Dec 03 2019

Seattle Port Commission to consider rules for airport facial recognition

We’ll be in Seattle on December 10, 2019, to give public comments (see our detailed written testimony submitted in advance) at a meeting of the Port of Seattle Commission concerning a proposed resolution on use of facial recognition by airlines at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

This will be the first time that any operator of a US airport has publicly considered any policies to govern use of facial recognition by airlines or on airport property.

The public authorities that operate almost all major US airports have a key role to play in oversight of traveler surveillance systems deployed on their premises by their tenants.

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Nov 21 2019

What will the REAL-ID Act mean for Californians?

Steve Gordon, Director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles

The director of a $9 million state publicity campaign to persuade Californians that they will be “turned away at the TSA checkpoint” if they try to fly without ID and that “you will need to show federally-compliant identification in order to board a domestic flight within the U.S.” admits that he knows you can fly without any ID, and he’s flown without ID himself.

That admission by Steve Gordon, Director of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), came following a hearing in Los Angeles yesterday at which we also testified (written testimony, video starting at 1:10:23) before the California Assembly Budget Subcommittee responsible for oversight of the DMV.

California DMV Director Gordon said the DMV has an “overall budget north of $9 million” for an “awareness and motivational campaign” in all media — billboards, online keyword advertising buys , etc. — to “drive people to action” to apply for REAL-ID cards.

Gordon said that the DMV had changed its message from “You can apply for either a REAL-ID ‘compliant’ or ‘noncompliant’ drivers license or ID card” to, “You should get a REAL-ID card,” because it was “too confusing” to tell people they have a choice.

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Oct 22 2019

9th Circuit upholds “no-fly” procedures & criteria

A 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the government’s procedures and criteria for issuing “no-fly” orders against a complaint that the criteria (which are essentially “pre-crime” criteria based on predictions of future bad actions) are too vague to provide fair notice of what actions might lead to a “no-fly” order, and that the procedures do not provide the degree of procedural due process (notice of the accusations, an opportunity to see the evidence and cross-examine witnesses, etc.) required by the Constitution.

While the 9th Circuit panel left open the possibility of a challenge to the substantive grounds for a specific no-fly order, it upheld the government’s effort, in mid-litigation, to change the procedures for no-fly orders to keep challenges to no-fly orders out of U.S. District Courts and preclude any trial or adversarial or judicial fact-finding in such cases.

The 9th Circuit panel found that no-fly orders issued by the TSA under the current revised procedures are excluded from the jurisdiction of U.S. District Courts. TSA no-fly orders can be “reviewed” by a Circuit Court of Appeals only on the basis of a self-serving “administrative record” created by the TSA, and on the basis of a deferential standard that presumes the validity of the TSA’s fact-finding. The 9th Circuit panel did not address the Constitutionality of the applicable jurisdiction-stripping law, 49 U.S.C. § 46110, which is currently being challenged in the 1st Circuit in Sai v. Pekoske (originally Sai v. Neffenger).

The decision announced yesterday in Kashem v. Barr may be the worst appellate court decision against freedom of travel since the 2006 decision by the 9th Circuit Court in Gilmore v. Gonzales.

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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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Sep 04 2019

US government blacklisting system is unconstitutional

In an opinion issued late today in Alexandria, VA, US District Court Judge Anthony Trenga has upheld the complaint by 23 victims of US government blacklisting that the system pursuant to which the government has designated them as “suspected terrorists” on the basis of secret algorithms applied to secret datasets, without notice or an opportunity to contest any allegedly “derogatory”  information, does not provide those who are stigmatized, and whose stigmatized status is broadcast to tens of thousands of law enforcement and other government agencies and private entities around the world, with the procedural due process required by the US Constitution.

This decision is one of the most fundamental victories for the rule of law since 9/11.

According to today’s opinion, it is undisputed that the DHS and FBI define anyone who has been arrested or charged with an offense related to terrorism as a “known” terrorist, even if they have been acquitted of that charge.  In other words, the DHS and FBI think that what is “known” is what they believe, not what judges or juries have found the facts to be. That presumption that by definition their secret judgements are more reliable than judicial fact-finding pretty much sums up why this decision is correct, why it is so important, and why it should be upheld if, as seems a near certainty, the government appeals.

