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.