Aug 30 2013

International travel by air is a Constitutional right

In a preliminary ruling in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU three years ago on behalf of a group of people who have been prevented by the U.S. government from traveling by air, a Federal judge in Oregon has found (1) that international air travel is a Constitutional right, and (2) that a categorical ban by the government on the exercise of that right can only be issued in accordance with due process.

Those shouldn’t be surprising findings. But given that the U.S. government has never sought to follow normal legal procedures by asking a court to issue a no-fly injunction against an individual, and that none of the goverment’s extrajudicial administrative no-fly orders has ever been reviewed on its merits by any court, the latest ruling by District Judge Judge Anna Brown in the case of Latif et al. v. Holder is an important step toward bringing DHS controls on travel within the rule of law.

The ruling is the latest in a series of decisions which have finally begun to uphold the right of travelers to due process and juducial review of the restrictins on their movements. The decison in the Oregon no-fly case echoes similar findings in the past year by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Gulet Mohamed and by the 9th Circuit and the District Court for the Northern District of California in the case of Rahinah Ibrahim.

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Aug 22 2013

California considers “enhancing” drivers licenses with radio tracking beacons

California’s legislature is considering a bill to authorize adding radio tracking beacons to drivers licenses and state non-driver ID cards.

Each such card would broadcast a unique tracking number which could legally be intercepted by anyone with a suitable radio transceiver within range, and which would be linked to a national DHS database of drivers license, state ID card, and citizenship information.

The tracking beacons are designed to allow the tracking numbers on ID cards carried by travelers in motor vehicles to be read from outside their vehicles as they approach or pass through checkpoints.

Independent academic studies of actual ID cards issued by other states, using the same standards proposed for use in California, have found that they can sometimes be read from more than 50 yards away.

S.B. 397 has already been approved by the California Senate, and is now under consideration in the Assembly. Because it has been amended by the Assembly, it will need to be reconsidered by the Senate (to decide whether to accept the Assembly amendments) if and when it is approved by the Assembly.

To date, S.B. 397 has been largely unopposed in the California legislature, and it is likely to be approved unless legislators start hearing a groundswell of opposition from their constituents.

What excuse is being offered for this scheme? And what’s its real purpose?

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Aug 19 2013

White House approves new “long forms” for some passport applicants

After a year-long “review”, the White House on August 12, 2013, approved the State Department’s proposed new “long form” questionnaires for some (unspecified) subset of applicants for US passports:

Form DS-5513, “Supplemental Questionnaire to Determine Entitlement for a U.S. Passport”:

Form DS-5520, “Supplemental Questionnaire to Determine Identity for a U.S. Passport”:

In approving these forms, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) ignored overwhelmingly public outrage at these questionnaires, which ask such questions as:

  • List all your parent(s) residences one year before your birth.
  • Parent(s) place of employment at the time of your birth (Dates of employment, Name of employer, Address of employer).
  • Did your mother receive medical care while pregnant with you and/or up to one year after your birth? (Name of hospital or other facility, Address, Name of Doctor, Approximate dates of appointments).
  • Please provide the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present at your birth such as medical personnel, family members, etc.
  • Please list any schools, day care centers, or developmental programs you attended from birth to age 18 in or outside of the United States.
  • Please list all of your permanent residences inside and outside of the United States starting with your birth until age 18.

The proposed forms were slightly (but not significantly) revised by the State Department during the review by OMB. But there are still no publicly-disclosed guidelines for which passport applicants would be sent one or both of these “long forms”.  We requested this information from the State Department more than two years ago under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the State Department has not yet responded to our request. (This is, we’ve been told, typical of the State Department’s failure to comply with FOIA deadlines.)  The most reasonable inference is that the new forms are designed to be impossible to complete, so as to provide a pretext to deny you a passport if the State Department doesn’t like your looks (or your opinions, or whatever).

The State Department has also ignored our formal complaint that these conditions for passport issuance violate U.S. obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and our FOIA request for any records of what (if anything) was done with that complaint.

OMB declined our written request to meet with them to discuss our objections to the proposed forms. OMB policy is to meet with groups interested in its reviews of proposed regulations, but it doesn’t apply that policy to its reviews of proposed “information collections”.

In the course of the review by OMB, the State Department admitted that, as we had already reported, it has already been using these forms illegally. According to the latest State Department submission to OMB:

The DS-5520 has been created to correct a procedure that may have been inconsistent with the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA)….   Field offices have, in the past, sent the applicant a letter containing a questionnaire asking for the supplemental information.  The Department has become aware of this procedure and is now seeking OMB approval to rectify the oversight….

The DS-5520 is a new collection based on the previously internal Information Request Letter (IRL) titled, “Supplemental Identification List”.  To estimate the number of respondents per year, therefore, the Department ran a report using our Management Information System (MIS) to determine the number of these IRLs filed in 2011 by every passport agency and acceptance facility.  The results revealed that in 2011, 54,723 letters were filed along with the DS-11.

Until the forms were approved (as they now have been) by OMB, the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) prohibited the State Department from denying anyone a passport or imposing any other penalties for failure or refusal to fill out these forms.

Now that these forms have been approved, objections to the denial of a passport on the basis of failure to complete these forms (or to do so to the satisfaction of the State Department) will have to be based on other grounds than the PRA.  These objections may be more fundamental, but may also be more difficult to establish in administrative or judicial proceedings.

If you are a US citizen but are denied a US passport because you are unable or unwilling to answer these questions, or you are prevented from entering or leaving the USA because you don’t have a passport, we’d like to hear from you.