Jan 31 2018

DHS threatens to harass American Samoan travelers

In the latest installment of the game of chicken between the Department of Homeland Security and US states and territories over the REAL-ID Act of 2005, the DHS has announced that drivers licenses and IDS issued by American Samoa won’t be accepted at TSA checkpoints for “domestic” flights beginning next Monday, February 5, 2018 — unless the DHS, in its standardless discretion, backs down again as it has so many times before, and gives American Samoan travelers a last-minute reprieve.

Why American Samoa? And what will this actually mean?

Read More

Jan 30 2018

Government and industry collaborate in travel surveillance

Senior officials of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) came to San Francisco last week to meet with representatives of the Identity Project and other civil liberties and human rights organizations regarding CBP “biometric entry/exit” schemes. These CBP programs, some of which are already in operation, involve taking digital mug shots of international travelers — including US citizens — as they enter and leave the US. The meeting in San Francisco was a follow-up to one in Washington, DC, in August 2017.

Debra Danisek, CBP Privacy Officer, and John Wagner, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner in charge of the CBP “Office of Field Operations”, were accompanied to the meeting by CBP national, regional, and SF Bay Area local CBP policy anbd operations staff.

We welcomed the opportunity to point out to the CBP officials in charge of these programs that — especially as they apply to US citizens — they violate multiple Federal laws,  involve unconstitutional warrantless, suspicionless dragnet surveillance of how we exercise our right to assemble  as protected by the First Amendment, and should be abandoned.

It was an infuriating meeting, however. Rather than offering explanations for many of the CBP’s practices, the CBP officials acorss the table flatly denied much of what is happening at airports throughout the US, even in the face of first-person testimony to the contrary from many of the civil liberties advocates in attendance.

Since they wouldn’t admit that some of the most abusive CBP practices — the ones we thought the meeting had been called to discuss — are actually happening, the CBP officials wouldn’t talk about what, if any, legal basis these practices might have. Meanwhile, these unlawful practices by CBP and other DHS components continue and  expand.

Here are some of the counter-factual claims made by CBP in our meeting, and some of the issues left unaddressed: Read More

Jan 20 2018

All the fake news that’s fit to print about REAL-ID and ID to fly

We’ve been spending a lot of our time lately writing letters to the editor pointing out errors and requesting corrections of news stories reporting DHS propaganda as fact.

Earlier this month, the DHS postponed from January 22, 2018, to October 10, 2018, the date on which it had threatened to have the TSA begin (illegally) interfering with air travel by residents of certain states.  Since neither the January 22, 2018, date nor the choice of which states to threaten was set by law or regulation, but solely by DHS press release, the DHS could and did withdraw its threat merely by issuing another press release.

The DHS had little choice, after its bluff was called by reality (compliance with the REAL-ID Act would require more money, more time, and changes to state laws and in some states incluidng California, changes to state constitutions) and the likelihood of resistance by the flying public (any attempt to prevent residents of certain states from flying without ID would lead to protests at airports and lawsuits that the TSA and DHS would likely lose).

But we are not surprised, given the long history of DHS lies about the REAL-ID Act and ID to fly, that the DHS press release withdrawing the threat of a January 22, 2018, crackdown on air travel without ID by residents of certain states was immediately followed by a renewed DHS public relations campaign of lies about the law and the facts.

DHS press releases should no more be published as “facts” without fact-checking or acknowledgment that they contain contested (and readily refuted) factual and legal claims than should President Trump’s,  President Obama’s, or anyone else’s Tweets.

The New York Times is the latest news outlet to have been taken in, yet again, by this DHS “fake news” campaign, with an article this week on the Times’ website and in the travel section, “Is Your ID Approved for Travel? These Are the Latest Rules“. Many of the DHS falsehoods in this article were reported as facts in an earlier story in the Times in November, 2017, by the same reporter, Shivani Vora. We wrote to Ms. Vora at that time to correct the errors in that story, but received no reply.

To be clear, DHS claims are worthy of reporting as news. It is newsworthy that the DHS has engaged in a decade-long campaign, through both Democratic and Republican Administrations,  of brazen public lies about the REAL-ID Act and ID to fly.

It is equally newsworthy, however, that a “newspaper of record” appears to have made no attempt to fact-check the claims made by DHS spokespeople or to include any other points of view, and repeats demonstrably false DHS claims as undisputed facts even after their falsehood was pointed out to the reporter on the story.

Specifically, the latest article in the New York Times reports the following DHS “fake news” as fact: Read More

Jan 08 2018

DHS postpones threats of REAL-ID Act enforcement

Again postponing its threats to interfere with air travel by residents of “noncompliant” states, the Department of Homeland Security announced today that it has given the last three remaining states either certifications of “compliance” with the REAL-ID Act of 2005, or extensions of time to comply until at least October 10, 2018.

