Big Brother Waits at the Airport


It would be nice to think that the government is doing its best to prevent another disaster like the one on 9/11/2001, but the way the feds are approaching the job of airline security is a little disturbing to airline passengers who value their privacy and their dignity.



Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
TSA introduces 'known-traveler' program.  The Transportation Security Administration will unveil on Thursday a pilot version of a trusted traveler program that has been talked about as way to improve wait times at airport security, The Hill has learned.  TSA Administrator John Pistole made the announcement to a conference of aviation industry officials, saying the program would improve airport security.

The Perils of a Siege Mentality.  What bothers me endlessly about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is that they operate on the policy that defeat by our enemies is implicitly conceded. ... What bothers me just as much is also the willingness of Americans to tolerate and endure the airport terminal as a police state. ... Obey, or suffer the consequences.  So, let us suggest here that, for example, the omnipotent IRS, as one controlling agency, has conditioned Americans to that kind of treatment, to sanction the hostage-taking of their values and to concede that they are but the wards of a guardian government.

One letter on a plane ticket says a lot about you.  There are a few bits of information to pay close attention to on an airline ticket:  the flight number, gate number and boarding time.

Airport device follows fliers' phones.  Today's smartphones and PDAs could have a new use in the nation's airports:  helping passengers avoid long lines at security checkpoints.  The Transportation Security Administration is looking at installing devices in airports that home in and detect personal electronic equipment.  The aim is to track how long people are stuck in security lines.

Real ID's, Real Dangers.  Have you ever wondered what good it does when they look at your driver's license at the airport?  Let me assure you, as a former bureaucrat partly responsible for the 1996 decision to create a photo-ID requirement, it no longer does any good whatsoever.  The ID check is not done by federal officers but by the same kind of minimum-wage rent-a-cops who were doing the inspection of carry-on luggage before 9/11.

The Great No-ID Airport Challenge.  Jim Harper accepted a dare from civil liberties rabble-rouser John Gilmore to test whether he could actually fly without showing identification.

No photo, no flight.  When Flybe takes over Campbeltown to Glasgow flights next month for the first time ever passengers will have to produce photographic ID or they will be refused travel.  And if you do not have a passport or driver's licence with a photograph, or any of a number of acceptable alternatives, it will cost you a fiver for the privilege of being able to prove that you are whom you say you are.

Protecting Yourself From Suspicionless Searches While Traveling:  The Ninth Circuit's recent ruling in United States v. Arnold allows border patrol agents to search your laptop or other digital device without limitation when you are entering the country.  EFF and many civil liberties, travelers' rights, immigration advocacy and professional organizations are concerned that unfettered laptop searches endanger trade secrets, attorney-client communications, and other private information.

The Editor says...
If the act of traveling on an airplane entitles Big Brother to sift through your laptop or other electronic device looking for whatever he can find, then it won't be long before Big Brother presumes to have your consent when you travel on Amtrak or Greyhound.  Or, eventually, a toll road or an Interstate highway.  These incremental changes only go in one direction.

Public Pressure Mounts Against Invasive Border Searches.  Random, invasive laptop searches and other digital privacy violations at the U.S. border are facing increasing pressure from the public and Congress.  One of the big complaints EFF and others have had is the lack of information and accountability about the intrusive examination of computer files, cell phone directories, and other private information — and the indiscriminate copying of that data — as Americans come back home from overseas.

Unsuspected travelers' laptops may be detained at border.  This rings all alarm bells (also, the words 'police state' come to mind).  I think that anyone who is considering traveling to the US should think twice before doing so.  I wonder what would happen to anyone who has the 'wrong' combination of digital data and paperwork on him ...

Now They'll Take Your Laptop.  [Scroll down slowly]  Being "randomly" wanded and frisked at an airport-security checkpoint is bad enough, but at least the inconvenience is brief.  But the new seizure policy essentially keeps law-abiding business travelers, with their entire professional lives on laptops, hostage to a government agency and prevents them from doing their jobs -- again, all without a hint of probable cause.  That's more than an annoyance:  It's official theft of your ability to make a living.

