The TSA's Infamous 'Behavior Detection' In Action: Mandatory 'Chats' About Every Detail Of Your Trip
from the worst-chatbot-ever dept
Traveling into or out of the country used to be the one of the few situations in which American citizens could expect extra questions to be thrown their way. Apparently, we're now defending internal borders to prevent terrorists from crossing state lines unimpeded. In addition to long-running security theatrics already in place at our nations' airports, TSA agents are now throwing a barrage of instrusive questions at flyers as they travel from state to state.
Here's the first of two stories featuring the kinder, gentler, more intrusive TSA and its "behavior detection" system in action.
Over at the ACLU's Blog of Rights, Devon Chaffee writes of her most recent experience passing through airport security in Burlington, Vermont:Maybe the TSA agent was just being friendly? The writer's husband suggested as much. Despite the fact that the word "friendly" has rarely, if ever, been used in the same sentence as "TSA agent," there's always the small possibility that it's just some welcome humanity showing through the officious facade.
The agent then turned to me with grin that was a bit perky for even my taste given the early hour. "So where are you folks off to?" he energetically inquired.
I like to think that I'm a friendly person, so I answered him, expecting a brief innocuous exchange about the Washington DC heat and the scourge of Capitol Hill gridlock. Instead, the agent responded to my answer with a barrage of questions about where in Vermont we had stayed, how long we had traveled, and why we had traveled there. I could feel a suspicious expression involuntarily creep across my face. The New Englander inside me was screaming "you don't know this person from a hole in the wall and you certainly don't want to divulge to him the details of your family vacation!" And yet it seemed that the more discomfort I expressed, the more persistent the agent's questioning became, following us down the line, grilling me unrelentingly about our vacation plans and baggage status.
Here's the problem, though. It's nearly impossible for the average human being to chat normally with someone who has the power to indefinitely detain or otherwise screw up their travel plans for any number of nebulous "violations." There's no such thing as an innocuous or friendly question when it comes to an agency with a reputation for acting irresponsibly, vindictively and ignorantly, depending on the situation. No one is ever going to feel comfortable just handing out additional personal information, no matter how anecdotal, to someone who can use any misstep as an excuse to search, detain or otherwise inconvenience anyone and everyone.
Here's another mandatory chat session, one which goes off the rails much more quickly:
Steve Gunn, a former Muskegon Chronicle staff writer who now works for the Education Action Group, writes in the pages of his old paper:Notice how quickly asserting your rights gets you branded as a troublemaker by those "protecting" the airport. The intrusive questioning is the TSA's "behavior detection" at work. So far, it seems to be best at detecting racists within the TSA's ranks and maintaining an overly-close relationship with other law enforcement agencies.
At that point she asked me what my business would be in Grand Rapids.
"I'm headed home," I replied.
Then she wanted to know where home was. That's when the mental alarms went off and I realized I was being interrogated by Big Brother in drag. I asked her why the federal government needed to know where I was going and what I would be doing. She explained that the questions were part of a new security "pilot program."
I then told her I am an American citizen, traveling within my own country, and I wasn't breaking any laws. That's all the federal government needed to know, and I wasn't going to share any more. Not because I had anything to hide. It was because we live in a free country where innocent people are supposedly protected from unwarranted government intrusion and harassment.
At that point the agent yelled out, "We have another refusal." One of my bags was seized and I was momentarily detained and given a hand-swab, which I believe was to test for residue from bomb-making materials.
I passed the bomb test and was told I could move on, but I hung around a moment and told everyone within listening range what I thought about this terrifying experience.
This interrogation of citizens who have never crossed a border isn't necessarily a new thing, but in the past it was definitely an exception rather than the rule. Crossing national borders would usually result in some form of questioning beyond "Are you an American citizen?" Outside of our airports, the Department of Homeland Security is partnering with the Border Patrol to set up checkpoints with the intent of stopping and searching vehicles traveling internal highways 40-50 miles from any border crossing. This falls within the "Constitution Free Zone" where the courts have permitted these "administrative" checkpoints to operate, but solely for the purpose of protecting the nation's borders. They are not to be used for other law enforcement purposes, like conducting general drug searches.
As can be expected, the checkpoints have become "general purpose." Suspicionless searches are now the norm, with many drivers being routed to the "secondary" for additional questioning. None of this is necessary, useful or even particularly legal, but they continue to operate simply because US citizens are generally cooperative, even when their rights are being violated. If you don't cooperate with your own violation, as in the case with Gunn above, and the video below, the ones doing the violating (under the auspices of "security") treat the assertive citizen like he's being unreasonable and possibly a threat.
While the US is far from an actual police state, the encroachment on our rights shows no sign of abating. The TSA defends its severely flawed "behavior detection" system as being a crucial and useful part of law enforcement as a whole. Defenders of DHS checkpoints are quick to cite criminal actions by non-citizens and the general hazy threat of "terrorism" in support of their activities. No one really expects anyone in power to say "Wait, this is going too far," and start rolling back authority and legislation. But someone in power should really start questioning why it became acceptable in this country, a nation built on individual freedom, to interrogate citizens simply because they're traveling from one internal destination to another by vehicle.