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The TSA Wants To Read Your Facebook Posts And Check Out Your Purchases Before It Will Approve You For PreCheck

from the ah,-now-I-understand-the-phrase-'documented-citizen' dept

The TSA is disappointed that so few Americans have opted out of its bottle-tossing, package-groping screenings by signing up for its PreCheck program. For a few years now, the TSA has been selling travelers' civil liberties back to them, most recently for $85 a head, but it's now making a serious push to increase participation. The TSA can't do it alone, so it's accepting bids on its PreCheck expansion proposal. (h/t to Amy Alkon)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is seeking vendors for TSA Pre√® Application Expansion initiative to develop, deliver, and deploy private sector application capabilities expanding the public's enrollment opportunities for TSA Pre✓® through an Other Transactional Agreement (OTA) awarded by TSA. The Government plans to award an OTA to multiple vendors. The Government will evaluate the proposed ready-to-market solutions' application capabilities against this TSA Pre√® Expansion Initiative Solicitation and Statement of Work.
This will involve a new pre-screening process to weed out terrorists by looking through a variety of "commercial data" sources. The proposal [pdf link] is very vague on the details of what "commercial data" will be used by these third parties.
Contractors may use commercial data to conduct an eligibility evaluation (also known as pre-screening) of potential applicants. The eligibility evaluation shall include, at a minimum, validating identity and performing a criminal history records check to ensure that applicants do not have disqualifying convictions in conjunction with the TSA Pre✓® disqualifying offenses…
The proposal goes on to say something that sounds like the TSA safeguarding PreCheck applicants' privacy by standing between them and any crazy ideas third party contractors might have about "commercial data."
As a second component to the eligibility evaluation, TSA may also consider approving an option to use additional private sector processes to conduct a provisional risk assessment (based on an algorithm developed by the Contractor) for the purposes of assisting in identifying those individuals believed to pose a low risk to transportation security. TSA must approve any commercial data inputs proposed for use by contractors to include those which validate identity and determine provisional low-risk status.
More protections here:
Risk assessments may not be based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, financial status (e.g., credit ratings/scores, liens, bankruptcies, foreclosures, annual income), health records, constitutionally protected activity, or other records reflecting an individual’s socio-economic status.
So far, so good. But while the TSA has pointed out a few examples of what won't be permitted to be used to separate the threats from the travelers, it really never goes on to detail what will be permitted… at least not in the proposal itself. Those sources (and there are several) are tucked away inside the agreement boilerplate [pdf link] to be signed by winning contractors.

Here's everything that's open to inspection by PreCheck applicant screeners.
For purposes of this private sector enrollment initiative for the TSA Pre√® Application Program, “commercial data” includes: public record data, such as criminal history and real estate records produced by federal, state, and local governments; other publicly available information, such as directories, press reports, location data and information that individuals post on blogs and social media sites; and wide ranging data such as purchase information, customer lists from registration websites, and self-reported information provided by consumers that is obtained by commercial data sources such as data brokers.
So, the TSA is authorizing contractors to use social media posts in the screening process -- which, yes, are by default public but tend to generate more noise than signal when it comes to spotting the terrorists in PreCheck approval queue.

[And I suppose my Facebook page -- containing pictures I added a few months ago -- will put me in the "questionable" group.]


The TSA is looking to hire on third-party haystackers in order to pre-profile travelers. There's a lot of "public/commercial data" out there, and very little of it has any relevance to the "threat level" of potential flyers. And the part about "purchase information" is particularly disturbing, considering the DHS would really like to have access to that data.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his department will be issuing new guidance to retailers this week giving them pointers on how to spot potential terrorists among their customers by looking at what they're buying.

While saying the government cannot prohibit sales of some everyday materials, Mr. Johnson said retailers should be trained to look for anyone who buys a lot from what he described as a "long list of materials that could be used as explosive precursors."

