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Professional Troublemaker

 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Advocate

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TSA

TSA: Taking Pictures Of Our Dogs Is Illegal!

tsak9
I’m told that this picture is very illegal.  TSA K-9 handler at JFK T1 immediately before ordering me to stop taking pictures.

On Friday, I flew out of New York’s JFK T1 after experiencing what was the longest airport security line I have ever seen. It literally stretched from the zig-zag queue at the center of the terminal to the far end of the terminal, and then around the corner. The TSA, of course, knows that terrorists now target security lines, rather than airplanes, and doesn’t seem to care that they are putting us at risk, but I digress.

After finally reaching the front of the queue, I spotted, for the first time, the TSA’s new experiment with bomb-sniffing dogs. Interested in finally seeing the TSA put a far better solution in place for the detection of non-metallic explosives than the body scanners, I snapped a few pictures, including the one here.

But, of course, the TSA can’t leave well enough alone. “You can’t take pictures!” barks the dog’s handler. I can’t? Well that’s news to me, and I consider myself pretty up-to-date on aviation security law. 🙂 I soon spot an STSO (supervisory transportation security officer — the “3 stripe” blue uniform people) and ask her to clarify, but she tells me she doesn’t have time to talk to me. Eventually, I spot her boss, the TSM (transportation security manager — always wearing a suit), a very friendly South Asian woman who is cheerfully tells me that my First Amendment right to photograph has been suspended:

Jon: Are you the TSM by chance?

TSM: Yes.

Jon: I have a question for you.

TSM: Sure.

Jon: What’s the policy on taking pictures in line?  The person with the K-9 told me I was not allowed to take pictures.

TSM: Yes, that’s a screening process, what he’s doing there, so you’re not allowed to take pictures.

Jon: OK, so that’s a federal regulation?

TSM: Yes.

Jon: Not New York state, that’s a TSA…

TSM: No, not New York state, it’s federal.

Jon: Ok, so if I ask the TSA, because I’m a civil rights advocate, and my job is to sue the TSA, if I ask them, they’re going to tell me that I’m not allowed to take the pictures, and that’s official TSA policy?

TSM: You have to specify what you were doing.

Jon: Taking a picture of a K-9.

TSM: You can’t.

Jon: OK.

TSM: Because that’s a screening process.

Where legal, I generally record my interactions with the TSA, and New York being a 1-party consent state (any party to a conversation may record it), I got an audio recording (.mp3).  (As a side note, a reasonable argument can be made, and some courts have held, that audio or video recording of government officials while working in public is constitutionally protected even in 2-party consent states.)

Why is this a “big deal,” some may ask: Any time the government restricts our ability to take pictures, they are reducing their accountability to the people. Thousands of times per day, law enforcement in this country violates the rights of citizens, but only occasionally is it caught on camera, and only then is it punished (sometimes).  By removing our ability to document their actions, they are insulating themselves from consequences for wrongdoing, and this a free society cannot stand.

I’ve asked the TSA’s Civil Rights Office to comment as to whether this is official TSA policy and await a reply, but expect a new lawsuit to be filed soon either way.

Terrorists Detonate Bombs in Brussels Airport — Before The Security Checkpoint

International media reports today that 2 bombs went off in BRU airport, just outside of Brussels, Belgium, and Islamic State has claimed responsibility.  How did they get these bombs past security?  They didn’t…

Passengers queuing at terminal counters described sudden panic and mayhem as the explosions turned the departure area into a death trap with flames, smoke, flying glass and shrapnel.

This is far from the first time such attacks have happened.  For example, just 5 years ago terrorists bombed DME outside Moscow, Russia, killing 37 people.

As passengers flying from US airports this year have been told to gear up for longer wait times, largely due to the additional time added to screening by body scanners that don’t actually stop threats, they should realize what this means is that the security queues are getting longer.  It sounds an awful lot to me like the TSA is creating a target rather than protecting one.  Would it make less of a terroristic statement for ISIS to blow up a TSA checkpoint with 150 people than to blow up a 737 with 150 people?  Of course not.

This mess brought to the taxpayer at a cost of $8B per year.