None of the plaintiffs have even been arrested, much less convicted, for any criminal offense, terrorist or otherwise. The plaintiffs include, among others, several infants whom the government has apparently blacklisted as “suspected terrorists”. But even though the government will neither confirm nor deny that anyone is or is not, or has or has not been, included in the “Terrorist Screening Database” (TSDB), the court found that the plaintiffs have demonstrated sufficient basis for their belief that they have been blacklisted.

The government calls this database and decsion-making system a “watchlist”, but it is really a blacklist intended and used to determine adverse consequences for individuals.

The “No-Fly List” is only a subset of the TSDB, and not being allowed to fly is only a subset of the consequences of blacklisting detailed in the plaintiffs’ submissions to the court and the government’s admissions during discovery and depositions. The TSDB is used as the basis for a plethora of decisions, as the plaintiffs have experienced, from whether to have them arrested at gunpoint when they try to cross land borders  to whether to interrogate them for hours about their religious beliefs, seize their electronic devices for copying and forensic analysis of the data stored on them, deny them public or private-sector jobs, or close their bank accounts and deny them other fincial services.

The government’s use of secret criteria, secret datasets, and guilt by association as the basis for secret decisions — communicated to tens of thousands of other decision-makers, but not to those who have been blacklisted —  resembles the worst of McCarthyism, just with “terrorist sympathizer” or (literal) “fellow traveler” substituted for “Communist  sympathizer” or (ideological) “fellow traveler”.

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Aug 30 2019

3rd Circuit finds TSA checkpoint staff conduct “searches” and can be sued for misconduct

By a vote of 9 to 4, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has found that TSA checkpoint staff are “officers or employees” of the Federal government who “execute searches… for violations of Federal law”, and therefore that the US government is subject to private lawsuits for damages for  certain intentional torts by TSA “screeners” including “assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, [and] malicious prosecution.”

The decision by the judges of the 3rd Circuit following rehearing en banc in the case of Pellegrino v. TSA reverses an earlier decision by a three-judge panel that would have given impunity to checkpoint staff for even the most egregious violations of travelers rights.

The language of the Federal Tort Claims Act and its applicability to TSA checkpoint staff are clear. The TSA’s strained attempt to exempt checkpoint staff from FTCA lawsuits should never have gotten this far.

But the TSA’s highest priority, ahead of protection of transportation safety or security, has always been the protection of itself and its  activities against judicial review.

Any lawsuit against the TSA or anyone associated with it is regarded by the agency as an existential threat to its assertion of unlimited discretion to define, by its own secret internal procedures, which people, possessions, and activities are and aren’t allowed at TSA checkpoints — as if the conduct to date of the TSA and its minions had earned the  agency the entitlement to expect and demand that travelers defer to its good judgement and self-restraint. The TSA doesn’t want to have to respond to allegations of misconduct by its employees, contractors, or law enforcement or industry “partners”. Nor does it want to have to explain or defend its actions in court. It wants all such cases dismissed out of hand.

In order to intimidate travelers into submission to its unlawful orders with a show of purported authority, while keeping itself above the law, the TSA’s takes a two-faced position that was its comeuppance in the en banc decision in Pellegrino v. TSA.

TSA checkpoint employees wear blue police-type uniforms and badges that identify them as Transportation Security “Officers”, while even the rent-a-cop contractors who staff TSA checkpoints at SFO and some other airports wear similar uniforms and badges prominently emblazoned with “TSA” insignia. They present themselves to travelers as though they were police, and they claim police-type (or even greater) powers to demand obedience to their orders and to search travelers and their personal property.

But the TSA always refers to these searches by the euphemism of “screening”, to avoid the obvious implication that as “searches” they are subject to the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. In court, the TSA claims that these aren’t the “searches” meant by the provision of the FCTA which refers to officers or employees who “execute searches”.

In some cases, the TSA claims the right to search documents, papers, currency, and electronic data, which can’t possibly pose a direct threat to aviation safety or security, notwithstanding special statutory protection for many such items, “if criminal activity  is suspected” and even if the suspected crimes are unrelated to aviation safety or security.

But when its actions are challenged, the TSA claims that its searches are not conducted for general law enforcement purposes and thus are exempt from the FCTA provisions intended to hold those who conduct such searches legally accountable for torts (violations of civil rights) against individuals.

