Dec 21 2020

We say “No” to mug shots at airports and borders

Illustration from CBP website. The claim that facial recogntion “helps to prevent the spread of germs” is especially bogus, since facial recognition requires travelers to remove their face masks wherever it is used.

Today the Identity Project (IDP), Restore the Fourth, Privacy Times, and the National Workrights Institute  filed joint comments with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in opposition ot the CBP proposal to require mug shots (and possibly collection of other biometrics) from all non-U.S. citizens at all border crossings and international airports and seaports:

The purported NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulermaking] was promulgated under purported authority delegated by an official purporting to exercise the duties of the Secretary of Homeland Security. That official was not appointed in accordance with the Vacancies Reform Act and therefore lacks authority to promulgate notices of proposed rules or final rules, or to delegate authority to do so which they do not themselves hold….

The proposed rules and procedures would violate the Privacy Act, and must therefore be revised or withdrawn.

The proposed rules and procedures would violate the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), and must therefore be revised or withdrawn.

The impact assessment in the NPRM is incomplete, inaccurate, and grossly underestimates the costs which would be imposed on individual travelers by the proposed rule. The NPRM fails to consider how many (more) individuals would opt out of collection of biometrics, if they were provided with the notices required by the PRA, or the cost to those travelers who are so delayed that they miss their flights. The impact assessment must be revised.

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Dec 17 2020

Lawyers who challenged “no-fly” order finally get paid

Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim’s lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security came to a close this week with an order by Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissing Dr. Ibrahim’s complaint after the Federal government finally paid  out a settlement to Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers for successfully representing her in more than a decade of litigation.

The dismissal come more than fifteen years after Dr. Ibrahim was denied boarding and wrongly arrested at San Francisco International Airport when she tried to board a flight to a conference in Hawaii where she was scheduled to present a paper related to her doctoral research in architecture at Stanford University. Dr. Ibrahim was recovering from an emergency hysterectomy and in a wheelchair, and needed assistance from paramedics while in the lockup at the airport before she was eventually released without charges.

Seven years ago, after two interlocutory appeals to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then the first and to date only trial in a case challenging a “no-fly” order by the US government, Judge Alsup ruled that Dr. Ibrahim’s rights had been violated by the government’s secret and wrongful blacklisting of her and denial of her right to travel, and ordered the government to remove Dr. Ibrahim from  its “no-fly” blacklist.

Before the trial, Attorney General Eric Holder signed an apparently perjured declaration certifying that it would cause grave harm to national security to disclose whether or why the government put Dr. Ibrahim on the no-fly list. But in his decision, Judge Alsup revealed what the government had known all along: The only reason Dr. Ibrahim was put on the no-fly list in the first place was that an FBI agent on the mosque-watching detail mistakenly filled out the blacklist and watchlist “nomination”  form incorrectly.

The government chose not to appeal Judge Alsup’s trial judgement, which became final.

But where does that leave Dr. Ibrahim, or her lawyers?

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Dec 10 2020

Old business for a new administration

What should the new Presidential administration do about the Department of Homeland Security and the associated laws, regulations, and homeland-security industrial complex?

Neither freedom of movement, other human rights, nor the DHS are among the self-described priorities of the incoming Biden Administration.

But for better or worse, it isn’t hard to come up with our short list of recommendations to the Biden transition team and to members of Congress who will be questioning nominees for Secretary of Homeland Security and other DHS leadership positions including the Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.

The same agenda of unfinished business (PDF) that we called out in our submissions to Congress and the Obama transition team after the election twelve years ago still face the incoming administration today, three Presidential terms later.

These include actions that could have been taken by previous Presidents, and should be taken by the new President, by executive order or by promulgating regulations.

They also include legislation that could and should be taken up by Congress, as well as questions that Congress and the public should ask of nominees for the DHS.

We wish that some of this unfinished business had been attended to by previous administrations and members of Congress.  But it hasn’t. The problems with the DHS and the attacks on freedom of movement are bipartisan. Nothing has been done by either Republican or Democratic administrations or members of Congress to address them.

But we’re here, and we’re not going away. Ignoring these problems won’t make them disappear, or silence the critics of the DHS and the defenders of the right to travel.

It’s time for the President and Congress to act — and for the public to resist if they don’t.

Dec 02 2020

Speaking Spanish is a not a lawful basis for being made to show ID

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has agreed to pay a “monetary sum” to two native-born US citizens and Montana residents  who were made to show ID and detained for about 40 minutes (including continuing detention even after they showed their Montana drivers licenses) solely because a CBP agent overhead them speaking Spanish to each other.

The amount of the settlement has not been made public.

The ACLU of Montana represented the two Latinx residents of Havre, MT, in their lawsuit, which initially sought a declaratory judgement “that race, accent, and language cannot create suspicion to justify seizure and/or detention” (which ought to go without saying) in addition to money damages.

The facts alleged in the complaint are supported by cellphone video of a CBP agent’s admission that the detention and ID demand were based solely on the language spoken by the agents’ Latinx victims. On discovery, CBP turned over additional self-incriminating video of statements made by CBP agents in interviews with internal CBP investigators, as well as grossly racist text messages exchanged by the CBP agents. Havre is a border town with two crossing points to Canada, where French is a national language, but the Havre-based CBP agents freely admitted that they wouldn’t treat speaking French as suspicious.

After the lawsuit got local and national publicity, the two plaintiffs and their families were harassed and driven out of town. “At his high school, a teacher asked Mimi’s son whether he had brought his ID to class,” one of the victims says. “Our clients bore the brunt of local backlash as a result of coming forward. They both ultimately left Havre for fear of their families’ safety,” according to the executive director of the ACLU of Montana.