Posts Tagged ‘Transportation Security Administration’

News Digest 04/18/12

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

Google’s new ‘spy’ policy

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 7:43 am by

On March 1, Google and Cape Air announced that Cape Air would be migrating its Passenger Name Records (PNR) to a new computerized reservation system (CRS) developed by Google’s ITA Software division. In combination with Google’s controversial new privacy policy, this move could set a potentially dangerous standard for what kinds of information Customs and Border Protections (CBP) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may access in determining the fly or no-fly status of travelers.

While most have never seen their PNRs, it is an important assemblage of data that determines whether or not a passenger is permitted to fly. Each individual has his or her own PNR, which are stored with millions of other passengers in CRSs. Governmental agencies then have access to these files and place restrictions on those passengers they deem to be a credible threat to national security.

Google has also made headlines recently regarding its new privacy policy, which Consumer Watchdog reports is a blatant misnomer, and actually describes the new and invasive ways in which Google wants to gather information about individuals’ Internet usage. Many of these techniques include methods for circumventing the privacy policies of Internet browsers such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Apple’s Safari, which is used on iPhones and iPads around the country. This information will then be stored in virtually permanent digital dossiers so that Google can target ads based on individuals’ personal information. Contrary to its name, this new privacy agreement essentially outlines Google’s “spy” policy.

These issues should each individually be enough to concern any person who uses the Internet. However, these two issues combined should raise serious questions about what kind of information Google is including in its CRS, which are then admissible as grounds for CBP and TSA to restrict individuals’ ability to travel.

It is true that as of now the only user for Google’s CRS database is Cape Air, a relatively small airline that flies to only a few destinations in the Caribbean. It is also unclear how Google will use these digital dossiers and how they will be incorporated into its CRS database. However, there is no doubt that Google will seek to expand to include other airlines in the future and as it does so, the potential for government agencies violating individual privacy rights will increase exponentially while legal measures for accountability remain virtually non-existent.

Google’s new CRS system has also raised issues among European privacy advocates who claim that the new policy violates EU law. While Cape Air has included a waiver of certain rights, it is still unclear whether this is a legitimate exception to EU policy. Either way, Google appears to have no intentions of closing their CRS program and the civil rights of individuals will continue to be an important issue.

TSA’s nude body scanners are ineffective

Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 4:29 pm by

Jonathan Corbett, a scientist and engineer, recently exposed the inadequacies of the full body scanners used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Not only do these machines invade our privacy, but they fail to detect metallic objects that traditional metal detectors would spot easily. Corbett asserts,

When the machines came out, we were told that the invasion on our privacy, doses of radiation, and trashing of our Constitution were necessary because the old metal detectors weren’t good enough.

So how does one get forbidden objects through these scanners? Sample images show that the scanners produce images of white bodies against a black background. As Corbett points out, metallic objects also turn up as black in these images, meaning they can fade into the background if strategically placed on one’s side.

Corbett put his theory to the test at multiple airports by sewing a side pocket into his shirt and carrying a sizable metal object inside of it. As the video shows, Corbett was able to pass through airport security with his metal object, proving that these invasive machines are not only a waste of money but a major risk to everyone’s security.

News Digest 3/5/12

Monday, March 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

News Digest 1/23/12

Monday, January 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

2011: A civil liberties year in review

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm by

The following commentary was written by John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. It was originally published in longer form on December 27, 2011.

It’s been a year of populist uprisings, economic downturns, political assassinations, and one scandal after another. Gold prices soared, while the dollar plummeted. The Arab Spring triggered worldwide protests, including the Occupy Wall Street protests here in America. Nature unleashed her forces with a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, flooding in Thailand and Pakistan, a severe drought in East Africa, and a famine in Somalia. With an unemployment rate hovering around 9.5%, more than 4 million Americans passed the one-year mark for being out of a job. After a death toll that included more than 4,500 American troops and at least 60,000 Iraqis, the U.S. military officially ended its war in Iraq. At the conclusion of their respective media circus trials, Casey Anthony went free while Conrad Murray went to jail. And Will and Kate tied the knot, while Demi and Ashton broke ties. All in all, it’s been a mixed bag of a year, but on the civil liberties front, things were particularly grim.