Securing the Border Against Creepy Pictures on Some Guy's Laptop.  As I noted in a column last year, DHS is not looking for bombs in those laptops; it is looking for incriminating files, and the charges that flow from the searches typically have nothing to do with terrorism, contrary to Napolitano's implication.

It sounds like the Bill of Rights is taking a beating.

Bush-Era Policy Kept To Search Travelers.  The Obama administration will largely preserve Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search — without suspicion of wrongdoing — the contents of a traveler's laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device, although officials said new policies would expand oversight of such inspections.  The policy, disclosed Thursday [8/27/2009] in a pair of Department of Homeland Security directives...

3 states told to comply with ID rule.  Millions of residents of three states will soon face tougher and longer screening at airport checkpoints if their governors defy a federal law requiring new, more-secure driver's licenses.  Maine, New Hampshire and South Carolina have until March 31 to say whether they plan to comply with the law, which they say is costly and will inconvenience residents by forcing them to get new licenses.

Fingerprint Scanners at Airports Raise Privacy Concerns.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun scanning international visitors' fingerprints at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., and it plans to expand the program.  Privacy advocates, however, say the program will treat tourists like criminals and will deter tourism to the United States.

Woman fools Japan's airport security fingerprint system.  A South Korean woman barred from entering Japan last year has reportedly passed through its immigration screening system by using tape on her fingers to fool a fingerprint reading machine.

Heathrow airport first to fingerprint.  Millions of British airline passengers face mandatory fingerprinting before being allowed to board flights when Heathrow's Terminal 5 opens later this month.  For the first time at any airport, the biometric checks will apply to all domestic passengers leaving the terminal, which will handle all British Airways flights to and from Heathrow.

Who Can Say What is a Picture of You?  A friend of mine recently traveled to Puerto Rico and had some serious hassles with US Customs for failing to look like her passport photo, including the memorable line "Well, you shouldn't have cut your hair."

Air Travel Privacy:  In earlier responses to security threats the FAA issued a secret regulation that allowed airlines to demand photo identification and instituted a new profiling program called CAPPS (Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System) based on travel data airlines routinely collected.  New proposals advocate using biometric credentials for "trusted travelers" and using extensive data mining of credit history, criminal records, and travel patterns to profile all airline passengers.  NASA has even suggested developing "non-invasive neuro-electric sensors" or brain scans at the security gate to see if people are having suspicious thoughts.

China's All-Seeing Eye:  In the [JFK] terminal, someone hands me a brochure for "Fly Clear."  All I need to do is have my fingerprints and irises scanned, and I can get a Clear card with a biometric chip that will let me sail through security.  Later, I look it up:  The company providing the technology is L-1.

New rules mandate passport for most air travel.  Get those passports ready.  New government regulations now require air travelers flying into the U.S. to show passports, including American citizens and citizens of Canada, Mexico and Bermuda.  All that had been needed by people traveling to the U.S. from within the hemisphere until now was a birth certificate or driver's license.

Data Disclosure Contradicts Feds.  American Airlines' announcement Friday [4/9/2004] that it shared more than a million passenger itineraries with four government contractors reveals that TSA officials have repeatedly issued false statements about the development of the passenger-profiling system known as CAPPS II.

Just another government cover-up...
NASA won't disclose survey of pilots on air safety.  An unprecedented national survey of pilots by the U.S. government has found that safety problems like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than previously recognized.  But the government is withholding the information, fearful it would upset air travelers and hurt airline profits.

NASA won't disclose air safety survey.  NASA gathered the information under an $8.5 million safety project, through telephone interviews with roughly 24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots over nearly four years.  Since ending the interviews at the beginning of 2005 and shutting down the project completely more than one year ago, the space agency has refused to divulge the results publicly.

NASA Won't Disclose Air Safety Survey.  Among other results, the pilots reported at least twice as many bird strikes, near mid-air collisions and runway incursions as other government monitoring systems show, according to a person familiar with the results who was not authorized to discuss them publicly.  The survey also revealed higher-than-expected numbers of pilots who experienced "in-close approach changes" — potentially dangerous, last-minute instructions to alter landing plans.