Travelers in all 50 states can continue to ignore the false signs at airports, the false claims being made by state authorities collaborating with the Feds in the national ID scheme, and the blizzard of confused  and error-filled news stories (largely based on unverified and misleading DHS and state government press releases) claiming that U.S. citizens will need to obtain, carry, or show passports or other government-issued ID in order to travel by air.

This does not mean that all or most states have actually complied with the REAL-ID Act or are planning to do so. At most 14 states are arguably compliant with the Federal law.

The plain language of the Federal law requires that, “To meet the requirements of this section, a State shall … Provide electronic access to all other States to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the State.”  Only 14 states are participating in the outsourced SPEXS national ID database set up to enable this nationwide data access:

In addition to the 14 current SPEXS particpants, the contractor managing the national ID database optimistically lists 4 other states as “actively working on implementation.” But none of these states are listed as having signed letters of intent  to join the SPEXS national ID database.

The other 32 states are not compliant with the data-sharing provision of the REAL-ID Act, and have given no indication of intent to comply.

What will happen next?

Read More

Jan 05 2018

A REAL-ID Christmas present from the California DMV

On the Friday before Christmas Monday, when state officials hoped that everyone who might object would be sleeping, the California Department of Motor Vehicles finalized its regulations for partial compliance by the state with the Federal REAL-ID Act of 2005.

The final regulations and a statement of responses to public testimony and comments were posted on the DMV website on December 22, 2017, and went into effect the same day.

The final regulations are essentially unchanged from those the DMV proposed in September 2017, and that we objected to in written comments and in-person testimony at the DMV’s one hearing on the proposal in Sacramento in October.

The DMV’s response to public testimony and comments brushes off our objections, and the objections by other commenters and witnesses, on the basis of repeated invocation of patently false and/or irrelevant and unresponsive legal and factual claims.

Read More

Dec 18 2017

Canada puts U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers above the law

A Canadian law which received final approval last week, Bill C-23, gives officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) staffing “preclearance” facilities within Canada police powers to detain, interrogate, and search travelers, while granting these agents of the U.S. government absolute and unconditional immunity from any civil lawsuit or liability under Canadian law, and immunity from criminal liability except in limited cases of death, injury, or property damage.

This immunity from civil lawsuits or liability in Canada extends to violations by US CBP officers at preclearance sites of fundamental rights, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that are protected by law everywhere else in Canada,. Bill C-23 places CBP officers above Canadian law, as though they were diplomats enjoying immunity from local law inside extraterritorial enclaves, while giving them police-like powers to use force against ordinary people seeking to travel between the US and Canada.

Travelers passing through US preclearance facilities at Canadian airports, train stations, and ferry terminals are now required by Canadian law to: Read More

Oct 24 2017

DHS blinks (again) on REAL-ID

The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration have threatened to prevent citizens of many US states from being able to travel by air within the US, starting in January 2018, because their state governments won’t dump all their driver’s license and ID card information into a nationwide database. But these threats didn’t actually cause states to follow the TSA’s illegal orders. So rather than follow through on the threat, which would risk a legal challenge that would make it clear the threat is hollow, the DHS has again blinked. It just quietly deferred its deadline about when it claims it will enforce the REAL-ID Act against airline passengers.

Just over a week ago, when we testified before the California Department of Motor Vehicles about why the largest state in the union should not comply with the REAL-ID Act, and could not do so without violating its state constitution and its residents’ rights, the DHS website included California among 21 states “under review” by the DHS for possible Federal interference with their residents’ right to travel by air beginning as early as January 18, 2018.

Just days later, the DHS in its standardless discretion granted 15 of these 21 states, including California, another round of “extensions of time” to comply with the REAL-ID Act until October 20, 2018.

The states granted another round of arbitrary extensions until October 2018 included eight of the nine states singled out by signs in airports across the country as targeted for TSA harassment of their residents who travel by air beginning in January 2018:

The dates picked by the DHS are as arbitrary as the DHS choices of which states to threaten. The DHS has repeatedly amended its REAL-ID Act regulations to postpone its threatened “deadlines”, but neither January 18, 2018, nor October 20, 2018, are dates that appear anywhere in the law or the most recently revised regulations.

Read More

Oct 11 2017

Comments to the California DMV on the REAL-ID Act

As we noted a month ago, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is currently considering whether to amend state regulations on driver’s license and state ID cards to meet some, but not all, of the statutory criteria for “compliance” with the Federal REAL-ID Act of 2005.

States are not required to comply with this Federal law, but apparently the DMV hopes that if the state of California makes a show of partial compliance, the TSA and DHS won’t carry out some of their threats to unlawfully interfere with air travel by residents of California and other noncompliant states.