Fighting the TSA in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against TSA assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

TSA Tries Doing Exactly What I’ve Asked It To Do for 5 Years: Metal Detectors + Dogs

The TSA announced an “exciting” “new” program that it’s trialing in MSP airport in Minnesota:

After a explosives-detection dog sniffs passengers for traces of explosives, travelers can then move through expedited screening like the Precheck program, where they can leave on shoes and light coats, and leave laptops and small containers of liquids in their carry-on bags.

“You’ll see them snaking up and down the line,” Neffenger said of the canine teams. “I’m very excited about getting extra teams here.”

(source)

In other words, passengers that pass a dog skip the body scanner and go through a metal detector.  This is exactly what I’ve been asking the TSA to do since the very beginning, because:

  1. dogDogs are by far cheaper than the body scanners.  A body scanner costs $300,000, functions for less than a decade, and requires significantly more man-hours per
    passenger than a dog, which may cost low-5 figures to train and a couple bucks a day in food.
  2. Dogs are by far tougher to beat than the body scanners.  The fact of the matter is that if you’ve been working with explosives, you likely have traces of it all over your body, and you’re likely not fooling Rover, while in 2012 I proved that beating the body scanners takes no more than a sewing kit.
  3. Dogs are far less invasive than the body scanners.  These dogs are trained to detect explosives only, while a body scanner is set to alert on anything on your body, including medical devices, scars, hygiene products, your baggie of weed, etc. Dogs are a targeted search only for the stuff the TSA should actually be looking for.

Instead of spending nearly $2B by now on technology that people hate because they are slow, invasive, and emit poorly-studied radiation… instead of fighting tons of legal battles… instead of making them perhaps the most hated federal agency on the planet… they could have just done this 5 years ago.

Let’s hope their pilot program goes well and the body scanners are relegated, along with a pat-down option, to those who fail Fido’s nose.

Fully Briefed: Can The TSA Force You To Speak To Fly Home?

lipssealedAfter being told that I wouldn’t be allowed to board a flight back to the U.S. without cooperating with a “security interview” last December, I filed suit against the TSA in February challenging this program on Fifth Amendment grounds.  We all have the right to remain silent AND the right to return to our home country, and we should not have to give up one to use the other.

The TSA has already backtracked on the issue, telling the court that whoever told me I’d be denied boarding (a TSA representative, an airline representative, and the interviewer himself) was mistaken.  So, in some ways, this issue is already won, but the problem remains that the TSA’s written policy is ambiguous as to what should happen to someone who refuses to speak, and so airlines and their interviewers may not know that the TSA’s position (now that they’ve been called out on it in court) is that denied boarding is not required.

The case is now fully briefed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which means that all sides have spoken and the court may now rule on the matter.  Or, it may order additional argument, orally or in writing, before it makes its decision.  There is no set timeframe, but it will likely take “a few months.”

The docs:

Corbett v. TSA III – Opening Brief (.pdf)

Corbett v. TSA III – Administrative Record, Vol. 1 (.pdf, 14 MB)
Corbett v. TSA III – Administrative Record, Vol. 2 (.pdf, 18 MB)

Corbett v. TSA III – Respondent Brief (.pdf)

Corbett v. TSA III – Reply Brief (.pdf)


Fighting the TSA in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against TSA assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

 

 

TSA to the 94% Opposed to Body Scanner Rule: “Oh, you thought that we cared?”

In 2010, the TSA implemented the nude body scanners as primary screening without publishing a formal rule, as agencies are required to do in such circumstances.  Thanks to the Electronic Privacy Information Center‘s lawsuit, they were ordered to do so in 2011, and started that process by soliciting public comment in 2013.

As I wrote about in January, over 5,500 people responded, and of those who took a position, 94.0% opposed the rule (with many opposing the existence of the TSA entirely).  If you were a part of that 94.0%, or agree with them, the TSA has a message for you:

itdoesntmatter
The TSA’s official response to the 5,129 people who wrote in opposition to its proposal to use nude body scanners.

At the end of last week, the TSA issued a 157 page document detailing why it is going to scan you anyway (.pdf).  The document devotes approximately 17 pages to the background of the issue and the actual rule itself, less than 1 page addressing the supporters of the body scanners, and the remaining 138 pages going through the opposition to the rule and explaining that it knows better than everyone else, whether they be pilots, aviation security experts, civil rights groups, or just people explaining their own personal feelings.