[Since when is NASA in charge of airline safety?  Isn't that the function of the FAA?]

Details begin to trickle out...
Pilot, 1st Officer Slept While Approaching Denver, Lawmaker Says.  Rep. Bart Gordon , D-Tenn. demanded to know why this information was available on a system available to the public, known as ASRA, but NASA refused to release the information from a separate survey conducted in an $11 million program called the National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service.  The hearing was called after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration initially refused to release the NAOMS survey saying it could affect the public confidence commercial air travel.

Update:
NASA Releases Thousands of Pages of Pilot Complaints.  NASA has just released thousands of pages of pilot complaints that were part of a report which the federal space agency originally classified.  Under pressure from Congress, that classification was partially reversed.

Available in the airport gift shop!
Big Brother endorses these playthings.  Two years ago in this column, I lamented the fact that toy manufacturers were cashing in on society's headlong rush toward constant and ubiquitous surveillance.  I highlighted a Lego construction set that included, as part of a police 18-wheeler, a surveillance and monitoring unit.  I also noted a plastic "play set," manufactured and marketed by Playmobil, depicting a police officer wanding a civilian figure as pretend belongings go through a pretend X-ray machine.  This trend toward "play" search and surveillance has continued, and now includes a functioning toy metal detector.

Travel to US to need all 10 fingerprints, credit and e-mail checks.  The headlines mention "Britons", but the measures apply to all EU countries, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.  The scheme will be tried out in 10 major airports from this summer and is planned to be in use in all airports and seaports by the end of 2008.  The main points are that, for travelers entering the US:  (1) all 10 fingerprints will be taken, which is compatible with the FBI database (only two prints are currently taken); (2) the prints will be retained indefinitely and with no restriction on their international use or sharing with other agencies; (3) inspection of credit card and email accounts (already practised) will be strengthened.

Improving Pre-Screening of Aviation Passengers Against Terrorist and Other Watch Lists:  Most Americans recognize the need for enhanced aviation security.  They are even willing to accept certain governmental intrusions as a necessary response to the new threats.  But what they insist upon — and rightly so — is the development of systemic checks and balances to ensure that new authorities and powers given the government are not abused.  And to achieve a suitable system of oversight, we need adequate transparency.

How's this for a dumb idea?  RFID Tagging allpassengers at airports.  Ross Anderson [says]:  "The real reason for wanting to tag airline passengers is that when people check bags but don't turn up for the flight in time, the bags have to be unloaded, causing expensive delays."  On the other hand, Andrew Gumbrell says, "Tagging may work very well for sheep, but they are used to being herded and they don't have the ability to hand their tags over to a wolf."

More information about RFID issues can be found on another page.

Update:
Homeland Security Abandons Visitor Tagging Plan Criticized by EPIC.  Plans to use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in the US-VISIT border security system have been abandoned after pilot testing failed, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff admitted in Congressional testimony on February 9th.  A government report released in January said testing of RFID tags embedded in I-94 documents was unsuccessful.

The Automated Targeting System.  If you've traveled abroad recently, you've been investigated. You've been assigned a score indicating what kind of terrorist threat you pose.  That score is used by the government to determine the treatment you receive when you return to the U.S. and for other purposes as well.  Curious about your score?  You can't see it.  Interested in what information was used?  You can't know that.  Want to clear your name if you've been wrongly categorized?  You can't challenge it.  Want to know what kind of rules the computer is using to judge you?  That's secret, too.  So is when and how the score will be used.

EFF sues agency over travel data-mining.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, demanding the agency turn over information about an "invasive" data-mining system used to assess the terrorist threat posed by U.S. travelers. … The program, as described, would track tens of millions of travelers, including U.S. citizens, the EFF said.  "Individuals have no right to access information about themselves contained in the system, nor request correction of information that is inaccurate, irrelevant, untimely or incomplete," EFF lawyers David Sobel and Marcia Hofmann wrote in their complaint, filed Tuesday [12/19/2006] in the district court.

