Oct 25 2016

Profiling travelers to find the “good guys” — and recruit them as informers

targeting [Some of the multiple sources and types of targeting rules in the TECS algorithms used to profile international travelers, from a CBP/FBI flowchart published by The Intercept. Click on image for larger version. “PAU” = CBP Passenger Analysis Unit at a specific international airport in the USA or abroad.]

Most (although certainly not all) of the people who contact the Identity Project for assistance in finding out what information the government has about their travels, or interpreting responses to their requests for travel records, are Muslims. Many of them, Muslim or not, can’t figure out why they were “targeted” for special treatment at US borders and/or airports despite having done nothing wrong. “What do they suspect me of, and why?” they want to know.

A recent report by The Intercept based on documents from an anonymous whistleblower source confirms what we, and many of the people who have sought our help, already suspected: The FBI is systematically “looking for ‘good guys’ not ‘bad guys'” among international travelers, to recruit them as informers (“confidential human sources”).  US Customs and Border Protection is using profiles and identities provided by the FBI to mine the information airlines are required to collect and provide CBP about passengers on upcoming flights to anticipate when potential informer recruits will be passing through US airports.

Once these potential informers are targeted, CBP arranges special joint CBP/FBI “welcome parties” to interrogate and search them and assess their ability, willingness, and suitability to serve as CHSs.  CBP uses its “border search” authority to conduct the searches and questioning, but FBI agents supply the questions and targeting lists and rules, sit in on the interrogations, and follow up with those who are determined to be potential recruits or who come under suspicion as a result of their response to the attempt to recruit them as informers.

The story in the The Intercept and the leaked documents published along with it don’t reveal much that we and others hadn’t already suspected. But they do fill out the some of the details.  And for anyone who was still in doubt, they show clearly how the government is already using its systematic access to airline reservations for surveillance of non-suspects, and for other general police purposes, contrary to the hollow assurances it has provided to the public and to foreign governments that this data will only be used for prevention of specific categories of crimes.

Oct 24 2016

Is it suspicious to avoid the police when they might want to ask for ID?

In a case resting on the same Nevada law that was at issue in the Supreme Court’s 2004 decision in Hiibel v. Nevada, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has held that someone who runs away from approaching police can be found guilty of “obstructing” the police by denying them the opportunity to question him about his identity.

The 9th Circuit overturned findings by the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to detain the person in the first place and, even if they had a basis to detain him, lacked probable cause to arrest him. The decision signficantly undermines, in the 9th Circuit, the positive aspects and the limitations in the Supreme Court’s decision on police demands for ID in Hiibel v. Nevada, as well as the right to remain silent and the right to be free from unreasonable searches.

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Oct 20 2016

DHS continues to threaten states that resist the REAL-ID Act

[Status of REAL-ID compliance as of October 17, 2016 (Source: AAMVA.org)]

Last week the Department of Homeland Security denied requests by five states for “extensions” of time to comply with the REAL-ID Act of 2005. The DHS denials of requests for extensions were accompanied by renewed threats of  restrictions on residents of those states: “Starting January 30, 2017, federal agencies and nuclear power plants may not accept for official purposes driver’s licenses and state IDs from a noncompliant state/territory without an extension,” said DHS spokesman Aaron Rodriguez in a statement.

Does this mean that a deadline is approaching? That every state except these five has “complied” with the REAL-ID Act? That these “holdouts” have no choice but to comply? That the sky will fall on these states, or their residents, if they don’t?

No, no, no, and no.

As we told the Washington Times:

Not everyone thinks states will, or should, be swayed by the federal government’s determination.

“These are not states that stand out because they are less compliant,” said Edward Hasbrouck, a spokesman for the privacy advocacy group The Identity Project.

He says Homeland Security is arbitrarily enforcing aspects of the Real ID Act by deeming states compliant even when they have not met every requirement, noting specifically few “compliant” states have met the requirement that they provide access to information contained in their motor vehicle database via electronic access to all other states.

“It’s a game of chicken, it’s a game of intimidation, and very little of it has to do with actual requirements or actual deadlines,” Mr. Hasbrouck said.

If Homeland Security, which repeatedly has pushed back compliance deadlines for Real ID, does go through with the commercial airline restrictions in 2018, Mr. Hasbrouck said he expects grounded passengers would eventually bring litigation challenging the law.

