Feb 18 2020

It’s time for Greyhound to say no to police harassment of bus riders

A memo from the Border Patrol component of  US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) first reported last Friday by the Associated Press confirms what critics of Greyhounds’s collaboration with the US Border Patrol and other police have been saying for years: unless they have a warrant or in exigent circumstances, CBP agents can’t board Greyhound’s buses without Greyhound’s permission.

Greyhound has defended itself by claiming that it has no legal right to keep Border Patrol agents from boarding buses and questioning passengers. But those claims — which we’re pretty sure Greyhound’s lawyers have always known to be false — have now been shown to be directly contrary to the instructions given to all Border Patrol field supervisors:

When transportation checks occur on a bus at non-checkpoint locations, the agent must demonstrate that he or she gained access to the bus with the consent of the company’s owner or one of the company’s employees.

It’s time for Greyhound to stop making excuses or blaming the government for its corporate choices. Greyhound could and should decline to consent to police boarding its buses, and explicitly prohibit its employees and agents from giving such consent.

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Oct 02 2019

Do I need ID to ride a train?

We’ve been trying for years to find out what the real story is with respect to ID requirements for travel by train, especially on Amtrak.

Amtrak and Greyhound ID policies and practices are of paramount importance to the mobility of undocumented people and people who, whether or not they are eligible for or have chosen to obtain government-issued ID credentials, don’t want to show their papers to government agents as a condition of exercising their right to freedom of movement.

Amtrak and Greyhound policies and practices will become even more important if the government and/or airlines further restrict air travel by people who don’t have, or don’t show, ID credentials that comply with the REAL-ID Act.

The latest responses to our requests for Federal and state public records reveal more about passenger railroad policies and practices, but still don’t give a clear answer.

What we can say at this point, based on the records disclosed to us to date, is that:

  1. There are substantial discrepancies and contradictions between what the TSA has told Amtrak to do, what Amtrak tells its own staff about what is required, what Amtrak tells travelers about what is required and the basis for those requirements, and what Amtrak staff actually do. Those variations make it impossible to determine unambiguously what “the rules” are for Amtrak travel, or what is “required”.
  2. Some of Amtrak’s claims, including its claim that passengers are required by the TSA to have and to show ID to travel by Amtrak, are blatant lies.
  3. TSA Security Directive RAILPAX-04-02, cited by Amtrak in its employee manual as the basis for demanding that passengers show ID, requires Amtrak to “request” (not demand) that passengers show ID, but does not purport to require passengers to respond to such requests and does not prescribe any sanctions on passengers for failure, refusal, or inabiity to show ID.
  4. Amtrak has instructed its staff that “If the customer responds they are 18 or older and do not have valid identification, … the Amtrak police must be notified by the quickest available means away from the customer,” but also that, “Failure to possess the proper photo identification is not, by itself, sufficient reason to have the customer removed from the train.” Amtrak has not yet responded to our FOIA request for Amtrak Police policies and staff directives for what to do in such cases.
  5. Although Amtrak is unquestionably an instrumentality of the Federal government, and transportation by Amtrak is unquestionably a Federal government activity, the list of ID credentials deemed acceptable by Amtrak does not correspond to the list of forms of ID deemed by the DHS to be acceptable for “Federal purposes” pursuant to the REAL-ID Act of 2005.  Amtrak says it accepts several forms of ID that do not comply with the REAL-ID Act. None of Amtrak’s ID policies, procedures, or staff directives disclosed to date mention the REAL-ID Act or when or how it might be implemented by Amtrak, although records of such policies or of discussions related to them would be responsive to soem of our pending FOIA requests.

Where does this leave undocumented long-distance travelers, including those who turn to Amtrak as a government-operated common carrier of last resort?

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Jan 07 2019

Amtrak thinks it’s OK to spy on passengers because it makes the trains run on time

Buried in the final 500-page PDF file of redacted and munged e-mail messages released by Amtrak in December 2018 in response to a FOIA request we made in 2014, we got the first hint at an answer to one of the questions that originally prompted our request:

What did Amtrak  think was its legal basis for requiring passengers to show ID and provide other information, and for handing this data over to DHS components and other police agencies for general law enforcement purposes?

