Jul 29 2018

Federal Air Marshals blow the whistle on TSA “Quiet Skies” traveler surveillance program

Jana Winter has a detailed investigative report on the front page of today’s Boston Globe about a previously secret TSA program of illegal surveillance of innocent air travelers, “Quiet Skies”.

According to the story in the Globe, based in part on descriptions and documents  apparently leaked by dissident Federal Air Marshals, the “Quiet Skies” program selects certain airline passengers, who aren’t on any blacklist (“watchlist”) or under investigation for any crime, on the basis of algorithmic profiling, countries previously visited (merely traveling to Turkey has been enough to get some people selected), phone numbers or email addresses, and/or other factors in DHS files about them.

A FAM or team of FAMs is assigned to follow each targeted traveler from the time they arrive at their airport of origin (which the TSA knows from its access to airline reservations through the Secure Flight program), onto and on the plane, through any connecting airports, and until the unwitting target of their surveillance leaves the airport at their final destination.

The FAM gumshoes are required to file detailed reports on each traveler they are assigned to stalk, including a checklist of details such as whether the person being tailed used the toilet in the airport or on the plane, whether they slept for most of the flight or only briefly, and whether they had “strong body odor” or engaged in “excessive fidgeting.”

Is this the reincarnation of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, the (re)emergence of an American Stasi, or standard operating procedure for a government that regards travel as inherently suspicious, rather than as the exercise of human and Constitutional rights?

All of the above, unfortunately.

The story in the Globe speaks for itself, and is worth reading in full.

But lest it be misunderstood, here are some key points about what today’s news reveals, what’s new and what isn’t, and why it’s significant:

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Jul 23 2018

Airlines, airports, and cruise lines “partner” with DHS

This month some cruise lines are joining airlines and airports in taking mug shots of travelers and passing them on to US Customs and Border Protection (CB P). CBP uses these facial images (“biometrics”) for border and travel control and general law enforcement (policing and surveillance) purposes, and shares them with other Department of Homeland Security components and other domestic and foreign entities.

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Jul 18 2018

California DMV lies about the REAL-ID Act

We’ve heard that the California Department of Motor Vehicles has posted scary new signs in DMV offices around the state misinforming motorists and holders of DMV-issued non-driver state ID cards about the Federal REAL-ID Act of 2005.

We assume that these public disinformation messages are similar in content to the false answers to frequently asked questions and other propaganda about REAL-ID on the DMV website.

We’ve been through all this before with similar false claims about the REAL-ID Act by the California DMV and the Federal Department of Homeland Security. But lest anyone be misled by seemingly authoritative statements from government agencies, here are some of the real facts about REAL-ID that are contradicted, denied, or ignored in DMV press releases. Read More

Jul 17 2018

3rd Circuit gives impunity to TSA checkpoint staff

TSA checkpoint staff often act as though they were above the law. But are they really?

Sadly, they often are, at least in the opinion of some Federal judges.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals recent decision in Pellegrino v. TSA , in combination with its decision last year in Vanderklok v. TSA, mean that — at least for now, and at least in the 3rd Circuit — no civil recourse or remedy is available through the Federal courts against checkpoint staff who deliberately assault travelers, lie about their own actions and those of travellers, and make knowingly and deliberately false complaints to police in order to get travelers wrongly arrested.

The two judges in the majority on the three-judge panel that upheld the dismissal of Nadine Pellegrino’s complaint  explicitly acknowledged the implications of their decision:

We recognize that our holding here, combined with our decision in Vanderklok, means that individuals harmed by the intentional torts of TSOs will have very limited legal redress. And we are sympathetic to the concerns this may raise as a matter of policy, particularly given the nature and frequency of TSOs’ contact with the flying public. For most people, TSA screenings are an unavoidable feature of flying, 49 U.S.C. §44901(a), and they may involve thorough searches of not only the belongings of passengers but also their physical persons…. For these reasons, Congress may well see fit to …  legislate recourse for passengers who seek to assert intentional tort claims against TSOs. But such policy judgments, particularly as they relate to sovereign immunity and the public fisc, fall squarely in the realm of the legislative branch.
The dissenting member of the panel (the dissent starts at p. 54 of the slip opinion) characterized the decision more bluntly:
My colleagues[‘]…  decision insulates TSOs from all intentional tort claims, leaving plaintiffs without a civil remedy. Absent congressional action, they cannot recover if a TSO [Transportation Security “Officer”] assaults them, unlawfully detains them, or unlawfully lodges a criminal complaint against them.
The details of the opinion dismissing Ms. Pellegrino’s complaint might be described charitably as arcane, and uncharitably as twisted.

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Jul 14 2018

Greyhound, Amtrak, and ID demands

Changes in Greyhound business practices jeopardize the already-limited options for cross-country travel by people in the USA who don’t have, or don’t chose to show, government-issued  ID credentials.

For local transportation, undocumented people who want or need to travel further and/or faster than they can walk can ride bicycles (although there have been proposals in some jurisdictions to require registration of bicycles and/or bicyclists), or use public mass transit (where it exists, and where fares can be paid anonymously in cash, which isn’t the case with some cashless transit fare payment schemes).

Long-distance travel options for people without papers are even more limited. Policies adopted by airlines and Amtrak, combined with ID requirements for drivers of private motor vehicles, have left long-distance bus companies as the carriers of last resort for long-distance travel by undocumented people.

The options for the undocumented get even narrower when one starts looking at specific routes. Greyhound is the only company providing scheduled transcontinental bus service, a truly national route system, or any intercity bus service to many destinations in the USA.

That makes Greyhound’s route system and ID policies, or the lack of any Greyhound policy conditioning domestic US travel on possession or display of government-issued ID, of paramount importance to anyone who wants to move about the US without showing ID.

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