Let’s look at some of the questions skeptical citizens and state legislators ought to be asking about these DHS scare tactics:

    • How many states have complied with the REAL-ID Act? Noncompliant states are neither alone nor isolated. According to the Washington Times, “Homeland Security reports that 23 states and Washington, D.C., have met enough of the Real ID standards to be deemed in compliance with the law.” In fact, as we’ve reported previously and as we noted in the comments above, the most significant component of compliance with the REAL-ID Act is participation in the national ID database (the one the DHS keeps claiming doesn’t exist). That database, called SPEXS, is operated by a subcontractor to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) as a component of its S2S system. When last we checked, in February of this year, only 4 of 55 US jurisdictions (states, the District of Columbia, and US territories) had connected their state drivers license and ID databases to S2S. With the addition of the latest two states this month, the total of states participating in S2S is up to nine, as shown on the AAMVA map at the top of this article. We don’t know whether all nine of those states have implemented all the other requirements of the REAL-ID Act. But we do know that no state not participating in S2S is in compliance. So at most nine states are in compliance with the REAL-ID Act. The vast majority of jurisdictions are noncompliant. And at this rate, it will take many years, if it ever happens at all, for the DHS to whip the rest of them into line.


    • When is the deadline for states to comply with the REAL-ID Act? There is no deadline for compliance in the law itself. The DHS could set deadlines by promulgating regulations, but it could also change them in the same way, at any time, for any reason. In practice, the current DHS threats aren’t event based on DHS regulations, but on dates specified solely in DHS press releases and changeable at DHS whim.


    • What is required for DHS certification of material compliance or progress toward compliance by individual states? There are no criteria in the law. The law leaves this up to the “discretion” of the DHS, which in practice means that it can be standardless, secret, and arbitrary. DHS choices of which states to threaten are political and tactical choices about which states the DHS thinks it can intimidate, and in which order. They aren’t based, or required to be based,  on any actual measurement, checklist, or relative degree of compliance.


  • What will happen, and when will it happen, to residents of states that don’t comply sufficiently or quickly enough? Probably nothing. What the DHS will try to do, and when, is once again totally up to its discretion. There are no deadlines in the law. But as our analysis and the responses to our FOIA requests have shown, the threat to deny access to Federal facilities is a red herring.  Most workers at these facilities, for example, already have Federally-issued employee IDs, and don’t rely on state-issued IDs for entry. Members of the public generally enter these facilities to exercise various of their rights, which the DHS recognizes they have a right to do without any ID. If the DHS changes its tune, and tries to interfere with those rights, what the DHS can get away with will be determined by Federal judges in the inevitable lawsuits brought by residents of disfavored states (hopefully with the support of state governments) whose rights are interfered with on the basis of the REAL-ID Act.
Oct 14 2016

CDC proposes martial law in the guise of “medical quarantine”

In the guise of a proposal for “medical quarantine“, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have proposed regulations that would give CDC employees sweeping martial-law powers of warrantless search, interrogation, tracking of movements, arrest, and extrajudicial mass detention (at the detainees’ own expense!) of individuals or entire groups of unlimited numbers of people for unlimited periods of time.

The proposal revives a dormant decade-old rulemaking initiated after the 2001 and 2005 anthrax scares in Washington, DC. But rather than finalizing the rules proposed (and widely criticized) in 2005, or responding to the comments submitted back then in response to the original proposal, the CDC has published a new and different but perhaps even more objectionable replacement proposal.  It’s unclear why this is happening now, but it seems likely that the CDC feels a political necessity to be seen as “doing something” to prepare for the possibility of another outbreak of Ebola virus disease.

As we say in comments we filed today with the CDC:

The NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] describes the proposed rules as a medical quarantine program. But they go far beyond what is medically indicated, authorized by statute, or permitted by the Constitution.

The CDC’s proposal completely ignores existing medical and legal procedures for involuntary commitment of individuals determined to constitute a danger to themselves or others. Instead, the proposed rules include:

  1.  indefinite extrajudicial mass detention without due process,
  2. compelled responses by travelers to extrajudicial interrogation concerning their exercise of First Amendment rights including rights of movement and assembly, regardless of whether there is any current outbreak of any communicable disease, much less whether there is any basis for belief that any specific traveler subjected to this interrogation is infected with such a disease; and
  3. charging innocent detainees for the costs of their detention.

