TSA Backtracks on International Security Interview Program, Says Answering Questions Not Mandatory

Last January, I exposed the TSA’s International Security Interview Program, a secret, never before disclosed TSA mandate requiring U.S.-based airlines to question passengers before returning them to the states. I encountered the program before a flight from London to New York, and I filed suit against this unconstitutional restriction on our rights to travel and to remain silent after the TSA confirmed to me by e-mail that failure to comply = denied boarding:

TSA Reply

While often times a first filing by the opposing party is a pleading responsive to the complaint (in District Court) or the filing of an “administrative record” (in the Court of Appeals), the court, on its own, asked the parties to explain whether there was proper jurisdiction, and the first filing by the TSA not only admitted jurisdiction, but confirmed that it mandates airlines have such security programs and that the airline “must refuse to transport” those who don’t comply:

TSA Reply to Jurisdictional Question

Perhaps realizing that this policy is entirely indefensible, a couple weeks later, without prompting from me or the court, it sent the court a letter to “clarify” any “confusing” statements it made to the court in the previous filing:


Well now, that’s better. But what does happen if you refuse? That question is entirely unanswered, but it seems clear that the TSA previously had a policy of forcing denial of boarding, and has backpedaled on it now that it has been exposed. A huge win.

So, I made the TSA the following settlement offer: detail what compliance passengers are required to give, detail what happens if they refuse, and specifically say that boarding will not be denied. Do this in a public bulletin that you post on your Web site. So far they’ve not responded to my offer, made last week. They probably need time to re-write their policies. 🙂

Corbett v. TSA – Original Jurisdictional Question Reply by TSA (.pdf)
Corbett v. TSA – Backpedaling by TSA (.pdf)

21 thoughts on “TSA Backtracks on International Security Interview Program, Says Answering Questions Not Mandatory

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  1. Interview process began in 1986????? It must never have been followed until the TSA came along because I was never “interviewed” returning to the States.

    Thanks for all you are doing for us, Jon.

    1. lol, yeah they tried to tell me on the phone that everyone knows about the program… I was all, “Do you know who I am?” If I don’t know about a travel-related security program, it’s not in any way well-known.

  2. U.S. Border Questionnaire: Is Anyone in Your Family a “Martyr”?

    “Have you participated in any formal religious training or schooling?”

    “What house of worship do you attend?”

    “Do you have any relatives or friends who have been martyred fighting in the defense of your beliefs?”

    DHS is fighting to keep the remainder of the document secret by invoking law enforcement privilege, saying that release of the remainder of the document would “reveal the purpose and investigative reasons for the interviews in which the questionnaire was used.”


  3. Judges Ruled Customs/TSA Can Search Anyone’s Computer On a Case-By-Case Reasonableness :

    Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the D.C. District Court ruled that that every computer search at the border must be justified as reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.

    Judge Jackson faults the agents for using the border search exception to search the computer “for a period of unlimited duration.” But the agents here actually acted cautiously by getting a warrant after a window of time passed. The initial warrantless search had occurred within 12 days of the laptop’s seizure, and they obtained a warrant for searches after that. This opinion sends an unfortunate signal to case agents: Next time, don’t get a warrant.

  4. TSA statements to court reviewing interrogations of travelers:

    The TSA also claimed in the same filing with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that an airline licensed by the US government to operate as a common carrier has “independent discretion to deny boarding to any passenger about whom they have a concern.”

    In an email message in January of this year to “professional troublemaker” and frequent traveler Jonathan Corbett, the TSA “Office of Global Strategic communications desk” said:

    American Airlines is required to conduct a security interview with passengers prior to departure to the United States from an overseas last point of departure airport. If a passenger declines the security interview, American Airlines will deny the passenger boarding. The contents of the security program and the security interview are considered Sensitive Security Information (SSI).


  5. TSA has no excuse to continue the groping:

    Shortly after TSA was created in late 2001, one of its early mottoes was “Dominate. Intimidate. Control.” From the start, the TSA put more focus on browbeating hapless travelers than intelligently focusing on actual aviation hazards.

    The Department of Homeland Security admitted in 2011 congressional testimony that “the large majority of travelers pose no security risks.” TSA cannot admit this self-evident truth without also conceding that it is pointlessly abusing and delaying millions of travelers every day. Instead, TSA continues a “security theater” routine that is far more effective at subjugating Americans than protecting them.

    TSA chieftains have perpetually promised to reform their agency but the scandals continue. Federalizing airport security was a knee-jerk reflex after 9/11. Like the PATRIOT Act, it presumed that vesting unchecked sweeping power in government agents would be a magic bullet to vanquish all threats. But after more than a dozen years of pratfalls, it is time to admit that TSA, after groping millions of Americans, has no excuse for groping millions more.


  6. TSA whistleblower says agency operates on culture of ‘fear and distrust’ & lax security:

    “The job of a TSA officer is a challenging one, with a great deal of pressure and scrutiny. A culture of fear and distrust has been created in the agency also impacting the morale and performance of our employees. This is clearly documented in the results of the survey,” Rebecca Roering, an assistant federal security director for the Transport Security Administration said.


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