Jun 30 2010

New lawsuit challenges no-fly orders

In a lawsuit filed today by the ACLU in Federal court in Oregon, Latif, et al. v. Holder, et al., ten U.S. citizens who have been refused permission to board flights to, from, or within the US, or have boarded flights to the U.S. only to have them turn back en route, are suing the Attorney General, the Director of the FBI, and the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center for denying their rights by ordering airlines not to transport them.

At least one of the plaintiffs even flew to Mexico, to avoid overflying the US, with the hope of returning to the US by land.  Instead, he was arrested by Mexican police (presumably at the behest of the U.S. government, and deported not to the country of his citizenship, the USA, but to Colombia, where he has only a temporary visa and can’t remain.  That should have prompted diplomatic protest by the US to Mexico for the improper deportation of a US citizen to a third country.  But presumably Mexico acted at the behest of the US, and there has been no sign of US objection.

So far as we know, this is only the second lawsuit to directly challenge the legality of no-fly orders, and the first on behalf of US citizens.  The previous case was brought by Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian graduate student at Stanford University, after she was detained by San Francisco Airport police and prevented from flying home to her country in 2005. While her complaint remains pending against the individual police in U.S. District court for the Northern District of California, the cases against all of the Federal agencies and officials have been dismissed.

The latest case will test whether the Obama Administration still agrees with former Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff that no-fly decisions should not be subject to judicial review.  [Update: From the latest statement by the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, it appears that they may.] And it will be closely watched in Europe as well, where the Obama Administration has assured the European Union that adequate means of redress do exist in U.S. courts for individuals — including some of the plaintiffs in the latest case — denied permission to travel from the EU to the U.S. on the basis of passenger data transmitted to the DHS.

Jun 30 2010

Will Canadian travelers be subject to more US tracking and control?

After a series of investigative reports in the Canwest newspapers in March of this year called attention to the lack of any legal basis under Canadian law for US government access to information about flights to and from Canada that overfly the US (notably including Canada-Cuba flights), the Canadian Conservative minority government has responded by introducing a bill earlier this month that would, if approved by the Canadian Parliament, override Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) to allow the US or any foreign government to find out who is on flights to and from Canada overflying those countries, even if they don’t land in the US.

Canadian law was amended after September 11, 2001, to override PIPEDA and allow US government access to airline reservation data, but only for flights that actually carry passengers to or from the USA. BIll C-42 would extend that to overflights of any country that wants to vet (or simply log) who’s on flights through its airspace.

The sponsors of the latest proposal, Bill C-42, expect it to be controversial, and it has already been criticized by opposition MPs.  Opposition parties have united to pass other legislation supported by the minority government related to collaboration with US wars (such as a measure supporting political asylum in Canada for people resisting service in the US military in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that violate Canadian and international law), and some observers predict that could happen with Bill C-42 as well.

We certainly hope that Canadians learn from the mistakes of the USA, stand up for their sovereignty, and say “no” to US surveillance of overflights, just as people in the USA would say “no” if the Cuban government demanded to know who is on the dozens of flights every day that fly over Cuba en route between Miami and South America.