When US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) asked Amtrak to start transmitting passenger data electronically, it described this as a request for “voluntary” cooperation, noting that while the law requires airlines to collect and transmit this data to CBP, “these mandates do not currently extend to land modes of transportation” (as they still don’t today).

Despite this statement from CBP, someone at Amtrak came up with a way to describe the changes to Amtrak’s systems and procedures to require ID information in reservations for all international trains, and to transmit this data to CBP,  as “required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)” and as “being mandated by the US Border Inspection Agencies [sic].”

In 2004, an Amtrak technology manager was asked, “Do you know if such a [Federal] mandate [to collect information about passengers] exists, or is Amtrak not obliged to participate in this program?”

The unnamed Amtrak IT manager’s response was that:

By statute, the federal government … in cooperation with Amtrak “shall maintain, consistent with the effective enforcement of immigration and customs laws, en route customs inspections and immigration procedures for international intercity rail passenger transportation that will (1) be convenient for passenger; and (2) result in the quickest possible international rail passenger transportation.” 49 USC 24709.

In other words,someone at  Amtrak thinks it’s not merely permitted but required by this provision of Federal law to implement whatever level of intrusiveness of data collection and data sharing will make international trains run more quickly.

It’s arguable, to say the least, whether Congress intended this law as a mandate for ID credentials or data collection, whether collection of passenger data prior to ticketing actually expedites international trains (compared to, as used to happen, conducting customs and immigration  inspections onboard while trains are in motion), or whether demands for ID and passenger information are consistent with the clause of this section requiring that measures taken be “convenient for passengers”. But someone at Amtrak seems to have interpreted this statute as such a mandate, and represented it as such to other Amtrak staff and contractors.

Are there any limits to what information or actions Amtrak would think is required of passengers on international trains, if  that would keep US and Canadian border guards from stopping or delaying trains at the border for customs inspection?

Questions about whether Advance Passenger Information (APIS) was required had been asked not only within Amtrak but by Amtrak-appointed travel agencies, as was relayed to Amtrak by a product manager  for the “Worldspan by Travelport” reservation system:

There’s no indication in the documents we received as to whether this Worldspan subscriber, or any other travel agency, was given any answer to this question.

Notably, no legal basis whatsoever for requiring ID from passengers on domestic trains was mentioned anywhere in the records we’ve received from Amtrak. Nor were any records released that related to Amtrak’s privacy policy, or the legal basis for it, although such records were covered by our request.  We’re still following up with Amtrak on this and other issues, and will file administrative appeals if necessary.

As part of Amtrak’s response to a separate FOIA request, however, we’ve received a redacted copy of Amtrak’s internal directive to staff regarding passenger ID requirements. According to this document, Amtrak stopped requiring passengers to show ID in order to buy tickets as of October 25, 2017.  But no records related to this change, or the reasons for it, were released in response to our request.

Amtrak train crews are supposed to check ID of a randomly selected 10% or 20% of passengers. In our experience, however, Amtrak staff rarely require any passengers to show ID.

Although Amtrak is a Federal government entity, Amtrak’s of list of acceptable ID is much more inclusive than the list of ID that comply with the REAL-ID Act. Amtrak’s list of ID acceptable for train travel includes, among other acceptable credentials, any ID issued by a public or private middle school, high school, college, or university, and drivers’ licensed issued by US states and territories to otherwise undocumented residents.

Amtrak even accepts a “California state issued medical marijuana card“, which doesn’t have the cardholder’s name, only their photo. We’ll leave it as an exercise to our readers to figure out what relationship Amtrak thinks there is between being eligible for medical cannabis and being eligible for Amtrak train travel.

The most reasonable inference is that someone at Amtrak has decided that Amtrak should make a show of requiring ID, but that others at Amtrak don’t really want to turn away travelers without ID. Perhaps they recognize that travellers who don’t have or don’t want to show ID are a valuable Amtrak customer demographic.

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Nov 02 2018

What China calls “social credit”, the US calls “risk assessment”

A viral video of an announcement on a Chinese high-speed train and a series of reports (here and here) on NPR have prompted a surge of interest this week in China’s “social credit” system:

Dear passengers: People who travel without a ticket, behave disorderly, or smoke in public areas will be punished according to regulations, and the behavior will be recorded in individual credit information system. To avoid a negative record of personal credit, please follow the relevant regulations and help with the orders on the train and at the station.

