TSA

ACLU: TSA Now Using 'Hypothetical Threats' to Assign Passengers to Watchlists

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This is a real award the TSA gives out.
Credit: bionicteaching / photo on flickr

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has put out a new report intended to analyze the performance of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the operation of the watchlists that determine how much abuse passengers have to suffer before being allowed on a plane (assuming they're allowed).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) read through the report and was a bit disturbed at what they've discovered. The ACLU, you may recall, has been suing the government (and winning) over the horrible, opaque way the watchlists and no-fly lists have been operating in secret. You may also recall a recent report from The Intercept showing that hundreds of thousands of Americans placed on watchlists for extra screening have no known ties to terrorism. In fact, today Stephen Hayes, a senior writer for The Weekly Standard, tweeted that he discovered he'd been added to a DHS watchlist after taking a one-way flight to Turkey in July.  

The ACLU notes that the TSA has taken to assigning passengers to risk categories for reasons that have nothing to do with any law enforcement agency recommending them for review. That may explain Hayes' experience:

Thanks to the GAO report, we now know that the TSA has modified the Secure Flight program so that it assigns passengers to one of three risk categories: high risk, low risk, or unknown risk. We've long been critical of this kind of passenger profiling—which the TSA has proposed in the past—because it inevitably leads to greater intrusion into individuals' private lives. And of course, it raises the question of what criteria and information the TSA uses to sort people into these categories.

The TSA is keeping those criteria secret, which is part of the problem. However, the GAO report states that the "high-risk" passengers aren't just those who appear to match a name on the FBI's No Fly, Selectee, or Expanded Selectee lists (as problematic as those lists may be). Now, the TSA is also using intelligence and law enforcement information, along with "risk-based targeting scenarios and assessments," to identify passengers who may be "unknown threats."

In other words, the FBI's flawed definition of someone who is a suspected threat to aviation security isn't relaxed enough for the TSA, so the TSA is creating its own blacklists of people who are hypothetical threats. Those people are also subjected to additional screening every time they fly. To make matters worse, another recently published GAO report indicates that the redress process for travelers who have been incorrectly caught up in the watchlisting system does not apply to these new TSA blacklists. So the TSA's "unknown threats" are truly without recourse.

Hayes tweeted that when he attempted to file a "redress" form online, it couldn't be processed. Imagine that.

The ACLU also noted that there's a "whitelist" for millions of government employees, which allows them into the Pre-Check line. We could potentially join them in that line, if we're willing to give the government enough private information to prove to them that we aren't terrorists.

Read the full ACLU report here.

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  1. YOU could be a terrorist!

    1. Yousef, maybe. YOU, hard to say.

    2. Sounds like a Jeff Foxworthy bit.

  2. Actually, I guess it was “might be”.

    As in:

    If you’ve ever visited a Revolutionary War battlefield and bought a souvenir three cornered hat, you might be a terrorist.

    1. “I’m so *sorry*! I was just an impressionable *child*!”

    2. Naomi Klein is a terrorist to my sensibilities but I still don’t want to rape her or send her to prison.

      1. Maybe not rape or prison, but I wouldn’t dumping her off in North Korea for a few years.

    3. Or if you have a kid named Ragnar, Francisco, or John.

  3. …the redress process for travelers who have been incorrectly caught up in the watchlisting system does not apply to these new TSA blacklists.

    Isn’t that a good thing? Considering the No Fly List people don’t really have a good path off the list?

  4. The government is catching up with the government? Wasn’t the call to arms based on suspected holding of WMDs in Iraq based on their hypothetical use? Isn’t possession of drugs of a ridiculously low level intent to distribute? What took them so long?
    ZERO TOLERANCE ZERO TOLERANCE ZERO TOLERANCE

  5. …the TSA has modified the Secure Flight program so that it assigns passengers to one of three risk categories: high risk, low risk, or unknown risk.

    Pretty much 99.99999% of US citizens are an unknown risk. Why don’t we just put everybody on the list? And in the future you will have to get clearance from FedGov to travel. Oh wait…

    1. You know who else implemented a system where you had to have clearance to travel?

      1. My employer?

      1. Did I SugarFree that? Fuck it…

  6. Hey, what do you have to do to win one of those cool Glove Awards?

    I’ll bet “cracking” jokes during the procedure helps, right? Or suggesting that the award be presented “digitally”?

