For the first time, the TSA has publicly acknowledged its “international security interview program” — a program where U.S. citizens traveling from foreign countries are questioned by security contractors before being allowed to board planes home — in a court filing in response to my lawsuit against the program:
The petition for review challenges the lawfulness of an international security interview program, pursuant to which airlines flying to the United States pose certain questions to passengers before permitting them to board.
As relevant here, TSA has issued an “Aircraft Operator Standard Security Program (AOSSP)” that incorporates TSA-approved screening protocols. See http://www.tsa.gov/stakeholders/commercial-airlines (last accessed Mar. 26, 2015). The AOSSP is designated as Sensitive Security Information under 49 C.F.R. Part 1520, and has not been publicly released. However, it is correct that, as the petition for review contends, the AOSSP sets out the requirements for air carrier screening of passengers at foreign airports before those passengers are admitted to the secure area of the aircraft and transported to the United States.
To have implemented an entirely new screening program in complete secret with passengers having no notice of a requirement to comply is absurd. To have the contents of that program be a requirement that you talk about your travel plans or face being unable to return to your home country is unconstitutional.
How did they get away with this? By ordering the airlines to do their dirty work for them, and then marking the order as “Sensitive Security Information” (SSI), which means the airlines aren’t allowed to talk about it. This Aircraft Operator Standard Security Program (AOSSP) they speak of is a lengthy document containing security rules that airlines are required to follow but are prohibited from sharing.
However, unlike other pieces of SSI (such as the document that implemented the nude body scanners), this document not kept internal to TSA; rather it is distributed to every U.S.-flagged airline with planes over a certain size. The TSA isn’t exactly known for keeping its secrets by itself, but factor in the now thousands of employees and contractors who have access to the AOSSP, and I was fairly easily (and legally, on my end at least) able to obtain a version of it (although it would be nice if someone leaked the latest one to me 🙂 ).
I believe the public has an interest in seeing at least portions of the AOSSP, as it effectively restricts their personal rights, and it does so without notice or meaningful opportunity for review. I gave the TSA first notice of the leak of their information (as I’ve always done, including when I published my video beating the nude body scanners and when I learned that the 11th Circuit had leaked secret documents in my case), and I may in the past, present, or future disclose what I’ve uncovered to attorneys for relevant civil rights organizations. For now, I won’t be disclosing the document or how I obtained it to allow the TSA time to plug their leak, as I believe some information that should legitimately be secret for security reasons was obtainable by me and would be obtainable by others should I disclose the method and/or the contents. (Note: The document was not sent to me by a source in confidence — if it were, I would protect the source to my greatest ability.) I do wish the government would stop relying on security through obscurity and start implementing real, non-invasive, community-reviewed security measures to keep us safe.
In the meantime, I will continue to fight against secret TSA policies that continue to erode our rights.
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