Jan 22 2013

TSA replaces “probable cause” with private profiling

The TSA has made explicit its intent to take the next logical but lawless step in the merger of (1) profiling of travelers and (2) privatization of judicial decision-making: outsourcing of decisions as to who should be subjected to what degree of intrusiveness of search to private contractors acting on the basis of commercial data.

The TSA already delegates on-the-spot “discretionary” decisions about searches (“screening”) to private contractors at airports like SFO, and relies for its profiling (“prescreening” and “no-fly”) decisions on commercial data contained in airline Passenger Name Records (PNRs).

Now a request for proposals quietly posted by the TSA early this month among the “Federal Business Opportunities” at FBO.gov, and spotted by the ACLU, gives notice that the TSA is considering “Third Party Prescreening” of travelers: TSA contractors would decide in advance (secretly, of course, on the basis of secret dossiers from private data aggregators) which travelers would be “invited” to proceed through the less-intrusive-search “Pre-Check” security lanes, and which would be subjected to “ordinary”, more intrusive groping of their bodies, opening of carry-on baggage and belongings, interrogation, etc.

In effect, “Third Party Prescreening”, as the concept is defined in the TSA notice to would-be contractors, would replace probable cause with private profiling as the basis for determining who among us would be legally obligated, as a condition of the exercise of Constitutional civil liberties and internationally recognized human rights, to submit to exactly what degree of intrusiveness of search of our persons and property.

The by-invitation-only TSA “Pre-Check” profiling scheme is already entirely arbitrary, as travelers have discovered when they have tried to find out how to obtain an invitation to the less-mistrusted-traveler club or why they haven’t been invited. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” if we want to invite you, say airlines and the TSA.  There are no publicly-disclosed substantive or procedural standards for invitation or inclusion.

“Third Party Prescreening” would extend that arbitrariness to advance decisions that particular travelers must submit to heightened “screening” (or are not to be allowed to proceed through lighter screening, which amounts to the same thing) before they will be “allowed” to exercise their right to travel.

Such a particularized decision, in advance, conditioning travel by a specific traveler on submission to a specific type or degree of intrusiveness of search is not what was contemplated in judicial decisions upholding “administrative” searches at airports.   Rather, this is the sort of search that the Constitution demands be justified by probable cause, as articulated to and approved by a judge.

Private contractors are not judges. Fitting the profile, based on a secret commercial dossier, as determined by a secret algorithm, is not probable cause. No “Third Party Prescreening” could create a lawful basis for a search, or for interference with the right to travel of those who decline to submit to such a search.

Jan 18 2013

US cites ICCPR in its lobbying against reform of EU privacy law

The US government has been lobbying hard in Brussels and Strasbourg against proposals to strengthen European Union (EU) rules protecting personal information, including information “shared” with the US and other governments for law enforcement, surveillance, profiling, and other purposes.

The European Digital Rights initiative (EDRi), to which we are an accredited observer, has posted a leaked lobbying document being distributed to EU decision-makers by the US mission to the EU.

As discussed in EDRi’s excellent analysis, the US position paper explicitly references the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as part of the common foundation of US and EU privacy principles. That curious, since (1) the US has previously avoided or ignored all attempts (such as those by the European Parliament in its 2010 resolution on airline Passenger Name Records) to include the ICCPR in the terms of reference for US-EU negotiations, and (2) the US is in flagrant violation of the provisions of the ICCPR related to, among other issues, privacy rights and freedom of movement.

It’s especially odd for the US to bring the ICCPR into the EU debate just now, as the UN Human Rights Committee is beginning its periodic, treaty-mandated review of US compliance with the ICCPR.

We hope the EU will take up the US invitation to bring the ICCPR into the debate, and will conduct its own inquiry into US compliance with its treaty obligations as well as paying close attention to the UNHRC review.

Jan 09 2013

Judge refuses to look at secret “no-fly” evidence, reaffirms that travel is a right

What’s been most noteworthy in DHS legal arguments in “no-fly” and other related  cases isn’t that the government has tried to argue in defense of intrusive and repressive surveillance and control of travel.

Instead, the consistent strategy of the DHS has been to argue (1) that it doesn’t have to give any arguments or evidence in support of these practices, because they are exempt from judicial review, and (2) that if it does have to give the courts any evidence or arguments, it can do so in secret, so that opposing parties and their lawyers are unable to know, or respond to, the government’s secret arguments and secret evidence.

Fortunately, some judges seem to be running out of patience with these claims that the executive branch of government is above the law.

We’re particularly encouraged by the latest order issued December 20, 2012 in the case of Ibrahim v. DHS, which continues to appear likely to result in the first review of a no-fly order, on its merits, by any court.

Since 2005, when she was refused boarding and detained by police when she tried to board a flight at San Francisco International Airport, Rahinah Ibrahim has been trying to find out who put her on the “no-fly” list and why, get off the “no-fly” lost, and obtain damages from the government agencies, contractors, and individuals responsible for her false arrest and the interference with her right to travel.

The city and county of San Francisco (responsible for the airport police) eventually paid Dr. Ibrahim $225,000 to settle her claims against them.  But the federal government defendants have continued to try to get the case dismissed before any discovery, fact finding, or trial on the merits of Dr. Ibrahim’s claims.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has twice rejected the government’s appeals of preliminary rulings allowing the case to go forward and allowing Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers to proceed with discovery.  But even after the federal defendants’ latest appeal was rejected, the government again moved the District Court to stay any discovery and dismiss the complaint.

In support of their latest motion to dismiss, the government went beyond filing evidence and legal arguments with the court “under seal” for in camera review by the judge (but not Dr. Ibrahim or her lawyers).

Instead, the government called the judge’s chambers to advise that a courier was on his way from Washington to the courthouse in San Francisco with some secret documents, which he proposed to show the judge, alone in chambers, and then take back to Washington so that there would be no record with the court, even in a “sealed” file, that would enable the court of appeals to review the basis for the judge’s decision.

Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California told the courier not to darken his door, and refused to look at any of the secret evidence, even in camera. Then he delivered a smackdown to the government in his ruling dismissing its motions.

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Jan 08 2013

Identity Project tells UN Human Rights Committee that US violates the right to travel

It’s that time, as it is every five years, for the U.N. Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) to review the status in the U.S of the rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) — including the right to travel.

The Identity Project is taking part in this process by informing the UNHRC about the ways the US has violated the right to travel, and making recommendations for issues related to the right to travel which the UNHRC should raise with the US during its review.

On December 28, 2012, as part of a joint submission to the UNHRC by the U.S. Human Rights Network, the Identity Project submitted our recommendations for issues related to freedom of movement that we think the UNHRC should take up with the U.S., questions that should be asked by the UNHRC, and recommendations that the UNHRC should make to the US in its concluding observations:

  1. Handling of complaints of violations of U.S. obligations pursuant to the ICCPR
  2. Requirements for government-issued travel documents
  3. Detention, interrogation, and search of travelers (co-signed by the Consumer Travel Alliance)
  4. Permission-based government controls on air and surface travel
  5. Surveillance and monitoring of travelers (co-signed by the Consumer Travel Alliance)

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