senate Homeland Secuirty Committee hearing this Wednesday on “Reevaluating the REAL ID Act” was a sham, in which the only”opponents” or “critics” of the current REAL-ID law allowed to testify were those who prefer the PASS-ID bill to substitute an alternate national ID card mandate.  Critics of any national ID need not apply to be heard as part of this debate between Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum.

Eevn the few positive features of  the PASS-ID bill came under attack.  Senator Collins of Maine wanted to know whether the bill would allow the sort of airport “security” measures that are used in Israel (notorious for ethnic profiling), and specifically whether the PASS-ID provision that, ““no person shall be denied boarding a commercial aircraft solely on the basis of failure to present a driver’s license or identification card issued pursuant to this subtitle,” would still allow denail of boarding, regardless of ID, solely on the basis of “behavioural profiling”.  And the National Retail Association wants to make sure that the PASS-ID prohibition on non-governmental scanning or use of machine-readable (bar-code, mag stripe, or RFID) data on government-issued ID cards would still allow stores to skim this data in order to profile patterns of “suspicious” merchandise returns.  Would anyone object, they want to know, to an exception to this provision that would allow scanning and tracking of machine-readable ID data to detect or prevent “fraud or other illegal activity”?

Yes, we would object to such an open-ended exception.  More importantly, we object to any mandatory national ID.  So do tens of millions of Americans, regardless of whether Congress does’t want our views to be part of the debate.

Jul 17 2009

Secure Flight to use same data mining tools as CAPPS-II

The TSA has been anxious to convince us that the renamed Secure Flight scheme for airline passenger profiling, surveillance, and control is fundamentally different and (despite the great new name) less Orwellian than its prdecessor, the thoroughly discredited CAPPS-II (“Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System, version 2”).

The TSA also wants us to believe that Secure Flight “does not use commercial data” (actually, it relies primarily on commercial data in airline reservations or Passenger Name Records) or data mining.

Now we learn from the boasts of one of the TSA’s contractors that “Secure Flight” will rely on the same fuzzy matching and data mining software that was used in the first trials of CAPPS-II in 2002 — which were unsuccessful, and which used illegally obtained PNRs for real travelers on real flights.

And despite the TSA’s claims that it isn’t a data-mining system, the contractor, Infoglide Software, describes the software being incorporated into “Secure Flight” as a tool for “mining today’s evergrowing sources of data”.  Oops!  perhaps the TSA forgot to tell them the party line about how to describe their products, or their marketing department didn’t get the message.

Nothing has really changed in CAPPS-3, a/k/a “Secure Flight”.  Depite all the minor tweaks from CAPPS-II, it still doesn’t meet the standards required by international human rights treates, the Constitution, or Federal statutes. Nothing has changed, including the need to stop it now — before another billion dollars or more is spent over the next year or two on implementing this system of surveillance and control of our movements.

Jul 14 2009

D.C. Circuit court enjoins checkpoints on public streets

Striking down both a permission-based system of controls of movement (under which motorists on public streets in the District of Columbia were required to explain the purposes of their intended movements to the satisfaction of police before being permitted to pass police checkpoints, with the burden of justification placed on the would-be travellers), and the use of “security”, generalized crime prevention or deterrence, and general law enforcement as justifications for the use of checkpoints as de facto general warrants to stop, detain, interrogate, and compel responses to questions by travellers on public rights of way, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has overturned the denial by the D.C. District Court of a permanent injunction against the Metropolitan Police scheme of so-called Neighborhood Safety Zones.

In Mills v. District of Columbia (No. 08-7127, decided July 10, 2009), the D.C. Circuit Court explicitly addressed, and reaffirmed, both the right to movement on public ways (“It cannot be gainsaid that citizens have a right to drive upon the public streets of the District of Columbia or any other city absent a constitutionally sound reason for limiting their access”) and the unconstitutionality of checkpoint stops, searches, or seizures “whose primary purpose was to detect evidence of ordinary criminal wrongdoing…. Because the primary purpose of the … checkpoint program is ultimately indistinguishable from the general interest in crime control, the checkpoints violate the Fourth Amendment” (quoting City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32).

It’s also notable that the Court ruled as it did despite explicitly noting that the checkpoints at issue applied only to travellers by motor vehicle, and not to pedestrians.  (It’s unclear from the appellate opinion how bicyclists and other travellers by non-motoirized vehicle were treated.)  The undisputed fact that there existed an alternative, unrestricted mode of travel — by foot — was not a factor in the decision.

We’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader, and the TSA, to consider how the logic of this decision — and the Supreme Court precedent in Indianapolis v. Edmond on which it relies — would apply to TSA checkpoints at airports.

Our friends at Checkpoint USA have more details in their Roadblock Revelations blog.