TSA Now Looking To Make It Impossible For People Wrongly Added To Terrorist Watchlist To Travel On The Ground
from the just-stay-home,-I-guess dept
Apparently, it’s not enough to prevent hundreds or thousands of people with “no known affiliation” with terrorist groups from flying — a list that includes children who have yet to enter kindergarten. Even though the TSA long ago admitted (albeit, not publicly) the threat to airline flights was almost nonexistent, it still needs to look like it’s doing something useful to ensure continued funding.
So, it’s moving on to Amtrak, according to this report from WLKY, which obtained the TSA’s Privacy Impact Assessment [PDF] that discusses its decision to start running passenger manifests against the DHS’s highly questionable “no fly” list. We are moving on to “no rail” for Muslims and an assortment of brown people most likely described as “swarthy” and “suspicious” by people who couldn’t find an explosive device if you paid them to.
Amtrak has asked the TSA to start screening some of its passengers against the Terrorist Screening Database watchlist maintained by the Threat Screening Center to see if known or suspected terrorists have been riding the rails, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security privacy impact document obtained by the Hearst Television National Investigative Unit.
The program, part of the Amtrak Rail Passenger Threat Assessment and which has not been previously reported, would compare personal passenger information from Amtrak – which may also later include a traveler’s “publicly available social media” profiles viewed by DHS personnel – to the government’s terrorist screening database.
According to the Privacy Impact Assessment, the TSA believes hardly any privacy will be impacted. The sharing will be one way: Amtrak will hand over passenger manifests and the TSA will run names against watchlists.
To the extent it is available, Amtrak will provide historical passenger manifests for several months on routes in the Northeast corridor to TSA. The manifests will contain first and last name and date of birth for passengers who have provided that data to Amtrak. In addition, where available, Amtrak may also provide additional data elements that passengers have provided on an optional basis or as part of frequent passenger Guest Rewards accounts. These additional data elements may include but not exceed: middle initial; billing address; phone; email; ticketed origin/destination; and actual origin/destination. TSA will match the passenger information against the Terrorist Screening Database to identify possible known or suspected terrorists
The TSA claims — at least, at this point — that the information will only flow to the TSA. But if it finds matches, it’s inconceivable the information won’t be relayed back to Amtrak to flag passengers for the TSA to approach and/or track. While this appears to be exploratory at the moment (seeing how many hits on watchlists passenger manifests rack up), the end goal is obviously the implementation of a version of the “no fly” list that means no more traveling by rail for the hundreds of people the DHS has determined too dangerous to fly despite their apparent lack of ties to terrorist organizations.
And, like anything else the government chooses to do in bulk while securing the homeland, innocent people will be negatively affected.
There is a risk that limited information provided by Amtrak will result in inaccurate watchlist match results.
The mitigation factors the TSA lists only apply for as long as the TSA continues to do nothing but research historic data. Since the data doesn’t flow back to Amtrak at the moment, people mistakenly flagged by the system will still be able to travel via Amtrak. But it’s inevitable that this data will start flowing back to Amtrak, even as the TSA determines the threat to rail transportation is, like the threat to air travel, almost nonexistent. And once that happens, people who’ve never done anything wrong will lose another option for traversing the Land of the Free.