Welcome to the new total security state. The U.S. government now has at its disposal a technological arsenal so sophisticated and invasive as to render any constitutional protections null and void. And these technologies are being used by the government to invade the privacy of the American people. Several years ago, government officials acknowledged that the nefarious intelligence gathering entity known as the National Security Agency (NSA) had exceeded its legal authority by eavesdropping on Americans’ private email messages and phone calls. However, these reports barely scratch the surface of what we are coming to recognize as a “security/industrial complex”—a marriage of government, military and corporate interests aimed at keeping Americans under constant surveillance. The increasingly complex security needs of our massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental bureaucracy.

GPS tracking and secret spying on Americans.  Technology, having outstripped our ability as humans to control it, has become our Frankenstein’s monster. Delighted with technology’s conveniences, its ability to make our lives easier by performing an endless array of tasks faster and more efficiently, we have given it free rein in our lives, with little thought to the legal or moral ramifications of allowing surveillance technology, especially, to uncover nearly every intimate detail of our lives. Consider how enthusiastically we welcomed Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, which use orbiting satellites to produce accurate and continuous records of their position and of any person or object carrying the devices, into our lives. We’ve installed this satellite-based technology in everything from our phones to our cars to our pets. Yet by ensuring that we never get lost, never lose our loved ones and never lose our wireless signals, we have also made it possible for the government to never lose sight of us, as well. Indeed, as a case before the U.S. Supreme Court makes clear, the government is taking full advantage of this technology to keep tabs on American citizens, and in the process, is not only violating the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures but is putting an end, once and for all, to any expectation of privacy in public places. Senator Ron Wyden and Rep. Jason Chaffetz have introduced a bill that would require police to obtain a warrant and prove probable cause before tracking someone via GPS. Senators Franken and Blumenthal have also sponsored legislation to “require companies to get a user’s consent before sharing cell phone location information.”

Internet surveillance. In late July 2011, the House Judiciary Committee passed the cleverly titled “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011,” which laid the groundwork for all internet traffic to be easily monitored by government officials. Most recently, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), making its way through the House of Representatives, and its sister legislation in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), have shown the government’s intent to control all internet traffic. The bills, which are supposedly intended to combat copyright violations on the internet, are written so broadly so as to not only eliminate internet piracy but replace the innovative and democratic aspects of the internet with a tangled bureaucratic mess regulated by the government and corporations.

Intrusive pat-downs, virtual strip searches and screening stations. Under the direction of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), American travelers have been subjected to all manner of searches ranging from whole-body scanners and enhanced patdowns at airports to bag searches in train stations. Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) task forces, comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams laid the groundwork for the government’s effort to secure so-called “soft” targets such as malls, stadiums, bridges, etc. Some security experts predict that checkpoints and screening stations will eventually be established at all soft targets, such as department stores, restaurants, and schools. Given the virtually limitless number of potential soft targets vulnerable to terrorist attack, subjection to intrusive pat-downs and full-body imaging will become an integral component of everyday life in the United States.

More powers for the FBI. As detailed in the FBI’s operations manual, rules were relaxed in order to permit the agency’s 14,000 agents to search law enforcement and private databases, go through household trash, and deploy surveillance teams, with even fewer checks against abuse. FBI agents were also given the go-ahead to investigate individuals using highly intrusive monitoring techniques, including infiltrating suspect organizations with confidential informants and photographing and tailing suspect individuals, without having any factual basis for suspecting them of wrongdoing. These new powers extend the agency’s reach into the lives of average Americans and effectively transform the citizenry into a nation of suspects, reversing the burden of proof so that we are now all guilty until proven innocent. Thus, no longer do agents need evidence of possible criminal or terrorist activity in order to launch an investigation. Now, they can “proactively” look into people and groups, searching databases without making a record about it, conducting lie detector tests and searching people’s trash.

Patriot Act redux. Congress pushed through a four-year extension of three controversial provisions in the USA Patriot Act that authorize the government to use aggressive surveillance tactics in the so-called war against terror. Since being enacted in 2001, the Patriot Act has driven a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments—the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments—and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well. The Patriot Act has also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience are considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.

Drones over America. Attached as an amendment to the “Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Act” (S.223), the legislation allowing drones—pilotless, remote-controlled aircraft that have been used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—to fly in general American airspace cleared Congress, thanks to support from military contractors and a lack of opposition from those who should know better, including an American populace preoccupied with rising gas prices, a dismal economy and endless wars abroad. However, police agencies across the nation are already beginning to use spy drones, and some officials are considering outfitting them with “nonlethal” weapons. Just recently, police in North Dakota working with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol arrested a family of farmers using information acquired by a spy drone. The FBI and DEA also use spy drones in their domestic police work.