The 3rd Circuit judges took due note of these self-contradictory TSA claims, and of the consequences that would follow from accepting them as a basis for TSA impunity:

Consequences of Our Ruling

Before concluding, we note the implications of the choice before us. If TSOs [Transportation Security Officers] are not “investigative or law enforcement officers” under the proviso, then plaintiffs like Pellegrino are left with no avenue for redress. We have
already held (and correctly so) that TSOs are not susceptible to an implied right of action under Bivens for alleged constitutional violations, see Vanderklok, 868 F.3d at 209, so a Tort Claims Act action is the only remaining route to recovery. Without recourse under that Act, plaintiffs like Pellegrino will have no remedy when TSOs assault them, wrongfully detain them, or even fabricate criminal charges against them.

We look forward to seeing at least some TSA checkpoint staff found liable for damages for these sorts of actions in the wake of the 3rd Circuit’s en banc decision in Pellegrino v. TSA.

Aug 27 2019

Guilt by social media and cellphone association

Ismail B. Ajjawi, a Palestinian freshman admitted to Harvard College, arrived at Logan Airport in Boston last Friday, Lebanese passport and US student visa in hand.

But after Mr. Ajjawai complied with demands by US customs and immigration officers at the airport to unlock his cellphone and laptop, the officers read what his “friends” had posted on social media. Five hours later, after questioning Mr. Ajjawai about his religious beliefs and his friends’ political statements, the officers revoked Mr. Ajjawi’s visa on the spot, denied him entry to the US, and deported him back to Lebanon — at his own expense, of course, using the return ticket he was required to have before being allowed to board a flight to the US.

According to a report in the Harvard Crimson, which broke the story today:

“After the 5 hours ended, she called me into a room , and she started screaming at me. She said that she found people posting political points of view that oppose the US on my friend[s] list.” Ajjawi wrote that he told the officer he had not made any political posts and that he should not be held responsible for others’ posts. “I responded that I have no business with such posts and that I didn’t like, [s]hare or comment on them and told her that I shouldn’t be held responsible for what others post,” he wrote. “I have no single post on my timeline discussing politics.”

Harvard’s lawyers are working to get Mr. Ajjawi’s visa reinstated and get him admitted to the US. Most people turned away at US borders don’t have Harvard at their back, and are unlikely ever to be admitted to the US once they are branded as undesirable.

In a 2017 notice of intent to expand DHS surveillance of immigrants’ and visitors’ expressive activities on social media, the DHS claimed that “consular officers are directed not to request user passwords [and] not to violate or attempt to violate individual privacy settings or controls.” But that’s belied by what Mr. Ajjawi says happened to him at Logan Airport, according to the Crimson: “The … officer then asked him to unlock his phone and laptop, and left to search them for roughly five hours, Ajjawi alleges.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone from a place as politicized as Palestine (or Kashmir, or many other places) who doesn’t have any social-media “friends” who mention political opinions. The answer to social-media surveillance shouldn’t be that immigrants or visitors have to  try to isolate themselves from politics or ostracize their political associates.

Rather, the lessons reinforced by this incident are that:

  1. Nothing good can come of consenting to any search by law enforcement officers, including searches of your digital devices. Border guards and customs and immigration officers are police, not your friends. Their job is to find reasons to suspect you or bar your entry. No matter how “innocent” you think you are, anything you or your “friends” say, or have ever said, can and will be used against you.
  2. If government officials have access to social-media networks of “friends”, associations, and messages, they will use this information invidiously. The way to prevent misuse of information about how travelers exercise their First Amendment rights of expression and association is not to allow police access to this information in the first place. Just say no to requests for your passwords or data.
Aug 08 2019

CBP lies about US citizen with ID detained at non-border checkpoint, held for 26 days

Francisco Erwin Galicia, an 18-year-old Dallas-born U.S. citizen, was detained by US Customs and Border protection officers at a checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, on June 27th, while on his way to a youth soccer event with a group of relatives and friends, and held until July 23rd. He was held incommunicado for the first several weeks, and was kept in  CBP custody even after he was able to contact his family and a lawyer. He was released less than 24 hours after his detention was reported by the Dallas News.

