Archive for April, 2017

Is the TSA checking domestic airline passengers for warrants?

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Entities and data flows involved in decision-making (“vetting”) about travelers. Larger image, PDF with legend.

The latest annual report on data-mining by the Department of Homeland Security contains a disturbing hint that the TSA may have gotten the ability to include checks for warrants and police “wants” in its “vetting” of passengers on domestic airline flights.

This would turn airline check-in counters and kiosks and TSA checkpoints for domestic air travel into dragnet suspicionless warrant checkpoints.

According to page 16 (page 19 of the PDF) of the newly-released 2016 DHS Data Mining Report, “An annex to this report containing Sensitive Security Information (SSI) about Secure Flight’s use of ATS-P is being provided separately to the Congress.”

What data from ATS, to which the TSA didn’t already have independent access,  is being used by the TSA as part of Secure Flight? For what purpose?

In the diagram above (larger image, PDF with legend), the solid green line shows the transfer of data from the FBI’s “National Criminal Information System” (NCIC) criminal history database to CBP’s “Automated Targeting System” (ATS) for use in “vetting” international airline passengers. The dashed green line shows the newly-disclosed transfer of ATS data to the “Secure Flight” system used by the TSA to “vet” domestic airline passengers. This could allow the TSA to check all domestic airline passengers for warrants and “wants” listed in NCIC, as CBP already has the ability to dos for all international airline passengers on flights to or from the US.

There is no explicit mention in the public portion of the DHS report of TSA use of NCIC data for decision-making (“vetting”) about domestic air travelers. But as the diagram above shows, almost all of the other data contained in ATS is already available directly to the TSA for use in Secure Flight. It’s not clear what data from ATS, other than criminal history data imported to ATS from NCIC, the TSA doesn’t already obtain directly without needing to get it from ATS.

Records of arrest warrants in NCIC are often inaccurate, as we have noted before. It’s especially common for the issuance of a warrant to be reported to the FBI for inclusion in NCIC, but for the later cancellation of that warrant not to be reported to NCIC. NCIC contains hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of listings for warrants that are no longer valid. Using TSA “vetting” of domestic airline passengers as a suspicionless dragnet for “wanted” individuals would inevitably result in the detention and arrest of many innocent people at TSA checkpoints on the basis of inaccurate NCIC data.

Normally, warrant checks are permissible only on the basis of reasonable articulable suspicion that a person has committed a crime. The current CBP checks of international travelers for warrants, police “wants”, and investigative “lookouts” have been permitted only as part of a judicially-created border exception to the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. There is no comparable “airport exception” to the 4th Amendment that would allow suspicionless dragnet warrant checks on domestic travelers by the TSA. Travel is not an inherently suspicious activity. It’s the exercise of a Constitutional and human right, and cannot in itself be the basis for warrant checks.

Members of Congress should look closely at the secret annex to the 2016 DHS Data Mining Report, and question the DHS and TSA as to whether they are using, or intend to use, data obtained from NCIC (directly or indirectly through ATS or otherwise) to conduct warrant checks on domestic air travelers.

If any of our readers has information about someone being identified for arrest on an outstanding warrant (valid or invalid) on the basis of TSA “screening”, rather than on the basis of an independent police warrant check based on reasonable suspicion, please let us know.

“Stand up to the corrupt Real ID Act”

Friday, April 21st, 2017

[Guest commentary by Rep. Chris Tuck, Majority Leader in the Alaska House of Representatives, published in the Alaska Dispatch News, Fairbanks News-Miner, Juneau Empire, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, and Alaska Journal of Commerce]

I am disappointed that the Administration of [Alaska Governor] Walker has given in to the fear tactics and misinformation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration by putting forth legislation to make Alaska implement the Federal REAL ID Act and pay for it ourselves. It is my duty to set the record straight and make sure people have the facts they need to defend their rights.

The Department of Administration has been reporting that if we do not agree to comply with REAL ID we will not be allowed to use our state IDs to get through TSA checkpoints or to get on base. In reality there is no existing or proposed federal law or regulation requiring ID to travel at all.

A recent reply to a four-year-old Freedom of Information Act request to the DHS has shown that 77,000 people per year fly without ID, and only 2 percent who try are ever turned away. Not only that, it is the Pentagon and individual base commanders who decide what ID is required to get on base.

The Department of Homeland Security does not have authority over the Pentagon. That is why the DHS instead uses fear tactics and misinformation to try and force REAL ID on the states.

(more…)

Fly, Don’t Spy!

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Last December, over our formal objections filed with the Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection began asking foreign visitors to the US to fill out the online form, shown above, requesting their user names on social media platforms form Facebook to GitHub.

As of then, and as of now, answering this question is still “optional”, although there’s no guarantee that those who decline to respond won’t be denied entry.

However, new Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly has begun speaking publicly about wanting to require foreign visitors to provide CBP not just with their user names but also their passwords for social media and email accounts.

In response, we’ve joined several dozen other organizations in a Fly, Don’t Spy! campaign to oppose “any proposal to require visa applicants, refugees, or other foreign visitors to provide passwords for online accounts, including social media, in order to enter the United States.”

Please add your name to the petition and the coalition mailing list for updates and actions at FlyDontSpy.com, and help spread the word.