Comments on these proposals can be submitted to the DMV in writing until 5 p.m. Monday, October 16th, or in person at a public hearing on Monday at 10 a.m. in Sacramento. We encourage everyone concerned about ID demands and freedom to travel to submit written comments and/or come to the hearing.

We’ll be at the hearing on Monday to testify in person, and today we submitted more detailed written comments, which we introduce with the following summary: Read More

Oct 02 2017

FAQ: U.S. government monitoring of social media

Is the U.S. government monitoring social media?

Yes. Since December 2016, all visitors to the U.S. under the “Visa Waiver Program” (VWP) have been asked to identify the social media IDs they use to the Department of State on the online ESTA form. In several recent notices in the Federal Register, and in official statements in response to questions about those notices, the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that it already searches for and reviews information about individuals from social media.

Why is the U.S. singling out immigrants and visitors for this surveillance?

The U.S. government is targeting foreigners first because they are legally more vulnerable. Under U.S. law, foreign visitors and immigrants have often been held to have fewer rights than U.S. citizens. We don’t think this is the way it ought to be, and we don’t think this is even a correct reading of the U.S. Constitution and the human rights treaties that the U.S. has ratified. But this is often the way that courts have ruled. Most acts of terrorism in the U.S., like most crimes of any sort, are committed by U.S. citizens. Most of those criminals are white, and most of them are Christian, not that this should matter either. In practice, the government knows that it is more likely to be able to get away with surveillance of foreigners — on social media or in any other realm — than with surveillance that targets U.S. citizens equally or that focuses on, say, white Christian nationalist domestic sources of terrorism.

The Federal government also appears to be motivated by a profound xenophobia. It regards foreigners, communications or association with foreigners, and foreign travel as per se suspicious and thus as justifying more intrusive search, seizure, interrogation, interference, etc. Instead, these activities should be seen as the exercise of rights recognized and protected by Federal laws, the First Amendment and other provisions of the U.S. Constitution, and international treaties. As such, they should be specially protected, not subjected to special surveillance.

Does this social media surveillance include U.S. citizens and green-card holders?

Yes. Social media is, by definition, social. It’s about connections and communication between people, not individuals in isolation. Social media networks aren’t defined by national borders. (Except in countries like China where repressive government block access to “foreign” social media to keep their citizens isolated from the thinking of the rest of the world.) Even if only non-U.S. persons are targeted, surveillance of social media will inevitably suck in information about U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are “associated” with foreigners on social media. Whoever you are, that probably includes you. Do you know which of your Facebook “friends” or Twitter followers or the people who post comments on your page are U.S. citizens or permanent U.S. residents, and which of them aren’t? We don’t, and we don’t believe the U.S. government does either. There is no way that government agents, whether human or robotic, could contain social media surveillance to foreigners even if they tried. The rights of U.S. citizens and permanent residents will be collateral damage whenever foreigners are attacked.

Is this limited to people who are suspected of immigration violations or other crimes?

No. What is being practiced already, and what is being expanded, is dragnet social media surveillance. The Department of State is already asking every applicant for admission to the U.S. under the VWP for their social media IDs. The social media surveillance authority claimed by the DHS, and the practices described in its recent notices, are not limited to specific persons of interest. The DHS and other law-enforcement agencies already have the authority to subpoena records from social media service providers if there is probable cause for suspicion that any crime has been committed, including but not limited to criminal violations of U.S. immigration laws. What’s happening now and expanding is additional surveillance of people who are not (yet) under any particularized suspicion.

The U.S. government’s interest in social media can best be understood in the context of other programs of automated suspicionless dragnet surveillance. The NSA collects metadata about the movement of our messages from telephone companies and and Internet service providers. The DHS collects metadata about the movements of our bodies from entry/exit and border crossing logs and reservation records obtained from airlines, Amtrak, and other travel companies. Why not add metadata about our associations and activities on social networks — IDs, posting histories, keywords and tags, social network maps, etc. — to that data lake?

If I’m not doing anything wrong, do I have anything to worry about?

Yes. Activities that are legal in the U.S. may be illegal in other countries, and the U.S. government claims the right to share the fruits of social media surveillance, and the blacklisting and other conclusions drawn from them, with other governments around the world. Activities that are legal today could become illegal tomorrow. People with whom you are associated, but who you may not know and may never have met, may come under suspicion in the future. Any information the government has can be used against you. Things that you say or people with whom you are “associated” on social media say could result in your being assigned a pre-crime predictive “risk score” that leads to your being placed on a government blacklist (“watchlist”) or subjected to other government sanctions, even if you are never suspected or accused of any crime. The algorithmic criteria for blacklisting, the data used as the basis for blacklisting decisions, and the lists themselves are all secret. You know you are on a blacklist only when you are unexpectedly prevented from exercising your right to travel or other rights. Read More