May 28 2013

TSA “Glomar” response to request for Terrorist Screening Database records

An individual who used our forms to ask the DHS for its records about their travel¬† has received response of a sort that we haven’t previously seen to a request of this sort: a “Glomar” response that the DHS will neither confirm nor deny that there are any records about the requester in the DHS mirror copy of the FBI’s “Terrorist Screening Database” (TSDB).

It has long been the policy of the FBI, which is nominally “responsible” for the TSDB, neither to confirm nor deny the existence of TSDB records about any individual.

In 2011, DHS published a notice that it planned to make its own mirror copy, for which it would be responsible, of the FBI’s database. At the same time, the DHS exempted the DHS copy of the TSDB from the Privacy Act.

This is the first DHS response we have seen to a request for records from the DHS copy of the TSDB. It’s no real surprise, but it’s different from the typical DHS responses to requests for records about individuals, which include ignoring requests, producing obviously incomplete responses with no explanation of the missing records, and producing pages and pages of completely blacked-out records.

So the TSA won’t say if you are listed in its copy of the Terrorist Screening Database, but will use it against you if you are.