As what happened to Mr. Galicia has been more widely reported,  he’s become a poster child for everything that’s wrong with the CBP and it’s checkpoints. That’s appropriate, but it’s also worth noting that:

  1. This isn’t the worst mistreatment that’s been imposed on US citizens by CBP. Mr. Galicia was held in the US rather than being deported (because, despite threats and intimidation, he refused to consent to “voluntary” deportation), held for less than a month, and released without gross physical injuries (although presumably with psychological trauma) Other US citizens, including those cases have been tracked and documented by Prof. Jacqueline Stevens and her students at the Deportation Research Clinic at Northwestern University, whose  have been deported from the US, spend years or in some cases decades abroad before being able to return, or suffered permanent physical injuries from maltreatment, neglect, or violence in custody or in countries to which they were wrongfully deported.
  2. This isn’t about border security, immigration, or US borders. Mr. Galicia wasn’t detained at the US border, while trying to cross the border, or on the basis of any particularized suspicion that he had done so or tried to do so. He was detained at a suspicionless checkpoint operated for general law enforcement purposes (mainly to find small amounts of marijuana and sometimes other drugs) 60 miles from the border. This is about controls on internal movement within the US.
  3. This isn’t about not having, not carrying, or not showing ID. The permanent checkpoint in Falfurrias has been in continuous operation for years, and Mr. Galicia knew that — whether it was legal or not — he’d have to be interrogated by CBP officers, and quite likely have to show his papers, to get to the next town. Mr. Galica was carrying, and showed the CBP officers at the checkpoint, his birth certificate, state ID card, and Social Security card. Ironically, this is exactly the combination of documents that would be required to obtain a “REAL-ID Act compliant” ID: three separate documents providing evidence of citizenship (birth certificate showing birth in the US), state residence (Texas state ID), and Social security number.
  4. It wouldn’t matter if Mr. Galicia were a dual citizen. CBP later claimed to have been confused by other documents carried by Mr. Galicia that they though suggested he might have been a Mexican citizen. But it’s not a violation of US law or a bar to US citizenship to hold by birthright, or to acquire, citizenship of Mexico or of any other country or countries. Millions of US citizens are legal dual citizen or multiple citizens, with the largest numbers of US dual and multiple citizens holding citizenship in Mexico, Canada, Ireland, the UK, and/or Israel in addition to US citizenship. Evidence of Mexican or any other citizenship is not evidence of lack of US citizenship.
  5. CBP officials lied about what happened to try to justify their actions, with one CBP official perjuring himself before Congress in testimony whose falsehood is proven by official CBP records served on Mr. Galicia and his lawyer.  Brian S. Hastings, Chief of Law Enforcement Operations for the US Border Patrol division of CBP, told the House Judiciary Committee in response to questions at an oversight hearing on July 25th that throughout his time in custody Mr. Galicia had never told the CBP officers who arrested or detained him that he was a US citizen. (The question from Rep. Ted Lieu and Rep. Eric Swalwell and the perjured answer by Chief Hastings begin at 4:45:00 of this video of the hearing.) But the Notice to Appear served on Mr. Galicia and signed by the acting Border Patrol agent in charge, alleges on behalf of CBP that Mr. Galicia was “found” at the CBP checkpoint in Falfurrias, “more than 25 miles from the United States border with Mexico”,  on June 27th, and “At that time, you… represented yourself to be a citizen of the United States,” as in fact Mr. Galicia was and is. Rep. Lieu and several other members of Congress have asked for better answers from CBP, but that’s not enough. By now, Mr. Hastings should have been charged with perjury. So far as we can tell, he remains at large, on the job and on the payroll of CBP.
Jul 25 2019

Can you “opt out” of TSA groping or virtual strip-searches?

Two recent decisions — one an administrative decision by the TSA,  and the other a judicial decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals —  have dealt with, but failed to resolve, the question of whether, in the face of unpredictable demands for more intrusive searches, an airline passenger can “opt out” if they decide they would rather abandon their attempt to board a flight than submit to whatever search TSA or contractor checkpoint staff demand.

The TSA has withdrawn its proposed administrative fine against Jonathan Cobb, a passenger who, when selected for a pat-down (manual groping of his body, including his genitals, by which he had previously been traumatized), chose to abandon his attempt to fly and left the airport. That’s good, but sets no legally binding precedent.

Meanwhile, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed a petition filed by Jonathan Corbett seeking judicial review of the TSA’s policy of requiring selected passengers to submit to imaging of their bodies by virtual strip-search machines. That’s bad, but at least the decision was based solely on whether Mr. Corbett could expect to be selected for this sort of search, and left undecided whether these searches are Constitutional.

These decisions leave the law unclear in practice — even if the Constitution seems clear — as to whether or when an airline passenger can opt out of which sorts of searches.

How far can the TSA and its contractors legally go? How can tell if they are going too far? And when, if ever, can you “opt out” or say no to an escalated search?

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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.