Despite unwarranted comparisons to US financial credit scores, “social credit” scoring in China is used by the government and para-statal entities, not just private companies, and not just for financial decision-making.

One of the NPR stories as well as a report last month by the Australian Broadcasting Co. include interviews with people who discovered they were barred by the Chinese government from travel on high-speed trains as a result of “social credit” scores, regardless of their ability to pay for tickets.

Dystopian? Yes.

Unjust? Yes?

“It can’t happen here?” No.

It already happens here, every day, to everyone who travels by airline or engages in bank or credit card transactions.

You may not realize it until you are mysteriously unable to obtain a boarding pass or complete a financial transaction, but each of these activities is already subject to secret, permission-based, extrajudicial prior restraint by the US government.

The default is “no”.  Since a little over 10 years ago, US Federal regulations have forbidden any airline from issuing a boarding pass unless and until it has sent the would-be traveler’s itinerary and identifying information to the DHS and has received back an individualized, per-passenger, per-flight, permission-to-travel message from the DHS. The DHS generates a secret “risk score” for each passenger, which determines how closely they are searched and questioned, whether the airline is instructed to call the police when they try to check in, and other aspects of how they are treated.

Even before airlines or banks get to the point of consulting the government, “carrier sanctions” and similar sanctions against financial institutions give them a financial incentive to err on the side of saying “no”, not “yes”.

You don’t have to be on a government blacklist for your air travel or financial transactions to be blocked by the US government or by airlines or banks acting at the government’s behest. There are multiple air travel blacklists (euphemistically and inaccurately called “watchlists”), but no-fly and transaction-processing decisions are also made in real time, on the basis of algorithmic “pre-crime” predictions (euphemistically and misleadingly called “risk assessments”, despite the lack of any evidence of a correlation between these scores and actual “risk”).

What China calls “social credit scoring”, the US calls “risk-based screening”.

Government blacklists and real-time pre-crime policing are being applied to control a growing range of activities of daily life. But air travel and financial transactions are the areas where the US government already has a fully deployed and operational real-time “social credit” system in which private service providers are seamlessly integrated with government agencies to surveil and control our everyday activities.

The question isn’t whether the US should have a “social credit” system — it already does — but whether it should be expanded to more aspects of our lives, or rolled back.

It can happen here. It is happening here. It will continue to happen here until we stop it.

China’s social credit system provides a useful object lesson in the three essential preconditions for a system of ID-based surveillance and control. We can block or impede the expansion of such schemes by undermining any of these three legs of the tripod:

  1. ID requirements to travel or engage in other transactions or activities — If you travel, pay, or act anonymously,  your individualized “score” can’t be used to control you. China’s “social credit” system is enabled by requirements to show government-issued ID to open a bank or mobile payment account or purchase a SIM card.  You can only rent a shared bicycle in China through an app, not by cash, and you can’t use the app without an ID-linked mobile phone and ID-linked payment account. So even if you travel around a Chinese city by shared bicycle, you can be tracked. Travel anonymously, and use cash or other anonymous forms of payment.
  2. Collection of ID-linked transaction and position data  — Chinese “social credit” scores and US “risk assessments” are based on travel, movement, and transaction histories. Some of this data is collected through biometric identification, primarily automated  facial recognition. Other data is “ingested” by the government from commercial databases such as travel reservations and financial transactions. Private companies can and should resist requests for this data, but can’t be counted on to do so. No airline, for example, has ever challenged government demands for warrantless access to the entirety of their reservation database, including free-text derogatory internal comments by front-line reservation and customer-service staff that are imported directly into permanent DHS files used for “risk” scoring. Once personally identified or identifiable data is collected, it’s almost impossible to resist demands for government access made in the name of “security”.  Any data that is collected about you can and will be used against you. The only real way to oppose this mass surveillance is #DoNotCollect. Just say no to requests for information, for consent to search, or for sharing of data with the government.
  3. Government control of movement, activity, and transactions — A key step in the implementation of the “social credit” system for air travel was the installation (at a cost to the airline industry of at least US$2 billion) of the control lines that transformed a reporting (i.e. surveillance) system into a “pre-crime” control system. It’s critical to defend against having our Constitutional and human rights redefined as privileges to be exercised only by prior permission of the government —  as the right to travel by common carrier has already been. Demand that restrictions on the exercise of rights be based on evidence-based court orders, not pre-crime fantasies.

