Sep 30 2011

How would REAL-ID affect the right to travel?

In the latest step in the implementation of the REAL-ID Act and the establishment of a de facto national ID card and database, the Department of Homeland Security has requested OMB approval for the collection of additional information from states and individuals.

The public response to the DHS request, particularly these comments submitted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), highlight the important unanswered questions about how REAL-ID Act implementation will affect the right to travel:

EPIC’s comments focus on the widely-publicized recent case of  Lewis Brown, a former high school and college basketball star who died on a street in Southern California homeless, earlier this month:

EPIC writes today to draw the agency’s attention to the death of Lewis Brown, a former college basketball prodigy, who died on the streets of Los Angeles because he could not scrape together the money to obtain a state-issued identity document…. According to the New York Times, Brown, a basketball legend at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, planned to fly to visit his family in New York and could not. Homeless and destitute, living on the sidewalks of Hollywood, Brown had developed cancer and planned to go to the hospital. Brown’s mother learned about his condition and stated that she wanted to see him “before he died.” Brown’s sister, Anita, told him to visit New York. Brown told confidants that he lacked funds to qualify for a California identification card, and was taking donations and borrowing money.

Read More

Sep 27 2011

More US lies to the European Parliament

In an appearance on September 20th before the LIBE (civil liberties) Committee of the European Parliament to lobby for legalization of US government access to European airline reservations (PNR data), US Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that there has been “not one single example of privacy being breached” by the US in its processing of PNR data. We “need to deal with what is real, not what is hypothetical”.

Is Holder’s claim true? What’s “real”, and what’s “hypothetical”?

In reality, DHS policies prevent us from knowing how many breaches of privacy or other fundamental rights have resulted from US processing, use, and/or disclosure to others of PNR data. Read More

Sep 25 2011

What do we want? “Abolish the TSA!”

The first time the White House conducted a public online poll allowing We, the People to petition the President for redress for our grievances, the petition that got the most signatures called on the Obama Administration to lergalize and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. After an elaborate built-up to the petition poll, President Obama dismissed the result as a joke.

Now the White House is at it again, and the leading grievance of the people against the government is even more overwhelmingly clear. Let’s see if the President once again laughs off our petition.

Here’s the most popular petition to the President, with more than 20,000 signatures in the first 3 days since it was posted:

We petition the Obama administration to:

Abolish the TSA, and use its monstrous budget to fund more sophisticated, less intrusive counter-terrorism intelligence.

The Transportation Security Administration has been one of the largest, most expensive and most visible blunders of the post-9-11 homeland security reformation. It has violated countless constitutional rights of average Americans, caused miserable and expensive delays in an already-overburdened air travel system, and allowed multiple known instances of harassment, theft, extortion and sexual abuse by its employees. It has failed approximately 70% of undercover efficacy tests, and for all its excesses, has been unable to catch even a single terrorist since its creation. In our current economic situation, we can no longer afford to continue wasting taxpayer dollars on this kafkaesque embarrassment. Let us instead invest in saner, more effective solutions.

You can add your signature through October 11, 2011.

Sep 16 2011

Court hearing in our lawsuit for DHS travel records

A little more than a year after we filed suit on behalf of Edward Hasbrouck against the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division of DHS to find out what records they are keeping about our international travels, and what they have done with those records, we had our first real day in court yesterday in front of Federal Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco.

Judge Seeborg was appointed as a judge of the U.S. District Court by President Obama, after a decade as a Federal magistrate and seven years before that as a Federal prosecutor. On first impression, he seems fair-minded and thoughtful, although — like most judges — inclined to give more “deference” than is warranted to even implausible claims by police and prosecutors, such as some of those made in the declarations submitted by the CBP in opposition to Mr. Hasbrouck’s complaint.

Mr. Hasbrouck was represented by David Greene of Holme Roberts & Owen (formerly executive director and staff counsel of the First Amendment Project), who conducted yesterday’s argument, along with FAP staff attorney Lowell Chow. Former FAP staff attorney Geoffrey King also worked on earlier stages of the case, as did several FAP law school student interns, who we were pleased were able to attend the argument. We are grateful to them all for their contributions.

CBP was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neill Tseng, who conducted the argument, accompanied by an attorney from the CBP.

As we expected, and as is usual, no decision by the court was announced at yesterday’s hearing. In each of the other cases on Judge Seeborg’s motion calendar yesterday, he began by describing how he was “inclined” to rule on the matters before him. In our case, however, Judge Seeborg began — after some comments about how ill-suited the typical summary judgment motion practice is to FOIA or Privacy Act cases like this, where the issues only gradually become clear in the course of the briefing — by saying that after reading the lengthy pleadings he had only the most tentative “impression” as to how he might rule on any of the issues.