These misguided, unauthorized, and unconstitutional proposals should be withdrawn.

[Details: Complete comments of the Identity Project, all 13,000+ public comments on the CDC proposal.]

Oct 07 2016

“Following the money” in travel surveillance

The growth of a homeland-security industrial complex funded by single-source contracts and shielded by knee-jerk invocation of “security” as an excuse for secrecy has created huge opportunities for cronyism and collusion between lobbyists, contractors, and government officials.

The poster child for this revolving door and its invidious effects on government policies and spending is former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and his work as a lobbyist for Rapiscan, the supplier of the TSA’s virtual strip-search machines.

Unsurprisingly, the US isn’t alone in allowing the commercial interests of spy-tech companies to drive government decisions to spy on travelers.

In the latest issue of the EDRi-gram newsletter, our friends  at the European Digital Rights Initiative explore “The curious tale of the French prime minister, PNR and peculiar patterns.”  It seems that the French military technology contractor Safran, whose “Morpho” division is one of the leading vendors of turnkey PNR-based traveler surveillance and profiling systems, is one of the largest employers in the home town of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

According to Estelle Massé and Joe McNamee of EDRi:

France has been particularly insistent on the unsubstantiated benefit of profiling all travellers — indiscriminately and in the absence of suspicion. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve pushed for swift adoption of the EU PNR directive before the EU Council, going so far as to accuse the European Parliament of being “irresponsible for delaying the vote” — implying that democratic debate over a privacy-invasive measure is simply wasting time. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also pushed for the directive, allegedly arguing for adoption as a strong symbolic gesture in the fight against terrorism…

Safran has a major base in Evry, the small town south of Paris where Valls was mayor from 2001-2012. The company employs more than 3300 people and, earlier this year, Valls visited the site and discussed Safran’s role in ensuring long-term employment in the region. The French government said in a statement following the visit, “We have one aim: that the French industry stays ahead.”

The company now appears to be in fine fettle. It won major contracts to put in place expensive PNR systems in France and Estonia. Now that the PNR directive will make such systems mandatory across the EU, it is also seeking contracts in several other EU countries.

That’s not the end of the story. The pattern of links between Valls and Safran run even deeper. According to the French news outlet Marianne, in 2012, when a Safran contract was not renewed, Valls, who was then interior minister, allegedly intervened to help the company. He appears to have done so despite the fact that the proposed change to the contract could have saved 30 million euro of public funds.

Bertrand Marechaux, the police chief who questioned the contract, kept fighting to modify it and initiating legal proceedings against Morpho, a subsidiary of Safran. He was ultimately removed from his position. Valls’ office didn’t respond to Marianne’s request for comment at the time.

Oct 03 2016

How the DEA uses travel company spies to confiscate travelers’ cash

A report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIJ) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) sheds more light on how the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) pays workers for airlines, Amtrak, bus companies, and package delivery services to spy on their customers, troll through reservation and shipping records, and finger travelers and senders and recipients of packages to the DEA in exchange for a share of the cash which can be seized and “forfeited” to the government even if no drugs are found and no criminal charges are brought.

This practice was first reported in August 2016 by Brad Heath in USA  Today, based on case-by-case review of court filings describing the basis for DEA searches that led to “civil forfeiture” proceedings. And the DOJ OIG had released brief interim summaries of its investigations into DEA relationships with one Amtrak employee and one TSA employee who were paid to inform on travelers.

The new OIG report released last week provides much more detail about the scope of the DEA’s use of travel and transportation staff as paid “confidential sources” to target travelers and parcels for cash seizures on the basis of travel reservations and shipping records. The OIG found that the DEA is paying employees of Amtrak, airlines, bus companies, and other transportation companies millions of dollars for individual tips and copies of entire passenger manifests:

[DEA] Special Agents have various ways of receiving these “tips,” but generally receive the information on a daily basis via email or text message, some of which are sent to government accounts and others to non-government private accounts that are established and controlled by the Special Agents. Additionally, we found that although some Special Agents estimated receiving up to 20 “tips,” or passenger itineraries, per day from their… commercial airline confidential sources, the DEA does not maintain a record of receipt of the totality of the confidential source “tips.”….

[S]ome Agents requested that sources provide them with suspicious travel itineraries that met criteria defined by the Agents, and in some cases requested entire passenger manifests almost daily….

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