As for the specific Chinese examples of travel by high-speed train, Amtrak, like the operators of Chinese trains, is a para-statal government-charterted corporation. In 2014, we made a FOIA request to Amtrak for records of Amtrak’s sharing of passenger data with the DHS and other law enforcement agencies. Amtrak has been releasing a trickle of responsive records, as we’ve been reporting. But Amtrak’s response remains incomplete, and this is now the oldest pending unanswered request in Amtrak’s FOIA queue.

 

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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Jun 19 2018

Coding Amtrak’s collaboration with US Customs and Border Protection

We’ve received and posted the latest installment in a continuing trickle of responses to a Freedom of Information Act request  we made in 2014 for records related to Amtrak’s collaboration with US and foreign law enforcement and “border control” agencies.

The most recent batch of records released by Amtrak consists mainly of email correspondence between Amtrak IT staff responsible for supporting ticket sales through travel agencies  (most of which occur through computerized reservation systems), programmers with Amtrak’s in-house ARROW  reservation system, and Amtrak’s technical contacts at  the four major CRSs used by travel agencies: Sabre, Apollo, Worldspan, and Amadeus.

Most of these exchanges relate to Amtrak’s decision in 2005 to start feeding information about all passengers on cross-border (USA-Canada and Canada-USA) Amtrak trains to US Customs and Border Protection, and to require all passengers on these trains to provide Amtrak with passport or travel document info to pass on to CBP.

This was not required by any US law or regulations,  but was a voluntary decision by Amtrak. Some travel agents complained about this, but we’ve still seen no indication that they were given any answer about why Amtrak was doing this or what travelers or travel agents who didn’t want to provide this information could do. Amtrak’s own programmers were falsely told that this was required by order of CBP.

The messages we have received show that requiring travel agents to enter names and details of ID documents in PNRs for Amtrak travel created in the CRSs, and getting this information to flow through in standardized form to ARROW records and transmissions to CBP, proved more difficult than had been expected.

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Apr 06 2018

Transportation companies should not consent to police harassment of travelers

The ACLU is calling on Greyhound to stop giving the Border Patrol (US Customs and Border Protection) permission to board Greyhound buses and interrogate passengers.

According to a public letter sent to Greyhound by ACLU affiliates across the US:

Greyhound recently has said that the company believes it is “required” to “cooperate with [CBP] if they ask to board our buses.” We are aware of no such requirement. Rather, Greyhound has a Fourth Amendment right to deny CBP permission to board and search its buses without a judicial warrant…. [W]e urge Greyhound to change its policy and to refuse CBP permission to conduct invasive bus raids without a warrant.

Or, as a petition already signed by more than 30,000 people puts it more succinctly, “Your company has the right to say no to [the] Border Patrol — now is the time to do it.”

We wholeheartedly endorse this call on Greyhound to stop doing the wrong thing — and we extend the same call to all transportation companies including airlines and Amtrak.

Federal, state, and local police routinely collaborate to interrogate travelers on buses and trains and in bus and train stations and airports. The purpose of this questioning is typically not to obtain information, but to trick and/or intimidate travelers with a sufficient show of force  to get them to “consent” to searches of their belongings for drugs and/or cash, so that travelers’ cash and/or other valuables can be seized and forfeited to the police agencies involved. “Consensual” questioning and searches are also used as the basis for additional harassment, detention, and deportation of immigrants and other foreigners.

These sordid practices depend, we reiterate, on trickery and intimidation as well as on the willingness of the courts to countenance “consent” given under patently coercive conditions when armed police are blocking the aisle of a bus or train or the door of a compartment on a sleeping car, or surrounding a traveler in an airport waiting area.

But these practices also depend on the willingness of transportation companies to let these goons onto their buses and trains and into their stations and airports to conduct these looting expeditions for anything they can expropriate through civil forfeiture.