He said it was an extension of the "If you see something, say something" campaign launched by his predecessor, former Secretary Janet Napolitano, which tries to enlist average Americans to be aware of their immediate environment.
Couple Johnson's statements with this proposal sentence (which immediately follows the "Risk assessments may not be based on…" sentence from the paragraph above), and you get an idea where this PreCheck database is headed.
Any algorithm used must receive DHS approval, which will be based upon a DHS evaluation requiring testing and review of commercial data inputs during that process.
Whatever data the contractors grab will be viewed by the DHS first, before it makes its decision to keep or discard it. And this will be in addition to the huge amount of data these two agencies already dip into to determine how many "S's" to print on your boarding pass. The TSA's role in the PreCheck program will be mainly limited to waving successful applicants through. (Something it has previously done to alleviate congestion with no apparent concern about PreCheck approval and all of its "safeguards".) So, this is really the DHS's program, one that allows it partake of third-party data hoovering and add anything it deems relevant to its databases.

That's a lot of info to turn over for shorter waits at the airport. Generally speaking, the government has little interest in your purchases and social media activities, but by applying for PreCheck, you give them the green light to go digging. Sure, most of what's there isn't necessarily private, but it's still information most people wouldn't assume the government would find to be relevant to airport security. Factor in the TSA/DHS's ever-mounting paranoia, and you've got a recipe for a slew of false positives, especially when the latter considers photography of public buildings to be "suspicious activity."




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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 3:59am

    Well, at least cash purchases are STILL not registered with your data...

    What strikes me is that a terrorist can easily fly under the radar by behaving as a good citizen electronically. Get credit cards, phones and car tags and use them very ordinarily and using untraceable methods for the nefarious things. Even better they can have one fellow terrorist impersonate them electronically and acting all "GO USA, GO!" and when shit gets real they can just say "look, my registered phone and car were at my grandma's all that time so obviously I'm innocent" and the surveillance creeps can't say a thing because they have been using the data without really connecting to reality all along.

    With every passing day more and more evidence mounts that this security theater doesn't help and may be worsening security. And I'm not even mentioning the ongoing crusade against encryption...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 4:10am

      Re:

      The whole 'security theater' debacle is not, and never has been, about protecting people, but has always been simply a power-grab for various people and agencies. A way for them to attain power and money that they know would otherwise be beyond their reach, using fear and paranoia that they constantly spread as an excuse and a way to silence dissent or criticism.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:38am

        Re: Re:

        And they call a relative handful of nutjobs living in volatile parts of Asia the terrorists.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          David, 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:45am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well, several of those terrorists actually do hate the U.S.A. After a few drone strikes taking out your neighbors, weddings, nieces and so on, this is not really all that surprising.

          The U.S. is not negligent regarding its terrorist recruitment efforts, and so there are some actual bogeymen to parade around.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:56am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Perhaps, but when you get down to it, no-one hates the US people and their rights more than the US government.

            Some piddly 'terrorists' in other countries? Bah, they can kill a handful of people, we lose more to car crashes, smoking, and household chemicals on a regular basis, yet all three of those are still legal. Some nutjobs with guns and explosives can kill people, but it takes a government to kill the rights of the people, so in the grand scheme of things, those laughable 'terrorists' are strictly amateur compared to the real terrorists: National governments.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 4:03am

    Not paranoia

    For a few years now, the TSA has been selling travelers' civil liberties back to them, most recently for $85 a head, but it's now making a serious push to increase participation.

    ...

    Factor in the TSA/DHS's ever-mounting paranoia

    It has nothing to do with paranoia, and everything to do with fearmongering. Scare people enough, and make it seem like you are the only thing standing between them and certain harm, and you can get away with just about anything you can think of as long as you claim it's being done to 'protect' them. The DHS/TSA aren't paranoid, but they most certainly want the rest of us to be, because a paranoid person is a frightened person, and a frightened person is more easily controlled.

    As an added bonus/reason, at $85 a pop, the TSA has an obvious financial incentive to use that fear to make the boarding process as inconvenient as possible, so more people will pay up for the 'expedited' boarding process.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 5:56am

    SA must approve any commercial data inputs proposed for use by contractors to include those which validate identity and determine provisional low-risk status.