Terrorist Screening Program on 'Firm Legal Ground' Says DHS.  The Automated Targeting System (ATS) collects and analyzes information (names, addresses, credit card numbers, destinations and other personal and business information) to identify potential terrorists and prevent them from bringing weapons of mass destruction into the United States.  The screening method assigns every inbound and outbound traveler and cargo container a "risk assessment score," and the records are kept for 40 years.

Feds' Watch List Eats Its Own.  What do you say about an airline screening system that tends to mistake government employees and U.S. servicemen for foreign terrorists?  Newly released government documents show that even having a high-level security clearance won't keep you off the Transportation Security Administration's Kafkaesque terrorist watch list, where you'll suffer missed flights and bureaucratic nightmares.

The feds got away with it at the airports, and now the police state extends to the train station.
New security measures for Amtrak:  Amtrak passengers will have to submit to random screening of carry-on bags in a major new security push that will include officers with automatic weapons and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling platforms and trains, the railroad planned to announce Tuesday [2/19/2008].  The initiative is a significant shift for Amtrak.  Unlike the airlines, it has had relatively little visible increase in security since the 2001 terrorist attacks, a distinction that has enabled it to attract passengers eager to avoid airport hassles.

More information about Amtrak is available here.

US-VISIT:  Documents obtained by EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act from the Department of Homeland Security show that US-VISIT has resulted in many cases of mistaken identity.  Commercial aircrew members, vacationers, and businesspersons have all been delayed by the gaffes.  The problems caused unnecessary delays in the visitors' travels and resulted in the improper flagging of crewmembers by government watch lists.

U.S. Jails are Overflowing with Illegal Aliens.  The government does not know how many aliens, lawfully admitted, left the United States within the time they were authorized to remain.  This is because US-VISIT, the system that was supposed to use biometrics to track the entry and departure of aliens from the United States, is unable to track effectively the departure of nonimmigrant aliens even though the government has already spent over one billion dollars on that program, recommended by the 9/11 Commission.  Most of the immigration system is dysfunctional.  Goals are seldom met, and effective strategies to deter illegal immigration have yet to be formulated, let alone implemented.

Computer Worm Infests US-VISIT.  Back in August 2005, a border-screening system supposedly unconnected to the internet was brought done by the Zotob worm, though Homeland Security denied it happened. … [Eventually] the truth came out — Zotob crippled US Visit and was traveling all over Immigration and Customs Enforcement systems, thanks to an ill-considered patch management system.

US-VISIT problems.  US-VISIT (allocated $1.7 billion since 2002), the U.S. government's main border control system, is plagued by computer security weaknesses, increasing the risk of computer attacks, data thefts, and manipulation of millions of identity records including passport, visa and Social Security numbers and the world's largest fingerprint database.

Registered Traveler Program Worries Privacy Advocates.  A test program known as Registered Traveler, which uses biometric ID cards to speed pre-screened travelers through airport security, has raised concerns about privacy.  The program was originally designed to let frequent fliers clear a background check and become "trusted travelers" who could board planes without a stringent security check.

Airline Security is a Waste of Cash.  Since 9/11, our nation has been obsessed with air-travel security.  Terrorist attacks from the air have been the threat that looms largest in Americans' minds.  As a result, we've wasted millions on misguided programs to separate the regular travelers from the suspected terrorists — money that could have been spent to actually make us safer.

Feds Push Flier Background Checks.  Just weeks after congressional investigators found that officials in charge of a new airline passenger-screening system violated a federal privacy law, the Department of Homeland Security is pushing Congress to reduce oversight of the program and to allow it to use commercial databases to screen for terrorists.

Secure Flight Hits Turbulence.  Homeland Security's privacy czar is investigating whether government officials in charge of an airline passenger screening program violated federal privacy laws by expanding testing of commercial data beyond the scope of official statements.

A CAPPS by Any Other Name:  Currently, airlines screen individual passengers, rejecting or singling out some for extra screening if their name or a name similar to theirs appears on a government watch list.  Under Secure Flight, that screening will now be in the hands of the TSA.  Airlines will be required to provide passenger records to the TSA, which will also use third-party commercial databases to screen passengers against a unified watch list.

