Corbett Sues TSA Over International Security Interview Program

Last month I wrote about an experience I had in December where, before flying from London to New York, I was required to answer questions by an airline security contractor who would then put a “sticker” on my passport to indicate that I had been cleared. Having someone look at my passport and put a sticker on it was nothing new: I assume many airlines would want to make sure that a passenger has the appropriate travel documents to fly to their destination because the airline may be liable for fines if they transport inadmissible passengers. What was new was that the questions asked had nothing to do with my documents or my flight, but were personal questions: Why was I traveling? How long had I been away? etc.

What I encountered in Heathrow was rather reminiscent of the TSA’s “Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques” (SPOT) program it had run domestically. SPOT was premised on the idea that terrorists probably look visibly nervous and can be identified by talking to them. The program wasted nearly a billion dollars before the Government Accountability Office reported that there was no evidence that the program had any efficacy whatsoever. But, passengers could refuse to participate in SPOT and still be allowed to fly, while the security contractor in London told me that I was required to comply. So I wrote to American Airlines, the airline who hired the contractors, and got a reply:

AA Reply

Ah, so these contractors aren’t merely placed there by the airline, they are “controlled by DHS/TSA.” I was not surprised, despite being in a foreign country. So let’s ask TSA what happens if they get a call from an airline stating that someone has declined to participate in these security interviews:

TSA Reply

To recap, the airline and government is admitting here that there is a program to interview travelers as a condition of flying. I had never heard of such a thing before. Did I have my head in the sand?

Try a Google search. I challenge you to find a single article, announcement, press release, warning, or other indication that the ability to come home would be contingent on telling the TSA why you wanted to travel, written before I published my story last month. There’s nothing, and that’s because, as the TSA also admitted, the program is conducted entirely in secret, using the pseudo-classification of Sensitive Security Information (SSI).

U.S. citizens have the right to re-enter their home country. We also have the right to remain silent when interacting with government officials. The TSA has secretly tried to trick us into picking only one of those two rights. I instead pick both, as well as my right to petition my government for redress, and have filed suit today against the TSA. I’ve asked four federal judges to rule that the program is an unconstitutional violation of our Fifth Amendment rights and to enjoin the TSA from forcing airlines to hire interrogators to sit outside international gates.

Four federal judges, you ask? The TSA was given special rules for jurisdiction over challenges to certain types of TSA decisions known as “orders.” Orders are challenged in front of 3-judge panels of the Court of Appeals, whereas any other TSA assholery is challenged in front of a U.S. District Court judge. Since the international security interview program is a secret, it can’t be determined whether it qualifies as an “order” or not, and if you accidentally file in the wrong court, you’ll be out of time to file in the others. So, my petition was filed simultaneously in the district court covering the airport where I was flying to (the Eastern District of New York) and the appellate court in my home district (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals). Double filing fees and double paperwork means that the TSA can’t evade review by claiming that the program is, or is not, an “order” depending on what suits their mood.

Corbett v. TSA III – District Court Complaint (.pdf)
Corbett v. TSA III – Court of Appeals Petition (.pdf)

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32 thoughts on “Corbett Sues TSA Over International Security Interview Program

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  1. once again- well done and thank you for taking the time to investigate, take action & inform us of these procedures. illegal/unlawful activities against citizens are not new but if we say and do nothing, it’s our own fault. maybe you should be writing a book.

  2. I quickly read both complaints. I like the brevity of the complaints. With the brevity, I hope that the respondent’s reply is brief and timely. It will be interesting to see which court tosses it.

    1. I enjoy brevity as well. 🙂 These documents both don’t spell out the full legal argument, but rather give the defendant notice of the claim being made against them. The long docs will follow.

      1. I was hoping for more reading 😉

        As for the logic of filing in 2 courts, when they make a decision as to which court has jurisdiction, then you should request money back due to the idiot decision of jurisdiction in the original case.

        Now if you come across this interview process again and are willing to not get on the flight — you should politely mention you have a right to travel to re-enter one’s own country (article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which the United States voted for at the United Nations) and then the Supreme Court decision about the right to remain silent as long as it is expressed. Then express that right and ask are you free to go (follow up question would be you are free to go in a particular direction)

        1. I have a feeling that the resolution to this case will be either: 1) that the government states that airlines are not required to adopt these procedures, or 2) that the government states that failing to comply with a security interview will not result in denied boarding. Either way is a win, because either 1) the airlines can stop doing this shit, or 2) the people can stop complying with this shit.