  7. Lapses in screening had ZERO contribution to the 9-11 Terrorists’ ‘success’…hence…TSA. Something to ponder.

    1. Oh yeah? How many 9-11s have we had since 9-11? ZERO. QED.

      1. Credit NSA spying. Hello? Where have you been hiding?

  8. We could potentially join them in that line, if we’re willing to give the government enough private information to prove to them that we aren’t terrorists.

    Sounds like you got something to hide. *narrows eyes in suspicion*

    1. “We’ll need a *lot* more information to prove you’re not a *potential* terrorist.”

  9. Did anyone see that video of the guy who the TSA attempted to detain when he ARRIVED at his destination?

    I’m assuming it’s been covered here, but if not here you go.

    http://benswann.com/tsa-tries-…..im-refuse/

    1. Yeah it was covered. Good for that guy walking away.

      1. Yeah, once they start arming the TSA agents you won’t be able to just walk away from them anymore. Not without risking your life.

    2. Yeah, got covered and it was excellent. “He’s leaving! He’s leaving! Should I call Denver PD? He’s leaving!”

      Boom. Bet those TSA fucks went to bed twitching that night.

  10. unknown risk

    They should put Rumsfeld on the case.

  11. That’s a real fucking award? For what, most non-consensual prostate massages? Are these fuckers really that stupid/ tone deaf? Has Judge Napolitano hijacked my reason account?

    1. I lol’d

  12. I’m flying into Milwaukee next Thursday… not looking forward to the whole process.

  13. This is unsurprising. On all levels, people are terrified of not doing the “right” thing or not reporting something properly or whatever and overcompensate that by doing what is — by all reasonable standards — entirely too much.

    I work in the financial industry. The regulatory crap we jump through/over regularly just so nobody can accuse us of aiding money laundering or terrorism or drug trafficking is truly mind-boggling. “Hey, this person suddenly did a $9000 transaction after a year of $500 transactions! That’s probably suspicious activity report worthy.” God forbid that person end up indicted for money laundering two years from now and we forgot to do anything about it.

  14. The ACLU also noted that there’s a “whitelist” for millions of government employees, which allows them into the Pre-Check line. We could potentially join them in that line, if we’re willing to give the government enough private information to prove to them that we aren’t terrorists.

    You could also join them in Pre-Check without giving any special information if, like me recently, you’re a frequent traveler on the airline and have been designated by the airline without your ever applying or requesting. “Oh, there’s a Pre-Check symbol on my boarding pass.”

  15. The ACLU, you may recall, has been suing the government (and winning) over the horrible, opaque way the watchlists and no-fly lists have been operating in secret.

    Serious question… what are they winning?

  16. Hell, this is better than I thought. Based on the news stories I read I was assuming they assigned people to watch lists by throwing a dart at a target.

  17. Why doesn’t the TSA assign each passenger to one of three category:

    Known known, known unknown and unknown unknown.

  18. “oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave,
    o’er the land of the free”

    No.

    1. “…and the home of the brave.”

      You mean to tell me your people just walk into a disintegration machine when they’re told to?

    2. The banner yet waves. Not sure about the land though.

  19. Stephen Hayes, a senior writer for The Weekly Standard, tweeted that he discovered he’d been added to a DHS watchlist after taking a one-way flight to Turkey in July.

    I hope I’m not the only one indulging in a little schadenfreude at hearing this.

  20. my co-worker’s sister-in-law makes $83 /hour on the internet . She has been without work for nine months but last month her paycheck was $17548 just working on the internet for a few hours. learn the facts here now….

    ???????? http://www.netjob70.com

  21. There’s lots of money in false positives.

    1. There’s no safety in false positives, but lots of money.

  22. This is the correct thing for TSA to do, although I don’t know if they are doing it correctly.

    Using profiles is the most efficient way to do security, and results in the best experience for most people. Those profiled as medium risk experience roughly what we all faced until receently – heightened scrutiny. The system until very recently treated us all as medium risk. A the recent change, enabled by profiling, now causes many to be treated as low risk, allowing them to bypass the more extensive checks (taking off belts and shoes, opening suitcases, segregating out electronics and fluids). On my last trip, I went through security in this lower risk group and it was a much better experience. This is the positive side of profiling.

    Israel, with El Al, has been doing this for decades, with notable success.

    Of course, there will be false positives (and false negatives). No system is perfect. Early on, I was on the risk list – apparently because I have a very common name. It was a nuisance – I couldn’t use curbside check-in and they had to call TSA before issuing a ticket, but as the TSA improved their screening, I dropped off the list.

    A caveat to all of this: TSA is a government agency, and hence will have an institutional trend towards screwing this up.

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