Terrorist watch list follies, and my time in the TSA's Constitution-free zone.  The kinds of rules and precedents that govern most of the other citizen-facing aspects of the federal bureaucracy just aren't there when it comes to anything terrorism and/or TSA-related.  Believe me, because I know from first-hand experience.

The Failure of US-VISIT:  I wrote about US-VISIT in 2004, and back then I said that it was too expensive and a bad trade-off.  The price tag for "the next phase" was $15 billion; I'm sure the total cost is much higher.  But take that $15 billion number.  One thousand bad guys, most of them not very bad, [have been] caught through US-VISIT.  That's $15 million per bad guy caught.

Border Security System Left Open.  Publicly, officials initially attributed the failure to a virus, but later reversed themselves and claimed the incident was a routine system failure. … [This raises] new questions about the $400 million US-VISIT program, a 2-year-old system aimed at securing the border from terrorists by gathering biometric information from visiting foreign nationals and comparing it against government watch lists.

[A minor government cover-up is still a cover-up.  Why not just admit the computer system had a virus?  And why is a "system failure" considered "routine"?]

EPIC's US-VISIT page:  US-VISIT includes the interfacing and integration of over twenty existing systems.  Among the systems used by US-VISIT are:  the Arrival Departure Information System, Advance Passenger Information System, Computer Linked Application Information Management System 3, Interagency Border Inspection System, Automated Biometric Identification System, Student Exchange Visitor Information System, and Consular Consolidated Database.  Some of these data systems contain more personal information than US-VISIT needs to operate.  Some of them also contain information about United States citizens and lawful permanent residents, not just foreign nationals subject to the US-VISIT program.

[On the other hand, Phyllis Schlafly is in favor of the US-VISIT idea, and in the article immediately below, she seems disappointed that it hasn't been implemented.]

Americans cheated by 'virtual' laws.  On Dec. 14 [2006], the Government Accountability Office lowered the boom on the Bush administration by releasing a report stating that the government has given up on plans to implement a system to track the entry and exit of foreign visitors.  Congress ordered the creation of an entry-exit system called US-VISIT (excluding Canadians and Mexicans) back in 1996, and the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, made this system imperative.  Some of the Sept. 11 hijackers entered the United States legally on visas but never departed when their visas expired.  It's now 2006, and we are told that an entry-exit system doesn't exist and the government has abandoned plans to create it.

Voluntary security ID to debut in Florida.  Beginning June 21, the Orlando airport will let travelers pay $80 a year for a card that guarantees an exclusive security line and the promise of no random secondary pat-down.  To get this new "Clear" card, travelers would have to be vetted by the Department of Homeland Security and submit to fingerprint and iris scans.

Biometric Scans at JFK Airport.  Travelers who voluntarily enroll in the eye-scan program must undergo an extensive background check, including criminal history reviews, fingerprinting and a face-to-face interview with a homeland security official.  Once approved, they'll receive a special "smart card" that holds their passport and iris details.

Government Surveillance via Passenger Profiling.  The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has announced plans to implement CAPPS II, a controversial passenger profiling and surveillance system that would require you to give your birth date, home phone number, and home address before you can board a U.S. flight.  Under CAPPS II, travel authorities would check these and other personal details against the information collected in government and commercial databases, then "tag" you with a color-coded score indicating the level of security risk that you appear to pose.  Based on your assigned color/score, you could be detained, interrogated or made subject to additional searches.  If you are tagged with the wrong color/score, you could be prohibited from flying.

CAPPS Round-Up:  The Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening program is beginning to look less attractive as more people become aware of the invasiveness of the program, the high probability of false-positives, and the low likelihood of catching terrorists.  The US is also having difficulty of convincing the European Union of the benefits of CAPPS II.

 Editor's Note:   The following article was written a few months after the TWA 800 crash, and is especially interesting because it forecasts the costs passenger profiling, automatic screening, bag matching, sniffing for explosives and huge delays at airports, long before the September 11 hijackings.

