Aug 25 2010

Lawsuit filed against DHS travel surveillance

In the first lawsuit to challenge one of the U.S. government’s largest post-9/11 dragnet surveillance programs, the First Amendment Project (FAP) filed suit today under the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the DHS division that operates the illegal “Automated Targeting System” of lifetime travel histories and travel surveillance dossiers including complete airline reservations (Passenger Name Records or PNRs).  The Identity Project is part of FAP, and the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Identity Project consultant and travel expert Edward Hasbrouck.

The complaint filed today in Hasbrouck v. CBP asks the court to declare that CBP violated the Privacy Act and FOIA, and order CBP to turn over the travel records about himself that Hasbrouck has requested, as well as an accounting of who else CBP has disclosed these records to, what happened to Hasbrouck’s previous unanswered Privacy Act and FOIA requests and appeals (some of which have been pending and ignored by CBP for almost three years, and may have been among those recently revealed to have been improperly held up for “political review” by higher-ups in DHS and/or the White House), and how these records in the CBP “Automated Targeting System” are indexed, searched, and retrieved.

The case is important in part because it shows that, despite DHS claims that everyone who has asked for their travel records has received them, and that no one has complained about DHS misuse of PNR data, DHS has entirely ignored many such requests and complaints, even when they have come from U.S. citizens like Mr. Hasbrouck.

There’s more about the case and its significance in our FAQ: Edward Hasbrouck v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

12 thoughts on “Lawsuit filed against DHS travel surveillance

  1. Pingback: Lawsuit filed against DHS travel surveillance - FlyerTalk Forums

  2. First response from DHS, via Tnooz: “A CBP spokeswoman declined to comment on the particulars of Hasbrouck’s suit, citing his privacy concerns. The CBP spokeswoman added that passengers ‘voluntarily’ give airlines permission to collect their travel data and personal information, and the CBP culls that information and performs a risk assessment for possible enforcement action. In an interview, Hasbrouck said it’s false that passengers freely give airlines the right to collect personal information because … if travelers withhold that information from airlines or travel agencies they may not be able to board a plane or leave the country…. He also warns that U.S.-based GDSs and travel agencies should be aware that if they go along with such data requests that they could be risking legal action by European individuals or governments and could face substantial liabilities. ‘This should be a wake-up call to travel intermediaries in the U.S. that they can’t escape liability for [releasing] personal information when they are part of the conveyor belt,’ Hasbrouck says.”

  3. FutureZone @ Passenger Name Records / Flugdaten: “US-Heimatschutz belügt EU”.

    Portions of the the PNR showing root access to the Galileo CRS by DHS/CBP, mentioned in the ORF article, were reproduced on page 5 of the Identity Project’s initial report on our research into ATS records.

    This was a real PNR for a real person obtained from DHS/CBP. The traveller went from the USA (SFO) to Berlin (TXL) on United Airlines. She stayed six days in Berlin. Then she went from Berlin to Prague to London on Czech Airways (IATA code “OK”). Then she stayed for another 6 days in London. Then
    she returned from London to SFO on United.

    The flights on Czech Air were entirely within the EU. They did not connect to or from flights to or from the US, or on a US airline. The PNR shows that travel agent issued a separate ticket, and a separate fare, for the Czech Air flights — they weren’t on same ticket with the United flights.

    But the travel agent followed standard travel agency procedures and made all the reservations for the entire journey in the same CRS, in this case Galileo (the CRS used by United). When DHS pulled the PNR, they didn’t just pull the portion on United, but pulled the entire travel agency PNR, including the flights on Czech Air. This confirms that DHS had root access to Galileo, not just access through United , since United would not have been able to see the details of the Czech Air flights and ticket.

  4. Thank You, and good luck!

    I have come across information on your suit against the US Gov’t and DHS, and the fantastic summary you did. I just felt I should thank You for your effort and bravery.

    I just wanted to let You know there are people and organisations all over the world (Poland here, by the way) that see the diffusion of privacy and personal rights and freedoms in America as a very dangerous precedent that might “inspire” other countries (and indeed, often it already does) to follow suit (pun not intended).

    I come from a nation that had to fight for independence and freedom many times throughout its history. For 21 years we are finally Free – after almost 200 years of enslavement. I have the distinct privilege to not remember the Polish People’s Republic and the times long gone by (I’m 25), but we all here either remember, or simply know (from history lessons, from relatives, from literature) what Orwellian surveillance was like. We all remember or know about the atmosphere, the Kafka-esque processes of law, the fright… And we remember or know what sacrifices had to be made to be finally Free.

    Maybe that’s why ideas like secret lists, internet filtering and similar ideas meet with a decisive public resistance. For now. But if the USA, the country people 15-20 years older than me saw as a symbol of freedom and one of the only allies we had against the USSR, slides down this slippery slope any more, resistance can only become harder.

    The more can we admire what You are doing.

    Hence, for Your sake, and for the sake of all the people that watch and see what’s going on, I wish you strength and good luck in your fight. In times like these there’s always the need for a single fighter to fight for the principles.

    It was like that in the fifties in USA with the McCarthy-ism at its height, when Ed Murrow took a stand.

    It was like this in the Big Tobacco suits in early nineties when Brown&Williamson almost destroyed Jeff Wigand’s life when he took a stand.

    And many, many times more. There’s a reason the famous Solidarity poster for the June ’89 elections in Poland was basically a frame from the “High Noon”:

    So once more – all the best, and good luck.

    I’ll be watching, and with me two Polish NGOs.

  5. Interview with the travel (“reisen”) section of Zeit: “In dieser Datenbank steht, wer mit wem schläft” (“This database is available, who is sleeping with whom”). One commenter on Twitter summed it up even better: “Du fliegst – Du bist Terrorist. Die USA weiß mit wem du schläfst und welches Buch du liest.”

    The incidents involving European citizens on Paris-Mexico flights that were forbidden to overfly the US are discussed here and here.]

  6. Pingback: Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » Europeans start asking questions about the role of reservation systems

  7. Pingback: Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » Court hearing in our lawsuit for DHS travel records

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