Dec 13 2009

Congress members: “Kill the messenger!”

Three members of Congress have sent a joint letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano about the posting of a version of the TSA’s Screening Management Standard Operating Procedures on a Federal government website.  (We’re still pursuing our FOIA appeal for the current version and related documents, which the TSA has been stonewalling, as well as our complaint against the blatantly discriminatory portions of the procedures.)

The signers of the letter to the DHS Secretary include Rep. Pete King, ranking Republican members of the House Homeland Security Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on the release of the TSA procedures this Wednesday, December 16, 2009.  (The Committee’s Chairman has already sent the TSA some questions of his own in advance of the hearing.)

Among the questions the three Representatives ask are the following:

6. How has the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration addressed the repeated reposting of this security manual to other websites and what legal action, if any, can be taken to compel its removal?

7. Is the Department considering issuing new regulations pursuant to its authority in section 114 of title 49, United States Code, and are criminal penalties necessary or desirable to ensure such information is not reposted in the future?

Perhaps these members of Congress haven’t bothered to read the current law that protects the right to “use” (such as by removing the black blocks that were coded to appear over portions of the document) and “redissemination” of documents (such as by reposting on other websites), once they are made available to the public as this one was on a public government website:

44 U.S.C. 3506(d)

With respect to information dissemination, each agency shall—

(1) ensure that the public has timely and equitable access to the agency’s public information, including ensuring such access through—
(A) encouraging a diversity of public and private sources for information based on government public information;
(B) in cases in which the agency provides public information maintained in electronic format, providing timely and equitable access to the underlying data (in whole or in part); and
(C) agency dissemination of public information in an efficient, effective, and economical manner;

(2) regularly solicit and consider public input on the agency’s information dissemination activities;

(3) provide adequate notice when initiating, substantially modifying, or terminating significant information dissemination products; and

(4) not, except where specifically authorized by statute—
(A) establish an exclusive, restricted, or other distribution arrangement that interferes with timely and equitable availability of public information to the public;
(B) restrict or regulate the use, resale, or redissemination of public information by the public;
(C) charge fees or royalties for resale or redissemination of public information; or
(D) establish user fees for public information that exceed the cost of dissemination.

Dec 13 2009

FBI reveals claimed No-Fly criteria

In the course of testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, the Director of the FBI’s “Terrorist Screening Center” (TSC) has, for the first time, stated publicly what the government claims to be the “substantive derogatory criteria” used in the (secret, non-adversarial, extra-judicial) process of determining whether to place a name on the “No-Fly” list, i.e to deny a person their Constitutional and human rights to travel, as well as some tidbits about how that decision-making process works.

We wonder about the cadre of people Director Healy of the TSC is describing: Federal employees (your tax dollars at work!) who spend their working hours, day after day, in some secret room in a secret FBI facility, reviewing one dossier of one-sided “derogatory” information after another, never meeting or communicating with any of the people they judge, and deciding based solely on the dossier (including the records about the subject and their travel history from the “Automated Targeting System”) whether or not to “permit” that person to continue to exercise their rights.

Until someone from this team comes forward to talk about their work, the closest we can come to understanding what it might be like may be the Federal bureaucrats of an earlier era of infamy whose job it was to evaluate interned Japanese-Americans to decide which to allow out of the camps, which to allow to live where in the country, and which to allow to hold which jobs.  Their story is told by Prof. Eric Muller ( of the University of North Carolina Law School in American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II. But unlike today’s TSC staff, they were able to interview and/or see responses to questionnaires completed by internees, rather than judging completely in the dark, from the file of “derog” alone.

If anyone at the TSC wants to talk about their job, we’re all ears. In the meantime, here’s what the head of the TSC had to say about their work:  Read More