The Cost of Antiterrorist Rhetoric:  These changes will cost billions of dollars to implement and could cause extensive delays at airports.  President Clinton assures us that "as a result of these steps, not only will the American people feel safer, they will be safer."  But is this really true?  The [Cliinton] White House has neither given a clear indication of the effectiveness of these measures in preventing terrorist acts, nor acknowledged the true cost of implementation.

ACLU Calls New "Secure Flight" Passenger Profiling System Invasive, Inadequate and Ineffective.  In comments filed with the Department of Homeland Security, the ACLU has offered deep criticism of the "Secure Flight" airline passenger screening program. The ACLU said that many of the privacy and civil liberties concerns identified in the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) remain with its successor, Secure Flight.

EU-US Airline Passenger Data Disclosure.  The United States announced that by March 5, 2003 all international airlines had to provide the government full electronic access to detailed airline passenger data on all travelers contained in the airline's computer system.  This passenger information includes among other things, name, address, flight number, credit card number, and choice of meal.  European airlines and European officials are concerned that providing unfettered access to U.S. law enforcement authorities would violate their privacy laws and have been holding discussions with the U.S. to ensure that the privacy of their citizens is adequately protected.  (Note:  This page has numerous links to additional news items and documents.)

Passenger Profiling:  The first generation CAPPS was introduced in 1996 as a stop-gap measure prior to the full screening of all bags for explosives.  The second generation system that is currently in development purports to improve the screening of both dangerous things and people by relying on experimental data-mining algorithms to find patterns in the government and commercial databases available on individuals.  In the future there is a risk that a CAPPS-II system might be deployed for the government to control access to all forms of transportation, including ships, trains, and buses, and might also encompass government buildings and public spaces.

Due Process Vanishes in Thin Air.  The aviation list, intended to catch terrorists before they board planes, has persistently and widely snagged innocent American travelers, according to government documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.



The right to travel is a part of the "liberty" of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment … Freedom of movement across frontiers in either direction, and inside frontiers as well, was a part of our heritage.  Travel abroad, like travel within the country, may be necessary for a livelihood.  It may be as close to the heart of the individual as the choice of what he eats, or wears, or reads.  Freedom of movement is basic in our scheme of values.  "Our nation," wrote Chafee, "has thrived on the principle that, outside areas of plainly harmful conduct, every American is left to shape his own life as he thinks best, do what he pleases, go where he pleases."
— Justice William O. Douglas,    
Kent v. Dulles (1958)    


An Algorithm for Defeating the Computer-Assisted Passenger Screening System:  To improve the efficiency of airport security screening, the FAA deployed the Computer Assisted Passenger Screening system (CAPS) in 1999.  CAPS attempts to identify potential terrorists through the use of profiles so that security personnel can focus the bulk of their attention on high-risk individuals.  In this paper, we show that since CAPS uses profiles to select passengers for increased scrutiny, it is actually less secure than systems that employ random searches.

INS inspector:  Database of terrorists often crashes.  Foreign passengers at airports get a pass when computers go down.

Faulty radar serving Logan leaves thousands stranded.  Monitors show objects that don't exist; solution uncertain.

Disputed Air ID Law May Not Exist:  A recent lawsuit filed by Electronic Frontier Foundation founder John Gilmore against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, United Airlines and several others challenges the requirement that airline flyers present government-issued identification in order to travel within the United States.  The suit claims unpublished federal regulations have created an "internal passport" for Americans in violation of the U.S. Constitution.  As it turns out, there may be no such law on the books.

Government Computer To Decide Who is a Terrorist The Federal Aviation Administration has announced that is will implement a new computer system called Computer Assisted Passenger Screening (CAPS) to profile and evaluate airline passengers before they get on planes.  The computer will be trying to determine if a passenger is a terrorist by analyzing "suspicious" characteristics.  Although bureaucrats won't reveal the specific "suspicious" profiles they're looking for, experts speculate that traveling alone, buying your ticket at the last minute, visiting unapproved foreign countries, or frequent travel could get you tagged as a possible terrorist.  Passengers could also be picked at random.

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