Oct 01 2009

Should an invalid ticket make you a criminal?

During today’s markup by the Senate Judiciary Committee of S.1692, the “USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act of 2009” (note that there is no “USA PATRIOT Repeal Act”),  Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced a truly bizarre and obviously ill-considered amendment to criminalize “Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, false travel documents, authentication features, and information.”

The amendment would amend 18 U.S. 1028 to add tickets and boarding passes for airlines or any form of mass transportation, making it a Federal felony knowlingly to “prduce”, “transfer”, traffic in, possess with intent to use, etc.:

a document issued for the use of a particular, identified individual and of a type intended or commonly accepted for the purposes of passage on a commercial aircraft or mass transportation vehicle, including a ticket or boarding pass, that —

(A) was not issued by or under the authority of a commercial airline or mass transportation provider, but appears to be issued by or under the authority of a commercial airline or mass transportation provider; or

(B) was issued by or under the authority of a commercial airline or mass transportation provider, and was subsequently altered for purposes of deceit.

The ostensible intent is apparently to stop the use of Photoshopped (or “gimped”?) boarding passes, which would be a pointless exercise anyway. But as written, Kyl’s amendment would in a far wider range of activity, such as mere possession of a ticket issued by a travel agent whose appointment had been revoked by the airline.  The main beneficiaries would be airlines and mass transit agencies, who would find what are currently either torts or minor state crimes by their customers converted into serious Federal felonies. A first offense of altering the expiration time on city bus transfers for a family of five people, or possession of five subway-token slugs, for example, would be punishable by up to 15 years in Federal prison.

The best-known of the print-your-own boarding pass generators was published by Christopher Soghoian, who was investigated by the FBI but charged with no crime, and who now works for the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in its division of privacy and identity protection. Soghoian reports from today’s markup session that presiding Judiciary Committee Chairman Leahy ruled Kyl’s amendment out of order as not germane to the USA PATRIOT Act bill under consideration, after which Kyl said he would introduce it as a separate bill.

Oct 01 2009

Do you need government ID to observe Federal government meetings?

With the public paying more attention ot Federal financial policy, more people might be interested in watching government meetings like those of the Federal Reserve Board.

But what if you don’t have  government-issued identity credentials, or don’t chose to show them? Are you still entitles to observe your tax dollars at work?

We recently came across this 2002 opinion from Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, advising the the Federal Reserve Board that notwithstanding the open meeting requirements of the Government in the Sunshine Act, the Fed can prevent people from watching its meetings if they don’t give advance notice of their intent to attend, don’t have or won’t reveal their Social Security Number or various other information, or if they don’t have or won’t show a photo ID.

Footnote 4 of the 2002 opinion points out a 1977 DoJ letter that states, “[o]f course, any person may attend a meeting without indicating his identity and/or the person, if any, whom he represents and no requirement of prior notification of intent to observe a meeting may be required.” However, the OLC “disagrees with” that letter.

This took place, ,of course, at a time when the OLC was also advising Federal agencies on the legality of torture, “extraordinary rendition”, and so forth.  But we can find no record of any action by the Obama Administration to rescind or update this advice.

All of which begs the Catch-22 question of what happens to people who want to enter government buildings where ID is required for entry — such as passport offices located in Federal office buildings — in order to apply for the ID credentials they don’t yet have.

Oct 01 2009

Congress, investors won’t let “Trusted Traveler” die

As a hearing yesterday before the Subcommittee on Transportation of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republicans and Democrats joined in urging a re-start of the all-but-bankrupt “Registered Traveler” or “Trusted Traveler” scheme that shut down this June.  Subcommittee members even went to so far as to criticize the TSA for having planned — until members of Congress and a temporary injunction in a customer lawsuit for refunds prevailed on them to hold off — to delete the fingerprints, iris scans, and other personal data collected for use by the TSA and the Registered/Trusted Traveler vendors.  If you think this data should be purged from government files sooner rather than later, let your representative know what you think.

Amazingly, there are even private equity investors who showed up at the hearing to proclaim their readiness to buy some of the assets (including the personal data bank, of course, but not the liability for refunds to no-longer-trusted travelers who now want out) of the largest of the former registered-traveler operator, “Clear” Verified Identity Pass, and to try to bring it back to life.

But the would-be investors made clear that their business model would depend on government support.  The TSA has admitted that the Registered Traveler program has no security value, and stopped conducting, or charging for, background checks on applicants.  That leaves the program as nothing more than a way for members to pay extra to go through a dedicated line at the TSA checkpoint, which is possible only if the TSA allows these private companies to control access to the government checkpoint people have to pass through to travel by common carrier.  Sort of like a government-facilitated scheme to allow you to bribe your way to the front of the line.  Except that it’s more like extortion than bribery, since the point is not to receive government services but to avoid (in part) government restrictions and costs imposed on the exercise of rights.

The government has no business collaborating with this racket, or helping private businesses shake down members of the public who can’t afford the delays imposed by TSA security theater.  “Trusted Traveler” is dead, and the government should leave it in its grave.