  3. I want to ask if you know what the screening procedure is for infants and children. Do they expect to pat down my infant and 4 year old?

    Sent from my iPad


    1. If you’re traveling with children, your entire party gets to use the metal detector instead of the body scanners. If you pass the metal detector, no pat-down. If you cannot pass without alarm, they will pat you/your children down. The pat-down is slightly modified for children and infants, but is still invasive.

  4. The Airlines have demonstrated they are complicit with TSA/DHS and duplicitous with the flying public. BOYCOTT COMMERCIAL AVIATION

  5. Snowden digital surveillance archive available for public use

    Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is excited to announce the launch of the Snowden Archive, a comprehensive database of all of the documents published to date from the Snowden leak.
    Created in partnership with the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, the Archive is the world’s first fully indexed and searchable collection of publicly released Snowden documents.

    The Archive is a powerful resource for journalists, researchers and concerned citizens to find new stories and to delve deeply into the critically important information about government surveillance practices made public thanks to Edward Snowden.

    “We are extremely proud to launch the Snowden Archive as a tool for Canadians, and the world, to better understand the scope and scale of mass surveillance programs,” said CJFE Executive Director Tom Henheffer. “We believe this tool is just the start of many important stories to come, and hope this will help the public engage in conversation about government surveillance practices.”

    The Archive allows users to search Snowden documents by:

    • Agency that created the document in question
    • Journalist and media outlet that first broke the story from the document
    • Full text of the document
    • Keywords, surveillance program names and more

  6. U.S. government to citizens: ‘You can’t leave without our permission’

    At the same time the Obama Administration is throwing open the doors to the country to illegal aliens, he and other lawmakers are working overtime to shut those doors to Americans.

    As noted in a blog post on the website of Armstrong Economics, first the Internal Revenue Service used the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, of 2010, to hunt down any assets Americans had overseas.

    Now, Armstrong says, there is an attempt by a GOP lawmaker to use the excuse of preventing terrorism to hunt down American assets once again.

    The economic forecaster notes:

    [J]ust two days after taking charge of the committee chairing the House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing, U.S. Rep. John Katko introduced two bills. He is looking to effectively close the borders using terrorism as the excuse as always to hunt down Americans. Katko is a former federal prosecutor. So he knows precisely what he is doing writing a law that is so broad, that anyone suspected of a crime cannot leave the country. This is any crime. Keeping gold in a safe deposit box is money laundering carrying up to 25 years in prison.

    Spend more time as law enforcement officers

    His bill, H.R. 719, called the TSA Office of Inspection Accountability Act of 2015, would require the Transportation Security Administration’s criminal investigators to spend at least half of their time “investigating, apprehending, or detaining individuals suspected of committing a crime.” If these individuals do not spend 50 percent of their time in that role, then the measure calls for the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security (Transportation Security) to “reclassify” them “as noncriminal investigator positions or non-law enforcement positions,” according to a summary of the legislation.

    “This bill will now result in the arrest of anyone for any alleged crime whatsoever and that will apply to taxes,” wrote Martin Armstrong, of Armstrong Economics. “Katko is constructing a highly dangerous version of the Berlin Wall around all American citizens. He is converting the TSA into a police force less concerned about air safety and focused more on catching anyone the government can argue violates some law federal or state. It is so broad, this would apply to domestic disputes as well.”

    A report by The Hill, a daily newspaper covering Congress, noted that Katko filed his legislation in response to a 2013 shooting at the Los Angeles International Airport, which resulted in the first fatality of an on-duty TSA agent.

    “Threats to our nation’s transportation systems are constantly evolving, and it is critical that Congress act to preempt catastrophes at our nation’s airports by strengthening security protocols in the most cost-effective manner possible,” he said. “My subcommittee hearing [last] week stemmed from security breaches in which loaded firearms were brought onto commercial airplanes by employees with airport access privileges.”

    Not smart to give the TSA expanding authority

    “In light of that hearing, these bills provide a thoughtful response to create safer airports across our country by improving upon nationwide security protocols and facilitating commonsense TSA reform to save taxpayer dollars,” he continued. further reported that the Republican-controlled House was set to pass Katko’s legislation February 10, under a suspension of the rules, a fast-track method that will get them to floor quickly.

