You Look Too Calm. What Are You, a Terrorist? Now You Look Nervous, Terrorist.



Look too calm, you're suspicious. Look too nervous, you're suspicious. These contradictory assumptions are just several transportation guidelines on "reporting suspicious activity," revealed by an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

They comes from an employee document for Amtrak, which is publicly funded. These are signs that you should be paranoid of your fellow Americans, and call the police on them:

  • Evasive path through train station
  • Carrying little or no luggage
  • Last minute reservation
  • Traveling by an unusual itinerary (multi-changes in reservations)
  • Carrying unusually large amount of currency
  • Purchase of tickets in cash
  • Purchase tickets immediately prior to boarding
  • Unusual nervousness of traveler
  • Unusual calmness or straight ahead stare
  • Looking around while making telephone call(s)
  • Position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers)

So, Amtrak travelers, make sure you walk straight, travel straight, look straight ahead but don't look straight ahead, keep pace with the rest of us, carry just the right amount of clothes, and wipe that look of fear or curiosity or contentment off your face, or else the terrorists win.

The ACLU explains that it made this FOIA request because it "has received reports from individuals wrongfully searched and arrested on Amtrak trains," and wanted to know what policies led to these arrests.

Amtrak has a "See Something, Say Something" campaign like the Department of Homeland Security, and like the Transportation Security Agency, Amtrak's "broad categories of 'suspicious' behavior is problematic because it almost always results in racial and religious profiling, as well as the targeting of perfectly innocent activity. Most importantly, building mountains of irrelevant data is ultimately an ineffective law enforcement tactic."

The ACLU points out several stupid cases that make no one safer: one woman was arrested for talking to loudly, and a photographer was arrested while participating in Amtrak's annual "Picture our Train" competition.