In other words, he still had an open mind, and oral argument might actually matter.

With that preface, Judge Seeborg invited Mr. Hasbrouck’s attorney, David Greene, to address whatever issues he thought were most important, and then gave AUSA Neill Tseng an opportunity to respond for the CBP.

If you’re just tuning in, the best places to start are the Identity Project FAQ (for the political issues and significance of the case) and our last reply brief before yesterday’s argument (for the legal issues).

Broadly speaking, the argument focused on what we would group into four main questions:

Read More

Sep 12 2011

U.K. detains Italian citizen on basis of U.S. no-fly list

U.K. authorities have apparently detained an Italian citizen disembarking from a trans-Atlantic cruise ship at Southampton on the basis of his inclusion on the U.S. “no-fly” list.

It’s the latest in a steady series of expansions of the extra-territorial reach of U.S. travel surveillance and control, and should raise a red flag as to the dangers of the proposed intra-EU system of PNR-based travel surveillance and control.

According to news reports and a press release from his U.S. lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic relations, Michael Migliore is a 23-year-old dual citizen of the USA and Italy. He’s been trying to return to Italy, to live with his mother there. But when he tried to board a flight in Portland, Oregon, he was refused passage and eventually told he was on the U.S. “no-fly” list.

Undaunted, he took a train to New York (as of now, the DHS only applies “no-ride” controls to international Amtrak trains to and from Canada, not domestic trains) and then a cruise ship to England.

The U.S. APIS rules require cruise lines, like airlines, to get permission from CBP before allowing each passenger to board. But for some reason, they let Migliore board a ship even though they wouldn’t let him on a plane. It’s hard to see a rational reason why, if they really thought he was a terrosirt threat, unless they had an unusually precise “pre-crime” vision of what they thought he intended to do. A cruise ship crossing the Atlantic is at sea for a week, and carries thousands of passengers. Unlike airline passengers, who are reported to the FBI for detention and questioning and their flight escorted by fighter jets if they spend an unusually long time in the toilet (trying to join the Mile High Club?), cruise passengers aren’t under constant scrutiny.  It would be much easier and do much more damage for a terrorist to sabotage a cruise ship than an airliner.

But whatever their reasons, U.S. authorities allowed Mr. Migliore to board the ship departing from the U.S., but apparently alerted U.K. authorities who detained him on arrival. (His U.S. lawyer presumes he’s been detained since he hasn’t been heard from since he disembarked, but nobody has yet gotten  any formal confirmation of who is holding him, where, or why.)

Presumably, mr. Migliore would have sought to enter the U.K. as an Italian citizen. We invite our European readers to speculate in the comments as to what EU laws and rights may have been violated by the U.K. in detaining an  EU citizen on the basis of secret derogatory information from the U.S., what due process Mr. Migliore is entitled to, and what basis the U.K. will need to continue to detain him or to prevent him from returning to Italy, the country of his citizenship.

Sep 12 2011

Illegal Israeli-style traveler interrogations come to Boston

If you’re going to be flying through Logan Airport in Boston, you might want to have a copy of the Paperwork Reduction Act handy when you go through the TSA checkpoint.

The TSA has celebrated the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, hijackings — two of them of flights that originated at Logan — by rolling out a new program of Israeli-style interrogations of air travelers passing through TSA checkpoints at Logan.

Rafi Ron, a former director of security at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, relocated to the U.S. and hung out his shingle (“New Age Security Systems”) as an airport security consultant just before September 11, 2001. His first post-9/11 U.S. client was MASSPORT, which operates Logan. Ever since, as Ron’s client list has expanded to the Massachusetts State Police (the notorious racists who patrol Logan) and then the TSA, Logan has remained the cutting edge of U.S. testbed for Ron’s Israeli-style gospel of  human profiling, from the TSA’s SPOT “behavior detection” program to the new TSA “chat-downs“.

We’re pleased that Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has publicly questioned the TSA about the Logan pilot program.

But whether or not it’s a good idea (it’s not), the immediate problem for the TSA is that it’s illegal.

Previous case law on airport checkpoints has authorized administrative searches, but never compelled responses to administrative interrogations.  Responses to police questioning in such circumstances have been presumed by courts to be voluntary.

If the TSA’s Constitutional case for such interrogation is untested, their lack of statutory authority is clear. The Paperwork Reduction Act, — a Reagan-era Republican anti-bureaucracy law — requires that any Federal “information collection” be justified in advance to, and approved in advance by, the Office of Management and Budget. An “information collection” is defined as any solicitation — even verbally — of answers to identical questions from ten or more people by a Federal agency, which clearly covers what the TSA “Assessors” (interrogators) are doing in Boston.