    Shouldn't they be looking for high risk people, and assume that most people are low risk.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:04am

      Re:

      It's not how the system works.

      In order to keep a standing military force in occupation over a people you need to drum up fear and suspicion. This is very intentional and very necessary for them to justify the expense of the TSA for the very non-existent protection it claims to provide. TSA is only security theater and has proven that Osama kicked our cowardly & worthless asses on 9/11. We now regularly run and hide like the bitches we are when terrorist happens. Look at what happened in Boston, we are shaking in our damned boots and the power brokers are just easting up every last drop of our fear!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 5:59am

    It will never end...

    Until 'The People' put a stop to it.

    Enough of us need to assemble and walk over to an Airport and protest this BS and try a huge class action lawsuit, lock the courts straight the hell up and threaten to campaign against every roadblocking judge.

    There is something telling about our society when we can protest over a minority being killed by the police in ambiguous and "very debatable" (un)justified situations but act just exactly like cattle at an airport.

    These problems are not disconnected... the more the powers that be have over your life, the more of YOUR LIFE they will TAKE!

    Remember this the next time you decide that nanny government and safety nets are necessary for 'The People' for it breeds contempt for the state and a hearty contempt for 'The People'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:03am

    It seems like the TSA is doing whatever it can to kill the airline industry. Flying is just too much of a hassle these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 12:34pm

      Re:

      If you got rid of the tsa, put the former employees on unemployment payments for the rest of their lives it would be cheaper for the taxpayer safer and allow the traveling public some dignati

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:04am

    Prove your innocence

    So I assume not having a social media account is suspicious to this program?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    dfed (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:19am

    Nice try, TSA. I'm still not friending you.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christenson, 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:38am

    Audition for William Shatner's spot

    Hey, Tim, looks like you are auditioning for a role William Shatner once had before Star Trek...a monster on the outside of an airplane, looking in. Someone correct me, but I think it was a twilight zone episode...somehow very appropriate here.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:39am

    So this is written to give Palintar (sp) a new revenue stream?

    "long list of materials that could be used as explosive precursors."
    Like the hundreds of everyday household items that can be turned into weapons by those with the know-how?

    Perhaps if the TSA wants to make us all feel better how about they turn this program on their own officers who seem to keep getting caught violating citizens rights, stealing, selling access to controlled areas, pulling guns on the street, misusing their identification and prove that they can clean their own house before we allow them this sort of insane access to hand over yet another blank check for private companies to compile data on citizens seeing if they might be a risk to the country (and help us write a really nice dossier).

    OMG TERRORISTS!!! is a tired trope, and this is yet another attempt to craft the big brother country where not agreeing with the monied interests is a crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 6:58am

    Risk assessments may not be based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, financial status (e.g., credit ratings/scores, liens, bankruptcies, foreclosures, annual income), health records, constitutionally protected activity, or other records reflecting an individual’s socio-economic status.


    other publicly available information, such as directories, press reports, location data and information that individuals post on blogs and social media sites


    So, how quickly did other people spot the rather glaring contradiction?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 7:39am

    You're getting groped no matter what

    So, you have three options for getting through security. You can get physically groped, or you you can get electronically groped by those body scans, or you can get electronically groped even harder by the precheck program.

    Physical groping seems to be the least intrusive of the options and the precheck program the most. I wonder why the precheck program isn't as popular as they wish?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 7:53am

    Posting on Techdirt? That's a paddlin'.

    One can imagine a TSA screener examining social media posts, adding to the terrorism assessment score for everything they don't like...

    "Anti-gun rights? +1. Believes in global warming? +1. Made fun of Sarah Palin? +3..."

    Even an automated system would be biased; we've seen it before. Early web blocker services that protect kids' browsing quickly got a reputation for such bias. The NRA and other gun sites were allowed, while family planning and children's help lines were blocked for forbidden subjects.