The notice-and-comment rulemaking that the Administrative Procedures Act required the TSA to perform was intended to make the government responsive to the people. Do you think that the TSA is demonstrating what a responsive government looks like?  The TSA is hoping that it doesn’t matter what you think.  But we continue the fight, because eventually agencies that overstep their bounds are humbled by our representatives or the courts.  It takes a lot of pressure to build before that happens, but as the TSA continues full-steam ahead, the pressure rises.

Update: TSA Asks Court Not to Hear Brief Regarding Stay

Earlier today, I posted the briefs relating to my motion to stay the TSA’s new rule allowing it to refuse opt-outs.  Not long after, I received an e-mail noting that the TSA will oppose allowing the court to consider my reply brief.

Why? Because it’s long.

The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure govern how things work in cases heard by the Court of Appeals.  Indeed, Fed. R. App. P., Rule 27(d)(2) limited my reply to 10 pages, when it was 19, “unless the court permits or directs otherwise.”  My reply was filed along with a routine motion for permission to file excess pages, and I’ve actually never seen such a motion opposed, let alone denied.

In my reply brief, I noted that “avoidance of judicial review” is common for the TSA, which argues anything it can to get a court to decline to even consider whether the TSA’s actions are lawful.  It’s wrong, and plainly, it’s against the deep-rooted American value that we should be able to meaningfully petition our government for redress.  To reply to a brief accusing you of evading judicial review with a request that the court not hear the brief is the definition of an agency — and its attorneys — demonstrating their contempt that one would dare to challenge them.

I take this as a positive: I don’t expect the court to refuse to hear my brief, and I don’t think the TSA would have filed such a disfavored opposition if they weren’t scared that my Motion to Stay had a chance of being granted.

Corbett v. TSA IV – Opposition to Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages (.pdf)


Fighting the TSA in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against TSA assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

Motion to Stay TSA No Opt-Out Policy Fully Briefed

When I challenged the TSA’s new policy allowing it to refuse a request to opt-out of going through the body scanners in favor of a pat-down, I included a motion asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to stay the TSA’s new policy until the case is resolved.  That motion is now “fully briefed,” meaning the court may rule on it at any time:

“The TSA’s opposition to the instant motion fails to explain why it felt the need to make the policy change in question.   Respondent summarily states that ‘[p]reventing TSA from requiring certain passengers posing a heightened security risk to undergo AIT scanning would undermine national security and jeopardize public safety.’  But unlike when it rolled out the body scanner / pat down program in 2010 and clearly told the public that it needed to do so to stop nonmetallic explosives, the TSA has never explained why it feels that passengers posing a ‘heightened security risk’ need to go through a body scanner instead of a pat down. If something has changed such that there is, all of the sudden, a new, compelling reason [that pat-downs are insufficient], the TSA must identify that to the Court rather than make generic statements about how they are charged with providing aviation security and want to do what they want to do because they know best.”

I also asked for oral arguments on the matter before the court rules, but I think it’s likely that they will rule simply on the documents without hearing us in person.  Source documents (my motion, their opposition, and my reply to their opposition):

Corbett v. TSA IV – Motion to Stay (.pdf)

Corbett v. TSA IV – Opposition to Motion to Stay (.pdf)

Corbett v. TSA IV – Reply to Opposition to Motion to Stay (.pdf)

As we wrote about this week, the TSA’s body scanner & pat down program was opposed by 94% of the public when asked for formal comment.  The idea that they would take public comment, hear negative feedback, and then double-down on exactly what the public asked them not to do by making it mandatory is insulting and emblematic of the TSA’s failure to serve the public rather than do as it pleases.

If you were one of the many who have donated since this challenge was filed a few weeks ago, this motion happened because of you — thank you once again!

Public Comments on TSA Body Scanners Counted: 94.0% Opposed

Before making a “substantive change” to regulations affecting the public, the TSA, like all government agencies, is required to engage in “notice and comment rulemaking.”  The basic idea is that before a rule gets made, the agency should publish the proposed change and their reasons for proposing it and allow the public to provide feedback. The agency then reviews the feedback, responds to it, and decides whether or not to proceed with the proposed rule.

The TSA failed to do this before implementing the rule establishing the body scanners as primary screening in 2010, but was ordered to do so post hoc by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and did so in 2013.  Over 5,500 people took the opportunity to tell the TSA how they felt.