Greyhound buses are private property. Except in “hot pursuit” of a suspected criminal, police cannot board Greyhound buses without a ticket or permission from Greyhound.

Amtrak is a Federal government corporation, but nothing in its charter from Congress requires it to collaborate with, or consent to, warrantless searches of Amtrak property, including passenger coaches and sleeping cars, or questioning of Amtrak passengers.

(We are continuing to receive a foot-dragging trickle of responses to a FOIA request we made to Amtrak in 2014 for information about Amtrak’s sharing of information about passengers with the DHS and with foreign law enforcement agencies.)

Similarly, most airports and some bus and train stations are publicly operated, but free to refuse their consent to warrantless entry onto some or all of their premises, other than customs facilities leased to CBP, by agents of the DEA, CBP, or other law enforcement officers not involved in routine airport, train station, or bus station patrols and policing.

If you see police doing something you don’t like on a bus or train, in a bus or train station, or in an airport, say something to the company that “consented”  to this police activity.

Mar 09 2018

If you build a surveillance system, the police will come.

There’s a cautionary tale for people who travel by public transit in the latest report on collaboration with Canadian police by the Toronto regional transit agency, Metrolinx.

If you build a system that keeps personally-indentifiable logs of when and where people go, eventually the police will want to exploit those logs for their own purposes — regardless of the original purpose for which the data was collected, or the policies that, at the time the data was collected, purported to restrict how it would later be used.

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Dec 19 2017

“Border control” as pretext for drug dragnet

The latest so-called “Privacy Impact Assessment ” (PIA) made public by the US Department of Homeland Security, “CBP License Plate Reader Technology“, provides unsurprising but disturbing details about how the US government’s phobias about foreigners and drugs are driving (pun intended) the convergence of border surveillance and dragnet surveillance of the movements of private vehicles within the USA.

The main reason for the publication of the CBP License Plate Reader Technology PIA is to provide the public with “notice that CBP is partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to leverage each other’s .. LPR [License Plate Reader] systems.”

Since at least 2007, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has had a network of license plate readers continuously monitoring and recording the license plate numbers and locations of vehicles near US borders. “Near” and “border” in this context are euphemisms: Federal regulations define the “border” zone for purposes of CBP authority as including anywhere within 100 miles of any US border or seacoast,  which puts roughly two-thirds of the US population within “border” regions.

Meanwhile, the DEA has compiled an aggregated database of geotagged and timestamped license plate records purchased from commercial sources, including records of vehicle locations far from what even the DHS considers the “border zone”.

CBP and DEA are already able to query and retrieve data from each other’s LPR databases. A DEA agent can also set a “TECS alert” flag in the DHS database for a specific license plate number, the same way they  can for a specific passport number, so that they will be notified automatically whenever that plate is spotted by a DHS camera.

What’s changing is that instead of providing LPR information to each other only in response to specific targeting requests, CBP and DEA plan to “stream” all of the data from their LPR networks to each other in real time. “CBP intends to provide DEA access to CBP LPR information… through a real-time streaming service.”  Each agency will have a complete copy of the data collected by the other, so that they can merge and mine it and use it for “pre-crime” profiling.

As is the trend with all DHS surveillance systems, the goal is to convert a targeted system for investigating suspects into a dragnet system that treats everyone as a suspect subject to continuous surveillance and “continuous screening” or “continuous vetting”.

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Sep 19 2017

Amtrak lied to travel agents who questioned ID requirements

The encouraging disclosure in the latest installment of documents released by Amtrak in response to one of our Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests is that some travel agents resisted Amtrak demands that they collaborate in surveillance, profiling, and control of train travelers by entering passport or ID numbers and details in each reservation for cross-border Amtrak travel.

According to an email message to Amtrak from a product manager at Worldspan (one of the major computerized reservation systems), “We have one subscriber [i.e. a travel agency that uses Worldspan] that has checked the Federal Register and is quoting ‘chapter and verse’ that it is not mandated … to provide the data”:

Some travel agents pushed back repeatedly, read the official notices and instructions to travel agents about the rail API program carefully (and correctly), and made a travel agency “policy decision of non-provision” of ID data about their customers:

Kudos to the unnamed travel agencies that refused to help the government spy on their customers and called Amtrak on its lies that this was required.

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