More background:

U.S. citizen stranded in South America without a passport

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Imagine that you’re a U.S. citizen. You were born in the USA. You’ve never been a citizen of any other country, and you have no birthright to any other citizenship.

Now imagine that you are abroad long enough that your passport begins to approach its expiration date. Naturally, you apply to renew it, leaving plenty of time. You have to surrender your old passport with the renewal application, but of course you expect to get your new passport shortly.

Now try to imagine that the State Department puts your passport renewal application into limbo — for almost three years (and still counting). Your application for a new passport is neither granted nor denied, so there is no explicit “decision” to appeal administratively or challenge in court.

Without a passport, you are trapped in whatever country you happened to be in when you applied to renew your passport. No other country is likely to let you in without a passport, nor will any airline let you on an international flight without a passport — not even to return to the USA.

If your visa or permission to remain in that country as a foreigner expires, or if you get into any situation in which you are you are required to show your passport, you are liable to be arrested and thrown into detention or deportation proceedings.

You keep going back to the U.S. Consulate to find out what is happening with your passport application. They tell you they don’t know. They suggest that you go to the end of the line by withdrawing your still-pending application, and starting over — putting your new application at the back of the years-long queue.

Eventually they get tired of putting you off, and order you — a native born sole U.S. citizen — to leave the U.S. Consulate, and not to darken their door again under pain of arrest. Arrest for what violation of what country’s laws, they don’t say.

You try to find a lawyer to hire, but this is outside the expertise or experience of any U.S. lawyer, and none wants to take on your case.

Is this a realistic scenario? Yes.

We’ve heard from more than one person in this situation — and not just the Yemeni-Americans we wrote about a few years ago.

Meet Daniel Bruno, man without a passport:

I was born in Manhattan…. I have a birth certificate…

In May of 2014, I walked into the US Embassy in Buenos Aires with my perfectly valid US passport that was due to expire in six months. I filled out the renewal forms, paid the fees, was interviewed and dismissed by Vice Consul Creaghe. I never had a US passport again because they would not renew it.There is, of course, much more to this story,… but the bottom line is that according to them, Americans have no right to a passport, no right to a nationality document and no right to return to the US… and I know this is illegal.

BTW, let me mention that I’m not wanted for a crime, back taxes, child support, etc….

I am actively seeking constitutional and civil rights lawyers who want to help me defend the rights of all of us.

We’ve met Daniel Bruno in person, and all of the documentation we’ve seen — both from him and from the State Department in response to a Privacy Act and FOIA request we helped him file — supports his account of his bureaucratic ordeal. (The State Department has provided only a partial response, which does not yet include any of the records from the consulate in Buenos Aires.) Is Mr. Bruno now an expatriate? Or has he been effectively exiled by the USA?

We aren’t able to represent Mr. Bruno. But if you are, or you know a lawyer who is, we’ll be happy to put you in touch.

Yes, you can fly without ID

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

On average, 77,000 people each year — more than 200 a day — pass through TSA checkpoints to board airline flights in the USA without showing ID.

Ninety-eight percent of the would-be travelers who show up at TSA checkpoints without ID are allowed to board their flights. Only two percent are turned back.

The average time spent by the TSA “Identify Verification Call Center” in questioning each traveler without ID has been between seven and nine minutes.

Show up at the airport with no ID (or with ID that isn’t considered “acceptable” by the TSA), and there’s a 98% chance that you will be allowed to fly without ID, after 7-9 minutes of additional questioning and a pat-down (which you would have gotten anyway if you didn’t consent to “virtual strip search” imaging) and search of your carry-on bags.

All this is according to internal TSA logs and summary reports on each person who tried to fly from 2008 (when the TSA started using its current procedures and form for people who fly without ID) through 2011. These reports were finally released to us, after four years of TSA foot-dragging, in response to a Freedom Of Information Act request we made in 2013.

So much for the false claims the TSA, the DHS, and their collaborators at state licensing agencies are making that people who live in states that don’t comply with the REAL-ID Act won’t be allowed to fly without “acceptable” ID.

It doesn’t matter whether your ID is “compliant” or “acceptable”. You can fly with no ID at all, and hundreds of people do so every day after what is typically only a brief delay.

Over the years, we have received a trickle of incident narratives, which have been helpful in understanding how the TSA deals with people who show up without ID and what data the TSA uses to make judgments about travelers. But these narratives are for exceptional incidents in which travelers were not quickly “verified” and allowed to proceed. The annual summaries (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011) were only released as the 14th and last batch of responses to our request. (The TSA illegally substituted PDF files of page images for the original spreadsheet or table files, making them much larger files and harder to tabulate. We will be appealing the TSA’s substitution of less-useful newly-created files for the originals, and failure to produce the files in their original format as we requested.)

We remain concerned, of course, about the 2% of would-be fliers without ID who are wrongly prevented from exercising their right to travel by air. The percentage is small (again, just 2% of the people who show up at TSA checkpoints with no ID or without “acceptable” ID), but it still comes to more than 1500 people a year, throughout the USA, whose rights are violated. States should not only say “no” to compliance with the REAL-ID Act, but start preparing now to defend their residents’ freedom of travel and to ask Federal courts to enjoin the DHS and TSA from any interference with that right.