While a quick look made it clear that the overwhelming majority was opposed to the scanners, there was no way to get a count of exactly how many were in favor and how many were opposed.  So, I personally reviewed the 5,578 comments sent in and found as follows:chart

Opposed to the Rule: 5,129 92.0%
In Favor of the Rule (Implants): 115 2.1%
In Favor of the Rule (Other): 214 3.8%
No Position: 120 2.2%
Total: 5,578 100.0%

 

When all was counted and the comments that took no stance were removed, 5,129 people (94.0%) asked the TSA to discontinue its program of scanning and molesting the public, while 329 (6.0%) were in favor of continuing.  It should also be noted that of the 329 in favor, 115 specifically mentioned that they were in favor because they or a family member has a metal implant in their body (such as a hip replacement, or a pacemaker) that could not pass through a metal detector and that they liked the body scanners simply because they were tired of being patted down by blue-gloved security personnel.

Of those opposed to scanning, the following were the most common reasons given (percentages approximate): invasion of privacy (~34%), violation of rights/unconstitutional (~31%), health risks (~23%), ineffectiveness for security (~12%), cost/benefit analysis (~11%), concern for effects on children (~5%), and a distinct group that requested the TSA to be completely disbanded, defunded, and/or privatized (~2%).

Of those in favor of scanning, the following were the most common reasons given (percentages approximate): artificial implant (~35%), feel safer (~29%), efficient (~7%), effective (~6%), “not a big deal” (~2%), too many “whiners”/”cry babies” (~2%).  Many did not give a distinct reason, simply saying they support whatever is chosen or necessary.  A large percentage also qualified their support on one or more conditions (“if it’s effective…,” “if it’s safe…”).

So, TSA, the public has spoken, and the consensus is clear: body scanners should not be used as primary screening, and if they are to serve any purpose, that purpose should be completely optional screening for those who cannot go through a metal detector and would prefer it to a pat-down.

For complete transparency, I’ve created and hereby publish a full report, indicating which comments were counted as for/against and discussing the methodology, which can be downloaded here:

TSA AIT Comment Index (.pdf)

To view any of the comments, take the following URL:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=TSA-2013-0004-XXXX

…and replace the XXXX at the end with the 4 digit comment number from the index.


Fighting the TSA in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against TSA assholery? Donate via PayPal, Venmo, Chace QuickPay, Bitcoin, or check

TSA Tries to Force Wheelchair Passenger to Stand for Body Scanner

The TSA announcement on December 18th, 2015, that the body scanners would “sometimes” be mandatory was phrased like this:

While passengers may generally decline AIT screening in favor of physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers.

…which, as someone experienced in translating TSA-speak, I assumed to mean, “We will force you through the scanners whenever the hell we want, especially if we don’t like you on that day.”  But, there were then early rumors that by “some passengers” the TSA was referring only to those on the “selectee list” — an FBI-managed list, much like the no-fly list, that identifies passengers who may fly but only with additional screening.

Those early rumors have been thoroughly dispelled now that reports of actual travelers at the airports are coming in.  Last week, one of our readers reported that despite being PreCheck, she was forced towards the body scanners, only receiving a reprieve by informing them that she is pregnant.  And then, a couple days ago, the TSA attempted to make a passenger in a wheelchair, who was neither PreCheck nor selectee, stand for a scan:

“If you’re able to stand up, you will go through there [the body scanner], you cannot refuse screening.”

~~TSA Supervisory Transportation Security Officer Abdi, SEA Airport, 12/31/2015

Unfortunately, the passenger in the wheelchair is Sai, another civil rights advocate who litigates against the TSA, and Sai caught it all on video:

While, after summoning the highest ranking TSA official in the airport and going through lengthy waits and arguments, Sai eventually was allowed through with the “opt-out” procedure, it seems perfect clear that the TSA is caught in a lie once again: its intent was not that “passengers may generally” opt-out, but rather its intent was that as many be forced through these machines as possible.  To do so to someone who is partially disabled and has difficulty standing on his own for long periods of time is absolutely disgraceful, yet not surprising from this agency.

If you have post-Christmas opt-out stories, please share them with us.


Fighting the TSA in court is expensive!  Want to contribute to the fight against TSA assholery? PayPal or Bitcoin: 15ftA2938sp7Mnsi8U7wYVmEtd4BRbFnkT 🙂

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