    It's not hard to imagine the usual groups lobbying in Washington to get their own criteria added. Say, adding to your score for opposing a new maximalist copyright law, or for publicly opposing a pipeline.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 8:16am

    Political Correctness forbids us from actually doing our job

    "Risk assessments may not be based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, financial status (e.g., credit ratings/scores, liens, bankruptcies, foreclosures, annual income), health records, constitutionally protected activity, or other records reflecting an individual’s socio-economic status."

    Which means it can't possibly work!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:47am

      Re: Political Correctness forbids us from actually doing our job

      Which means it can't possibly work!

      And screening people based on race and income would?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Reality bites, 26 Jan 2015 @ 8:40am

    They would already know if they weren't monkeys

    Since the NSA keeps tabs on every American on earth, there shouldn't be the slightest doubt as to who is allowed to travel and who is waterboarded.... however there appears to be a disconnect between useful data and mentally deranged monkeys playing with the data.

    Just proves the point.. give a monkey bomb and it doesn't always go off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Get off my cyber-lawn! (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 8:57am

    I comment on Techdirt

    Now I'll never qualify for the TSA Pre-Check program. Oh well, guess I'll be getting "legally molested" for the immediate future!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MarcAnthony (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:09am

    Precheck is extortion

    You just can’t trust that the TSA which, for a nominal fee, will grant you the marginal convenience of faster boarding will also somehow protect you from being assessed by their contractors based on “constitutionally protected activity.” The $85 is already extortive. Having to give up the last vestiges of your privacy is every bit as invasive as physical inspection, and flies in the face of your freedom of movement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:19am

    Because finances make you a terrorist

    IRC, all the 9/11 hijackers came from rich or middle class families....

    Maybe only the poor will be allowed through pre-check?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:56am

    Not a checkmark

    The TSA is actually using a square root symbol instead of a checkmark. It should be "Pre✓", not "Pre√".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    nygrump, 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:37am

    That someone can pay extra and get through a line faster is unAmerican and plutocratic. This makes it easy for funded terrorists to know how to get on planes, actually.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AC, 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:48am

    Useless Agency

    These poor useless idiots have been searching through our baggage and butt-cracks for 15 years, and still haven't managed to find the Fourth Amendment. Sad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gracey (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:50am

    ... and they want to charge us $85 for that privilege?

    but, but ... why?

    Aren't they already doing it for free?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 2:10pm

    So either sexual orientation/identity was forgotten or someone thinks we are all gentle flowers? Or maybe they think we should have our laptops searched?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 2:36pm

    Good luck with me...

    ...I don't have a Facebook page!

    The closest thing for "social media" for me is Reddit, and that likely doesn't count.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 7:16pm

    It might make some sense if these background checks looked specifically for links to known anti-US "jihadist" groups or websites (whether genuine or CIA 'honeypots').

    But since those searches are likely to come up empty, and since the contractors will have to show the TSA bosses something for the money, it's a certainty that the bad-guy list will grow to include all politically-incorrect ideologies, such as:

    2nd-Amendment activists
    "Doomsday preppers"
    White nationalists
    Black Nationalists
    Libertarians
    Anti-Police-brutality activists
    Anti-war activists
    Anti-"globalism" activists
    Tea partiers (the genuine, not the fake)
    "Occupy" participants
    ... and other political dissidents with opinions outside the ruling establishment's permitted range of "dissent."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 27 Jan 2015 @ 6:16am

      Re:

      It's funny, Roger Strong above thinks being against gun rights will get you on the list, and AC here thinks being for them will get you on the list.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 30 Jan 2015 @ 9:40am

        Re: Re:

        Well sure. It's an old Russian joke:

        Three condemned prisoners are discussing their fate:
        A: I'm here for supporting Blakowski.
        B: Funny, I'm here for opposing Blakowski!
        C: I'm Blakowski.....

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 7:58pm

    Latest news I could find on boosting PreCheck enrollment? Regular screening will soon require that non-PreCheck passengers vivisect a kitten for cosmetics industry research.

    Also, civil forfeiture of your underwear. Unless you complain. Then they give underwear back to you. But not your own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2015 @ 4:09pm

    The "terrorists" already won.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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