    “Under TSA’s existing rules, investigators do not have to meet the 50 percent requirement, even though they receive higher compensation than other TSA employees because they are considered law enforcement officers,” reported.

    While Katko’s legislation appears reasonable — requiring TSA officials considered to be law enforcement officers to spend most of their time in that capacity — we here at Natural News have documented repeatedly that the TSA in general simply is overly large, grossly invasive and mostly incompetent at its primary function — providing airport security. And while there have been some efforts in the recent past to rein in the agency or turn over airport security to the private sector once again, other efforts, like Katko’s, have been directed at expanding the TSA’s roles and authority.

  7. Amtrak/DHS spies on passenger(s) data letting police use it without warrant(s):

    At least one Senator has called for the extension to Amtrak of the Secure Flight system of surveillance and control of air travelers, and DHS has said that “CBP is pursuing ‘All Modes‘ APIS legislative authority to clarify its broad authority to mandate the transmission of manifest information, including all international rail and bus travel.” But no such legislation has been approved, and any participation in such a scheme by Amtrak, like the ongoing provision of APIS data about Amtrak passengers to CBP, remains voluntary.

    The project summary prepared by Amtrak’s ID department says categorically, however, that, “Information pertaining to passengers and crewmembers traveling across the U.S./Canadian border is required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

    Was Amtrak’s ID department lying about whether this was required? Or were they misled by Amtrak Police about the state of the law? We look forward to learning more about this as Amtrak releases more records in response to our FOIA request. There would have been little reason, however, for programmers to lie, in their internal IT planning documents, about what they thought the law required. It’s much more likely that the Amtrak Police misled other Amtrak departments as to what the law required — probably fearing that Amtrak programmers and other operational staff might resist “voluntarily” spying on their customers and passengers.

  8. Appeals court hears argument on appeal by “Freedom Flyer” Phil Mocek:

    A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit US Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in Denver yesterday on the lawsuit brought by “Freedom Flyer” Phil Mocek against the TSA checkpoint staff and Albuquerque police responsible for falsely arresting him and trying to delete his audio and video recordings in retaliation for his trying to exercise his Constitutional rights to travel by air without carrying government-issued ID documents, and to film and record the TSA’s “ID verification” process for flyers without ID.

    Mr. Mocek was able to recover his audio and video recording after the police returned his camera when they let him out of jail. On the basis of that recording, Mr. Mocek was acquitted by an Albuquerque jury of all of the trumped-up criminal charges.

    After his acquittal, Mr. Mocek filed a Federal civil rights lawsuit against the TSA, the Albuquerque police department, and the individual TSA employees and ABQ airport police responsible for violating his rights.

    Mr. Mocek’s lawsuit was dismissed, before it could go to trial, by US District Court Judge James Browning in Albuquerque, who ruled that Mr. Mocek had “failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted.”

    The issue in rulings like this is not whether the plaintiff (Mr. Mocek) has proven his case, or what the judge believes actually happened. Those are issues for a jury to decide, after hearing the evidence presented in a trial. A motion to dismiss can be granted only if — even assuming that everything the plaintiff says in the complaint can be proven to be true — those facts would not be sufficient to constitute a basis for a finding that the plaintiff’s legal rights have been violated.

    That’s what is now being considered by three judges of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (Presiding Judge Timothy Tymkovich and Judges Neil Gorsuch and Jerome Holmes), and that was argued before them on Tuesday morning in Denver by lawyers representing Mr. Mocek, the TSA and its employees, and the city of Albuquerque (on behalf of the Albuquerque police department, its airport division, and its employees).

    Clearly there are problems with the Albuquerque Police Department which might call for oversight or corrective action by the Federal courts. Five cases, all of them appeals from decisions of the US District Court for New Mexico, were argued on Tuesday before the 10th Circuit panel that heard argument in Mocek v. Albuquerque et al. Of those five cases, three were lawsuits against the Albuquerque police, under the same Federal civil rights statute as in Mr. Mocek’s case, for a variety of violations of individuals’ Constitutional rights by the police department and its officers.


  9. What ever came of this lawsuit? I just passed through Incheon Airport in Seoul South Korea and they are still doing the interviews. They have a special line for U.S bound flights when you transfer and won’t even let you into the screening area if you don’t submit to the questions . They asked me “do you live in las vegas?” “What electronics do you have?” “Who packed your bag?” “Has it ever been unattended?” AND they asked my 7 year old her name……

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