TSA Security Checks Begin Long Before Travelers Arrive At The Airport

from the more-data-stockpiling-and-careless-dissemination dept

The TSA may not be privately concerned about the average flier’s desire to hijack the flight he or she is boarding, but that hasn’t dissuaded it from continually ratcheting up the invasiveness of its pre-boarding procedures. Between the spilling of breast milk/baby formula and the casual groping of toddlers, attractive women and anyone with a visible medical condition, the TSA has “brusquely and barely competently invasive” nailed down.

But that’s just what’s going on between the airport exit and your departing flight. The New York Times reports that there’s an entire level of pre-boarding screening going on well before you hit the airport.

The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its screening of passengers before they arrive at the airport by searching a wide array of government and private databases that can include records like car registrations and employment information.

While 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…

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.

At what point does someone “who poses no risk” start feeling offended the TSA is doing deep read on his or her financial and employment background? The TSA already has the PreCheck program, which allows fliers to pay money to reclaim civil liberties removed by the agency’s security theater.

Those who haven’t joined this select group are still receiving very thorough vetting (even when flying domestically) but without gaining any of the benefits the one benefit of extensive pre-screening: speedier passage through security. The TSA says these background checks “streamline” the process, but if so, the results are nearly imperceptible to travelers. Of course, this lack of noticeable change may be due to the TSA’s bold plan to speed up things slightly sometime before 2015.

The T.S.A. has emphasized its goal of giving 25 percent of all passengers lighter screening by the end of next year, meaning they can keep their shoes and jackets on, wait in separate lines and leave laptop computers in their bags.

While we’re all waiting for a one-quarter of travelers to start breezing through security, the extensive background checks will continue on all fliers, with the collected data being shared indiscriminately with other government agencies and private businesses.

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.”

If you’re one of those unlucky travelers who receive the algorithmically-generated “please extensively search this flier” designation (or return home from a trip to find your voicemail full of calls from collections agencies), there’s not much you can do about it. There’s an official “Traveler Redress Inquiry Program,” but as we’ve noted before, it’s low on functionality and long on officious uselessness.The TRIP provides minimal details in response to inquiries, if it can be bothered to respond at all. Those on no-fly lists (or those that suspect they might be) receive letters that refuse to “confirm nor deny” the inquirer’s inclusion on this super-secret list.

Add the TSA to the long list of agencies gathering tons of data on Americans simply because they have the technology and the opportunity. Supposedly this invasion of privacy will pay off in an incremental speed improvement at airport security checkpoints sometime in the next year or two. The resulting payoff in increased security will continue to hover right around nil for the foreseeable future.

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Comments on “TSA Security Checks Begin Long Before Travelers Arrive At The Airport”

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Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We passed that point a long time ago.

We also have effectively lost the “War on Terror”. The really sad part is that those in charge cant seem to grasp that. Our own government has done 1000 times more damage to this country than the terrorist actually caused on 9/11 and that really is the goal of terrorism.

They blew up a few buildings, then our leaders freaked out and started flailing about wildly. In the resulting “terror” we have now wasted vast amounts of money and jump at our own shadows.

What might our economy look like right now if we had put all those resources into other places? We are killing our own country in a panic.

So one big question that comes to mind, What happened to this being the land of the FREE and home of the BRAVE?

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Our own government has done 1000 times more damage to this country than the terrorist actually caused on 9/11 and that really is the goal of terrorism. “

Probably much more than 1000 times, but that was the terrorists goal after all, to change our way of life. They have of course succeeded.

Even though you are 8 times more likely to die being shot by a police officer than by a terrorist our politicians still push for further invasions of privacy, stripping of constitutional rights… all in the name of preventing terrorism.

Are you afraid of dying by a police officer? No?? Then why do you fear terrorists?

marcus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sadly 9/11 was not just a tragic day because of the loss of many lives but also the losses of our civil liberties. Before 9/11, the government was trying to justify the use of warrant less wiretapping to catch drug dealers and I believe even had a system called Carnivore that was designed to go after criminals such as drug dealers but was challenged by civil rights groups as unconstitutional. With the 9/11 attacks, warrant less wiretapping was deemed as necessary for this new “war on terror” and people were sold on the idea that the Patriot Act is to protect them from terrorists but in reality it set the stage for widespread surveillance of US Citizens who are not terrorist threats to our nation. Then we were sold the BS that the TSA was necessary to prevent hijackings even though our security could have detected the box cutters used by terrorists providing they weren’t legal prior to 9/11 which in fact they were and if they caught someone with box cutters prior to 9/11 as long as their blade was not longer than a few inches they were legal. Terrorist attacks on US soil have been rare and still are rare and this isn’t because of the TSA, the DHS, or any other federal agency spying on us. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than become a victim of a terrorist attack but we justify the investment of billions and have lost our Constitutional rights as a result of 9/11 to protect us from these rare attacks. In addition, the widespread surveillance from the Patriot Act and the invasive procedures by the TSA cannot prevent terrorist attacks by a determined terrorist.