Increased arrests for recording encounters with police. Thanks to ubiquitous cell phone technology, more Americans are recording police encounters. Consequently, police have begun arresting those who attempt to record them, citing wiretap laws as justification for the arrests. While many of those wrongly arrested for recording police activity were acquitted, the courts have not been consistent in affirming the First Amendment right of citizens to record police activity.

Terrorism Liaison Officers. In another attempt to control and intimidate the population, the government has introduced Terrorism Liaison Officers (TLOs) into our midst. TLOs are firefighters, police officers, and even corporate employees who have received training to spy on and report back to government entities on the day-to-day activities of their fellow citizens. These individuals are authorized to report “suspicious activity” which can include such innocuous activities as taking pictures with no apparent aesthetic value, making measurements and drawings, taking notes, conversing in code, espousing radical beliefs, and buying items in bulk. With the Director of National Intelligence now pushing for a nationwide program, you may soon see these government-corporate agents in a town near you.

Fusion centers. TLOs report back to so-called “fusion centers”—data collecting agencies spread throughout the country, aided by the National Security Agency—which constantly monitor our communications, everything from our internet activity and web searches to text messages, phone calls and emails. This data is then fed to government agencies, which are now interconnected—the CIA to the FBI, the FBI to local police—a relationship which will make a transition to martial law that much easier. As of 2009, the government admitted to having at least 72 fusion centers. A map released by the ACLU indicates that every state except Idaho has a fusion center in operation or formation.

Merger of the government and the police, and the establishment of a standing army. At all levels (federal, local and state), through the use of fusion centers, information sharing with the national intelligence agencies, and monetary grants for weapons and training, the government and the police have joined forces. In the process, the police have become a “standing” or permanent army, one composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband. In appearance, weapons and attitude, local law enforcement agencies are increasingly being transformed into civilian branches of the military. Indeed, the average citizen is helpless in the face of police equipped with an array of weapons, including tasers, etc. The increasing militarization of the police, the use of sophisticated weaponry against Americans, and the government’s increasing tendency to employ military personnel domestically have us teetering on the edge of a police state.

Court rulings affirming the right of police to invade our homes without warrants. In Barnes v. State, the Indiana Supreme Court broadly ruled that citizens don’t have the right to resist police officers who enter their homes illegally, which is the law in most states. Yet consider how many individuals have been killed simply for instinctively reaching for any kind of weapon, loaded or not, during the initial trauma of a SWAT team raid. In Kentucky v. King, the U.S. Supreme Court gave police carte blanche authority to break into homes or apartments without a warrant. Specifically, the court ruled that if a SWAT team arrives at the wrong address but for whatever reason suspects the citizen inside the home may possess drugs, these armed warriors can break down the door and invade your home—all without possessing a warrant.

Bringing the war home. America became the new battleground in the war on terror. A perfect example of this is the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which was passed by the Senate with a vote of 93–7. Contained within this massive defense bill are several provisions which, taken collectively, re-orient our legal landscape in such a way as to ensure that martial law, rather than the rule of law—our U.S. Constitution, becomes the map by which we navigate life in the United States. In short, this defense bill not only decimates the due process of law and habeas corpus for anyone perceived to be an enemy of the United States, but it radically expands the definition of who may be considered the legitimate target of military action.

What does 2012 hold for us? Only time will tell. But as Jane Addams, the first U.S. woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize advised, “America’s future will be determined by the home and the school. The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live.” If we want to avert certain disaster in the form of authoritarianism, then we’d do well to start teaching the principles of freedom to our young people right away and hope the lesson sticks.

A strip search prevention proposal

Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 10:25 am by

TodayTomorrowMaybe we need to add one more layer of bureaucracy to help with airline passengers complaints: a passenger advocate.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and [New York] state Sen. Michael Gianaris, both Democrats, are calling on the Transportation Security Administration to create the position at all airports.

This idea stems, of course, from the recent strip searches of elderly women by TSA employees. To be fair, the TSA is denying these incidents, citing that they do not conduct strip searches. The Schumer-Gianaris proposal is designed to help with this he said/she said dilemma.

