Nov 26 2009

“Keeping Track of Travelers’ Personal Information”

WSAV-TV has a Thanksgiving travel-season report on what they found when they used our forms and instructions to request their travel records from the DHS “Automated Targeting System”, including examples of what sorts of information are included in these records and extensive supplmentary material on their website including a 20-minute interview with Identity Project consultant Edward Hasbrouck.

Nov 17 2009

Traveler arrested at Albuquerque TSA checkpoint

A traveler attempting to return home from a political conference (a gathering clearly protected by the First Amendment right to assemble) was arrested at a TSA checkpoint at the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Sunday after he (1) politely declined to show tangible evidence of his identity and (2) began recording audio, video, and/or still photographs of the incident with a handheld device. The traveler, Phil Mocek, has been a regular participant in discussions of ID requirements and TSA procedures on, and has been mentioned here before for his efforts to uncover what the “rules” if any) are at TSA checkpoints. According to initial reports and discussion elsewhere, he was released Monday, after a night in jail, and charged with criminal trespass (Albuquerque Code of Ordinances § 12-2-3), resisting, obstructing or refusing to obey a lawful order of an officer (§ 12-2-19), concealing identity with intent to obstruct, intimidate, hinder or interrupt (§ 12-2-16), and disorderly conduct (NMSA § 30-2-1). [Note: It appears that direct links to sections of the Albuquerque Code of Ordinances will work only after you click on the Albuquerque Code of Ordinances link and then on either “frames” or “no frames”, to set the required cookies in your Web browser.]

As of now, it’s unclear whether the arrest was primarily in retaliation for Mr Mocek’s declining to proffer evidence of his identity or his recording of audio, video, and/or still photographs.  It’s also unclear whether he was arrested by, or at the behest of, Feds or local or state law enforcement officers (or TSA contractor rent-a-cops?), an issue that has figured prominently and sometimes decisively in other ID-demand and checkpoint cases.

We wish Mr. Mocek success in defending against these bogus charges and obtain obtaining redress from those responsible. We’ll have more to say as soon as we have a chance to see the actual complaint.

(We’ve been in touch with Mr. Mocek. As of now, he can’t comment on what happened, on the advice of counsel.  But if you’d like to help him fight back, you can contribute to his legal defense fund.)

[UPDATE: The trial which was scheduled to begin June 14, 2010 has been postponed. Check  our FAQ about the case or the court calendar for further updates as soon as they are available. For the status of the case, go to the county court website, complete the “captcha”, and enter “2573709” in the “criminal case number” field.  Documents obtained by Mr. Mocek in response to his requests under New Mexico’s public records laws, including police reports and audio recordings, have been posted here.  For further updates, see the ongoing discussion in the travel “security” forum at Mr. Mocek is represented by private defense counsel, at considerable personal expense. You can help by making a donation to his defense fund.]

Nov 10 2009

TSA releases excerpts from guidelines for searches

As part of an effort to derail the lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of Steve Bierfeldt — who was detained and interrogated at a TSA checkpoint at the St. Louis airport because he was (a) carrying an (entirely legal) amount of cash that the TSA agents apparently didn’t like, although they admitted that there was any suspicion that he had violated any TSA regulation or posed an threat to aviation, and (b) declined to answer questions about his money unless the TSA told him, which they persistently declined to do, whether he was legally required ot answer their questions — the TSA has filed a public declaration with the court that includes their latest “Management Directive” on searches of travelers.

The directive is the first official TSA document to be made public concerning the limits (if any) and authority (if any) for TSA searches of travelers. It’s part of the information the Identity Project is currently attempting to obtain through a pending request under the  Freedom of Information Act for the TSA’s “Screening Management Standard Operating Procedures” (SOP) as well as “any and all … interpretive or guidance notes, usage instructions, or the like”, such as the Management Directive included in the TSA’s court declaration.  Under FOIA, the TSA’s response to our request is due by this Friday, November 13th, unless they ask for a 10-day extension for special reasons, and we are eager to see the rest of the SOP and the directives interpreting and implementing it.

The “Management Directive” in the declaration filed with the court by the TSA only concerns searches.  It does cover  searches for evidence of identiy, although to avoid categorizing them as “searches” it describes them as “screening for identification media”.  But it’s completely silent regarding interrogations, Miranda warnings, or your right to remain silent.  So it looks like neither Steve Bierfeldt nor the public will get an answer, at least for now, to the question he kept asking the TSA agents who detained and interrogated him: “Am I legally required to answer that question?”

Nov 02 2009

TSA nominee up for Senate questioning November 10th

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security has scheduled a hearing on Tuesday, November 10th, at 10 a.m. in Washington to consider the nomination of Erroll G. Southers to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration.

None of the questions we think are important got asked during an earlier confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce and Transportation Committee.  If you want the nominee for TSA to have to tell us, before he is confirmed, whether or not he thinks we have a right to travel, whether TSA decisions should be subject to judicial review, and whether he thinks the government should be keeping logs of the movements of innocent people, let your Senators and the members of the Homeland Security Committee know about your concerns, before November 10th.

We’ve asked for expedited processing of our FOIA request for the TSA’s “Standard Operating Procedures” at checkpoints, in order to make it possible to ask the nominee about those procedures and which of them he would change.

Nov 02 2009

“Do I have the right to refuse this search?”

We’re not the only people asking questions about what is and isn’t required of travelers at TSA checkpoints.  Here’s the latest account — by a recently-retired career police officer — of what can happen when you try to ask these questions.

The author of the article didn’t get much of an answer — which is, of course, disturbing in itself. Our FOIA request for the TSA’s complete screening manual and Standard Operating Procedures for airport checkpoints remains pending. we got excerpts earlier this year, after months of delay, but now we’ve asked for the entire document on an expedited basis.