The TSA is expanding its passenger screening process, according to a report in the New York Times. The TSA will use government and private records in order to pre-screen fliers and streamline the security process.
According to the New York Times, the agency says that the goal is to streamline the security procedures for millions of passengers who pose no risk, the new measures give the government greater authority to use travelers’ data for domestic airport screenings. Previously that level of scrutiny applied only to individuals entering the United States.
The prescreening, some of which is already taking place, is described in documents the T.S.A. released to comply with government regulations about the collection and use of individuals’ data, but the details of the program have not been publicly announced.
It is unclear precisely what information the agency is relying upon to make these risk assessments, given the extensive range of records it can access, including tax identification number, past travel itineraries, property records, physical characteristics, and law enforcement or intelligence information.
The measures go beyond the background check the government has conducted for years, called Secure Flight, in which a passenger’s name, gender and date of birth are compared with terrorist watch lists. Now, the search includes using a traveler’s passport number, which is already used to screen people at the border, and other identifiers to access a system of databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.
Privacy groups contacted by The New York Times expressed concern over the security agency’s widening reach.
The Transportation and Security Administration is expanding its’ reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos and train terminals. It’s all part of the TSA’s Intermodal Prevention and Response Squad (VIPR). However, complaints about TSA misconduct have increased by 27 % in the last two year, per a recent Government Accountability Office report. Michael Brooks, Producers producer for The Majority Report joins us to discuss whether the TSA is really the best situated agency to search Americans everywhere they go.
Critics argue that the problem with what the TSA calls an “intelligence-driven, risk-based analysis” of passenger data is that secret computer rules, not humans, make these determinations. Civil liberties groups have questioned whether the agency has the legal authority to make these assessments, which the T.S.A. has claimed in Federal Register notices and privacy disclosures about the initiative. Privacy advocates have also disputed whether computer algorithms can accurately predict terrorist intent.
The airline industry has supported the expansion of PreCheck and using data about travelers to decide who should receive more or less scrutiny at checkpoints, to reduce security bottlenecks and focus resources on higher-risk passengers.
At the heart of the expanded effort is a database called the Automated Targeting System, which is maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and screens travelers entering the United States.
Data in the Automated Targeting System is used to decide who is placed on the no-fly list — thousands of people the United States government has banned from flying — and the selectee list, an unknown number of travelers who are required to undergo more in-depth screening, like Mr. Darrat. The T.S.A. also maintains a PreCheck disqualification list, tracking people accused of violating security regulations, including disputes with checkpoint or airline staff members.
Much of this personal data is widely shared within the Department of Homeland Security and with other government agencies. Privacy notices for these databases note that the information may be shared with federal, state and local authorities; foreign governments; law enforcement and intelligence agencies — and in some cases, private companies for purposes unrelated to security or travel.
For instance, an update about the T.S.A.’s Transportation Security Enforcement Record System, which contains information about travelers accused of “violations or potential violations” of security regulations, warns that the records may be shared with “a debt collection agency for the purpose of debt collection.”
A recent privacy notice about PreCheck notes that fingerprints submitted by people who apply for the program will be used by the F.B.I. to check its unsolved crimes database.
“The average person doesn’t understand how much intelligence-driven matching is going on and how this could be accessed for other purposes,” said Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has fought to block these initiatives. “There’s no meaningful oversight, transparency or accountability.”
For travelers who feel they have been wrongly placed on some type of watch list or experienced security screening problems, the Department of Homeland Security has established a Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. According to a review by the department’s Privacy Office, there were at least 13,000 inquiries to the redress program in the nine months ending March 31, but civil liberties groups and some travelers described the redress process as a black hole.
“A lot of people I know have tried it,” Mr. Darrat said. “And it just doesn’t really make a difference.”