Under the Schumer-Gianaris proposal, an advocate could be summoned in person by passengers if they feel they were inappropriately searched.

Four TSA policy changes you should know about this holiday season

Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 9:24 am by

Holidays at the airport are a hectic time under any conditions, but this year, travelers will have new TSA policy changes to keep up with. According to the TSA, the security procedure changes are intended to improve efficiency and privacy. Administrator John S. Pistole commented in a TSA press release that the risk-based procedures have been implemented to to “further strengthen security while improving the passenger experience whenever possible.” Whether the policy changes achieve what they are intended to will become more clear this winter as airports are flooded with holiday fliers. If you’re one of those fliers, be prepared for these 4 changes that could affect you:

1. Passengers 12 and Under No Longer Required Remove Shoes
This new rule is part of a set of adjusted procedures designed to redirect unnecessary security attention from children under age 12. According to the TSA, passengers 12 and under will now be able to leave their shoes on while going through security. In a recent interview with Fox News, TSA Chief John Pistole elaborated that children under 12 posed little threat in the arena of shoe-bombing. Referring to the attempted December 2001 shoe bomber’s large shoe size, Pistole said, “simply from an explosive standpoint, smaller shoes, smaller feet—much less likely in terms of something bad.”

2. New Privacy Protection Software on Controversial Screening Machines
When the controversial Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) millimeter wave scanner was first unveiled, it created waves for yielding thoroughly detailed images of the passengers’ bodies. The resulting concerns over privacy protection prompted action by the TSA to upgrade their software. Now, all AIT units include software that eliminate the passenger’s personal outline and replace it with a generic body outline. This new technology highlights anomalies as brightly-colored shapes without showing details of the body, prompting a pat-down if necessary. Another result of the change is that  passengers will now view the same outline as the TSA officer sees.


Airport screeners targeting Mexicans

Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 12:03 pm by

TSA at Gate B8Recent reports indicate that screeners for the Transportations Security Administration (TSA) have been singling out Mexican travelers for extra screening. Apparently, some officers, referred to as “Mexicutioners,” have tried to impress their supervisors by targeting Mexican passengers. TSA has issued a statement, saying, “TSA’s behavior detection program in no way encourages or tolerates profiling…Profiling is not an effective form of security and our security officers are trained to treat every passenger with dignity and respect.”

On Thursday, a group of 38 civil rights organizations led by the Sikh Coalition and including the Bill of Rights Defense Committee requested an independent audit of the TSA to determine if the agency encourages racial profiling. The organizations are “concerned that the latest reports from Hawaii and New Jersey represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and that TSA officers are engaged in a wider pattern or practice of profiling racial and religious minorities instead of focusing on actual criminal behavior.”

This incident exposes the assumptions and stereotypes that many people still maintain post-9/11. Airports must, of course, take reasonable security precautions, but in these cases, at least, screeners are racially profiling passengers rather than protecting them.

Students aboard DC-bound flight profiled and detained

Sunday, November 27, 2011 at 12:04 pm by

It would be quite an accomplishment if the US could actually get through a holiday season without apprehending individuals for the color of their skin or for the religion they profess. Unfortunately, such a feat will not occur this year.

Eight Emirati students, on their way to Washington, DC, for a leadership conference, were removed from an airplane at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on Thanksgiving Day. The flight was delayed five hours while the students were questioned and rescreened. No security threats were found, and the passengers were eventually cleared to board the plane again. After returning to the plane, the pilot refused to fly, which required a completely new crew.

One of the students explained,

We were told to get our bags and leave the plane. I only saw my friends being taken off. They picked certain people.

We have a purpose here. I felt so bad because they treated us differently than others. We didn’t expect this treatment from them.

All of the students have valid US visas, and they had passed through the original screening process with no issues. There were no reports of suspicious behavior. So why were they apprehended?

According to one woman on the plane, another passenger believed the students were “placed in such a way that it indicates that they are going to try to take control of the plane.” Presumably, these students were detained because they look Arab and sat near each other on a plane. The woman continued, “These kids shouldn’t have been abused in that way, [based] on one passenger’s paranoia.”

It is unclear why the airline took such drastic actions to alleviate one passenger’s baseless concerns. But the United Arab Emirates Embassy has asked the Transportation Security Administration to clarify their actions and explain how it will avoid these situations in the future.