Jul 12 2019

CBP settles lawsuit challenging demand for ID from arriving domestic airline passengers

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division of DHS has agreed to a settlement with passengers who were ordered to show ID documents before they were allowed to leave a Delta Air Lines plane after it arrived in New York after a flight from San Francisco.

Nine of the passengers on the February 2017 flight , represented by the ACLU and cooperating lawyers from Covington & Burling, sued the CBP and CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. They complained that the warrantless, suspicionless dragnet search of the ID documents of everyone on the plane violated the 4th Amendment, and that the CBP policy for such searches was invalid.

In their answer to the court complaint, the defendants admitted “that the officers did not have a search warrant or probable cause to arrest Plaintiffs, the officers did not arrest Plaintiffs, and the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop, nor did they conduct a Terry stop of the Plaintiffs.” But they claimed that this was an isolated incident, not a matter of CBP policy or practice. The CBP port director for JFK airport, who had told reporters that ID checks on arriving passengers were “routine” and happen “every day”, changed his story in court and submitted a declaration that had never heard of another such incident.

Noting the factual issue raised by the contradictions between the statements made by the same CBP officials to the press and to the court, the court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint, and ordered the defendants to disclose their policies for “training of …  CBP officers as regards compliance with the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in locations within the United States other than within a Customs security area.”

As the deadline for that discovery order was expiring, the defendants agreed to a settlement. The settlement requires CBP to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees and train all CBP officers (a) that “CBP Office of Field Operations does not have a policy or routine practice of compelling or requesting that passengers deplaning domestic flights submit to suspicionless document checks”, and (b) that “to the extent feasible”, when CBP conducts “consensual encounters” (search and interrogation) of domestic airline passengers, they should inform those passengers that cooperation is voluntary and that “passengers who decline to cooperate will not suffer any enforcement consequence as a result”.

The settlement is a (small)step in the right direction. But it leaves unresolved several of the key legal issues raised by demands by law enforcement officers for airline passengers to show evidence of identity in order to be allowed to deplane:

  1. Does CBP (or any other law enforcement agency) have the legal authority to demand that airline passengers identify themselves? The settlement says that CBP doesn’t have a  “policy or routine practice ” of doing so, but is silent on whether it claims, or has, the legal authority to do so or to adopt such a policy or practice in the future.
  2. What about ID demands of arriving passengers that aren’t carried out pursuant to a “policy” or as part of a “routine practice”?  Are they reasonable or consistent with the Fourth Amendment? The ACLU continues to argue, and we agree, that, “If officers want to check [domestic] passengers’ identification documents, they can only do so with the passengers’ consent. And if a passenger does not consent, the officers cannot detain that person, even for a brief period, without reasonable suspicion of a violation of the law.” But the settlement is silent on the Constitutionality of such seizures or demands for ID, even if they affect every passenger on a particular flight.

Despite this settlement, it remains for a future case for the courts to squarely address and rule on the Constitutionality of demands for airline passengers to show ID.

 

Jul 10 2019

Automated DHS searches of state drivers’ license photos

State agencies that issue drivers’ licenses are conducting warrantless searches of their databases of license photos, using automated face recognition software, at the request of  law enforcement agencies including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security.

The use of automated facial recognition to search databases of drivers’ license mug shots was revealed in responses to requests made under the Freedom Of Information Act and  state public records laws by the Georgetown University Center on Privacy & Technology.  It was reported in recent days in the Washington Post, New York Times, and in two stories on NPR, and was discussed in a Congressional hearing today on the use of automated facial recognition by Federal agencies. (Earlier Congressional hearings on automated facial recognition were held on May 22nd and June 4th.)

Questions are being asked by members of Congress, state officials, and civil libertarians: What is the legal basis, if any, for these dragnet searches of drivers’ license photo databases? How have they have evaded judicial oversight?  Warrants or court orders were neither requested by DHS or other law enforcement agencies, nor demanded by the state agencies that carried out the searches in response to extrajudicial administrative requests.

A letter sent this week by a coalition of civil liberties organizations calls on Congress to suspend the use of facial recognition technology by the DHS. While that is appropriate, it doesn’t address how, from what sources, or on what legal basis databases of ID-linked mug shots of innocent individuals are being created and obtained by the DHS.

Additional questions ought to be asked about the implications of the latest revelations for the REAL-ID Act and the use of facial recognition by airlines, airport operators, and DHS officers and agents at airports and borders:

Read More

Jul 01 2019

PCLOB to review use of PNR (airline reservation) data

Following its most recent meeting on May 31, 2019, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) announced last week that “The Board has voted to conduct an oversight project related to the use of airline Passenger Name Records.”

We welcome this announcement by the PCLOB, and look forward to whatever opportunities may be presented to assist the PCLOB and its staff in this project.

Mass surveillance and permission-based predictive control of movement and travel, which in practice has relied on compelled identification of travelers and government access to PNR data (commercial airline reservations), was one of three issues we recommended as priorities for investigation by the PCLOB once enough members were appointed and confirmed for the Board to again have a quorum able to make decisions after a hiatus of several years.

PNR data is used to target searches and seizures and to make predictive decisions about who is, and who is not, “allowed” to exercise their right to travel by common carrier.

Government access to and use of PNR data needs to be recognized, and denounced, both as suspicionless, warrantless, and unconstitutional mass surveillance (through dragnet collection of personally identified travel metadata about the exercise of rights of freedom of movement and travel by common carrier) and as the most pervasive current program of unconstitutional predictive “pre-crime” control of the exercise of rights protected by the First Amendment (“the right of the people… peaceably to assemble”) and international human rights treaties.

The PCLOB is one of the most important advisory bodies within the Federal government. Although it lacks any enforcement power, the PCLOB has more autonomy and more ability to investigate and publicly criticize the practices of Federal agencies than agency “Privacy Officers” who serve at the pleasure of, take orders from, and whose public statements are subject to control by the heads of Federal agencies and by the President.

Members of the PCLOB are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Unlike most Federal advisory bodies, the PCLOB can set its own agenda and choose which issues to investigate. The PCLOB is considered an independent Federal agency. The PCLOB has the authority to review records of all Federal agencies, and to request that the Attorney General subpoena records held by third parties. But despite its name, the PCLOB has no “oversight” authority  other than the authority to issue reports that the President, Congress, Federal prosecutors, and Federal agencies are free to ignore.