Jeff says:

Skip the airlines

Just go on a road trip and sight-seeing. That is, if you have to go somewhere within the country. Sure, it might take a little longer to get to where you want to go, but you get to listen to your own music out loud, eat where and what you want, sleep in your car for no extra charge… etc.

Oh, and 100% less chance of being molested by TSA. How can you go wrong?

nbcart (profile) says:

Re: Skip the airlines

…well not quite 100% free of molestation. You still have the opportunity to “interact” with these dedicated civil servants if you are within 100 miles of any US border, and in some cities where they “protect” mass transit. Oh! Please do not forget the NYPD and other police forces that have chosen to “SWAT” up with federal anti terrorism dollars. I am Canadian and find any travel to or within the US has become “unfriendly” to guests. So yes, the terrorists have won easily.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Skip the airlines

It’s not always that easy, although it’s the choice I’ve made since 2010. I live in Alaska, so I’ll blow most of my vacation time just trying to get to and from Washington State (although that’s exactly what I did this past summer).

Unfortunately, I may soon have to choose between being unemployed — or at least, employed at a significantly lower wage than I currently receive — or getting back on the airlines, as I may not be able to avoid work-related travel within the state much longer, and most of the state does not have road access. At least in the winter, I can take a dog sled :/

Kenneth Michaels (profile) says:

Be a good citizen or be harassed

Air travel is essential to our modern lives – at least for everyone who is anyone of import. These TSA procedures are just one way to enforce being a good, model citizen.

If you are a model citizen (and do not raise any red flags), then you can easily travel by air. If you are not a model citizen, then you will be harassed and your life will be more difficult. As a non-model citizen you will either have to put up with the harassment or not fly at all – limiting your effectiveness as a threat to the government in either case (conveniently providing a disincentive from becoming a non-model citizen).

Being flagged as a non-model citizen may include: calling the wrong person; calling someone who calls the wrong person; including the wrong words in your emails; emailing someone who calls the wrong person; etc.

But don’t worry, because ordinary citizens have nothing to worry about. For those non-ordinary, non-model citizens, visiting family and conducting business will be a lot more difficult. Got it? Be a model citizen, okay?

Ninja (profile) says:

I’m guessing the guidelines for requiring extended cavity search:

– Works, has donated or has any ties to EFF, ACLU or other freedom and civil liberties outfits
– Posted stuff critical of the Govt
– Posted something critical of TSA (this one receives profound, large cavity search)
– Is black
– Is Muslim (red alert!)
– Has a somehow disturbing aura

I’m sure we can add more guidelines.

Anonymous Coward says:

So don’t fly. I am not going to fly a a result of reading this.

Turn people over to debt collectors? Really? For flying? Really? We have to suppose that the net effect of this will be to discourage people from interviewing or even moving to a far city to get a job, so they can get out of debt.

So we’re turning the TSA into a general-purpose personal-life snoop, non-criminal activity (potential violation) snitch and busybody, with the power to create negative records share those with potential employers? Are you kidding? Why would anyone risk flying when it could lead to permanent lifetime unemployability? Why? I am not going to fly anymore. I’ll just say I’m on the no-fly list for reasons unknown to me. That way I
1) won’t have to fly, which sucks independently of the privacy invasion, because, for instance, of the “no exit” clauses which permit them to keep you on the tarmac indefinitely and without recourse- in some cases 8 and 12 hours.

2) will preemptively exclude from my life organizations who would reject me should some future TSA agent not take a shine to me because of who knows what- they way I hold my shoulders or blink or something.

If I do that I won’t suffer the extremely unpleasant consequence of suddenly and without warning being fired from my job owing to some TSA originated “update” that my employer is notified of.

I can’t suppose this is good news for the struggling airline business but hey, what else is anyone supposed to do?

I am all for strong security measures, i really am. I think terrorism is more of a threat than most people realize given what can be done with technology. But it’s as if there’s no concept at all of diminishing returns or collateral damage to the fabric of the nation. Security comes at a cost, and the current administration and TLAs are acting like Bush, spending on the nation’s credit card with a shred of restraint. If it can be done, let’s do it; that’s they’re attitude.

People want privacy. That is a basic psychological need. People want some measure of control over who knows what about them and what the source of that knowledge is so they can live lives with some kind of predictability and not be victims of unknown rumors and faceless accusations that are permanently attached to them by unseen people with unknown motivations . Any nation who thinks, as this one apparently does now, that privacy counts for exactly nothing in any practical way are in for a big surprise when the nation lurches, out of disgust disgust at some future revelation or event, most radically and recklessly the OTHER way.

This is not about security, it’s about the worst and most base impulses for wanton and unlimited power by egomaniacs, narcissists and fantasists and the grafting on of those impulses to the instrument of officialdom, thereby causing those impulses to become both widespread and structural to our society.

Don’t fly. Just don’t do it. It’s not worth the risk to your privacy and your employability and by implication your marriagability and general desirability. Nothing is worth that level of risk. Any little thing can cause you to have “a file” opened on you and you’ll never be rid of it and “whatever” it claims about you.

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