OMB approval is evidence by an OMB control number provided on the form or to those being questioned. in the absence of an OMB control number, (a) the collection of information is illegal, (b)  nobody can be required to answer the questions or provide the requested information, and (c) no sanctions can be imposed for failure to respond or provide information.

The TSA has never gone through the process of seeking OMB approval, or obtained an OMB control number, for its ID verification form or any of its other information collections from travelers.

So if the TSA’s goons at logan (or anywhere else) ask you, “Who are you?”, “Where are you going?”, “What’s the purpose of your trip?”, or any of their other standard questions, ask them what the OMB control number is for their collection of that information.

If they can’t or won’t provide you with a valid OMB control number (you can look up and verify any valid OMB control number here), politely but firmly decline to answer. If necessary, remind them — it might help to show them a copy of the law — of the provisions of  44 U.S.C. § 3512:

§ 3512. Public protection

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person shall be subject to any penalty for failing to comply with a collection of information that is subject to this subchapter if–

(1) the collection of information does not display a valid control number assigned by the Director in accordance with this subchapter; or

(2) the agency fails to inform the person who is to respond to the collection of information that such person is not required to respond to the collection of information unless it displays a valid control number.

(b) The protection provided by this section may be raised in the form of a complete defense, bar, or otherwise at any time during the agency administrative process or judicial action applicable thereto.

Document what happens, so that you can, if necessary, prove that any sanctions such as a more intrusive search, denial of passage through the checkpoint, or denial of access to common-carrier transportation were based on your refusal to provide illegally-request information without having been provided with a valid OMB control number and notice that without it you don’t have to answer.

Sep 07 2011

“Why should I care about PNR?”

Our guest post for European travelers at

Why should I care about PNR?

More for our European readers about PNR data and how it is used by governments:

What can Europeans do?

Sep 06 2011

BART planning further interference with common-carrier services

BART Citizen Review Board meeting (photo by dave id, [BART Citizen Review Board meeting, September 2, 2011 (photo by dave id,”]

We testified again last week at a poorly-publicized and sparsely-attended meeting of BART’s Citizen Review Board held late Friday afternoon at the start of the holiday weekend.

The main topic on the agenda was BART’s shutdown of wireless phone and data service in the BART transportation system during protests against shootings of passengers by BART Police, on which BART’s elected Board of Directors had requested the advice of its newly-appointed Citizen Review Board. Read More

Sep 02 2011

Update on our complaints of human rights treaty violations

As we’ve noted previously, we’ve been complaining for years that DHS and Department of State actions to restrict and control travel violate the freedom of movement guaranteed by international human rights treaties ratified by the U.S. (as well as, of course, the right to assemble guaranteed  by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).

We’ve made formal complaints of these violations to the DHS and to the State Department.

Executive Order 13107 requires all Federal agencies to designate a single point of contact for such complaints, and to respond to them. But we’ve received no response to any of these complaints.

To find out what (if anything) has been done with our complaints, or to whom (if anyone) they have been assigned, we had to file FOIA requests with both the DHS and the State Department.

The DHS office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) responded promptly to our FOIA request. But other than the order from Secretary Chertoff designating the CRCL as responsible for coordinating DHS compliance with human rights treaties and responding to complaints (which wasn’t issued until September 11, 2006, almost five years after the creation of the DHS, they could find no record that the DHS had ever done anything to act on complaints of human rights violations. There were no records of any meetings at which the subject was on the agenda, no records of complaints (except our own, which was only properly docketed, five years late, after we made a formal Privacy Act request to correct the record), no logs or reports of such complaints, no instructions to DHS component agencies as to how to handle such complaints, and no organizational chart on which anyone was identified as responsible for responding to such complaints.

We’re looking forward to a meeting which the CRCL has agreed to later this month in Washington to discuss how they might finally begin to fulfill their responsibilities under international human rights treaties, particularly with respect to complaints of violations.

The State Department has been even less responsive. They have ignored repeated requests to identify who, if anyone, the Secretary of State has designated as the officer who is supposed to be responsible for responding to complaints like ours of human rights treaty violations. Months have passed, and we’ve received no response whatsoever to our FOIA request and no estimate of when, if ever, they expect to give us an answer.

In an effort to try everything possible way to get the information to which we are entitled without a lawsuit, we’ve asked the FOIA ombudsmen at the new Office of Government Information Services to help mediate our FOIA request to the Department of State as well as several of our years-old unanswered FOIA requests to the TSA. We’re waiting to see if they can persuade these agencies to comply without our having to sue them. We’ll keep you posted.