The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) wants to know all about you long before you leave for the airport – your job, your tax filings — and is amassing a huge database of information about millions of travelers and would-be travelers.
The TSA is using “prescreening” to take a close look at the private and professional lives of a large numbers of travelers as part of its Secure Flight Program, The New York Times reported. The idea is to try and identify those who might be a danger to airliners or travelers.
“I think the best way to look at is as a pre-crime assessment every time you fly,” privacy expert Edward Hasbrouck told The Times. Hasbrouck works with the Identity Project, one of several privacy and civil rights organizations that oppose the screening as a violation of basic constitutional rights.
What the TSA wants to know about you
Media accounts indicate that the TSA is now using a wide variety of data from public and other records in order to flag potential security risks. The program is being applied on both domestic and international flights.
Some of the data the TSA is now using could include:
- Employment information.
- Tax information including tax identification numbers. It isn’t clear if the TSA is working with IRS on this or not.
- Property records.
- Credit records including information provided by debt collectors.
- Car registration information including your license plate. This could mean that the TSA is attempting to track travels via police monitoring of license plates.
- Your past travel history. Previously the TSA collected information on foreign travel by monitoring passports but it now looks like it is gathering information on domestic travel, as well.
- Your physical appearance. This includes “Arab looking” individuals, and men with beards. In the future it might include people that wear certain kinds of clothing including T-shirts or fatigues.
- Your criminal record. The TSA is examining the criminal records of potential flyers in order to identify dangerous people. This could include persons with a history of violence but also those who may have taken part in demonstrations and been arrested.
- Other data in databases accumulated by the Department of Homeland Security. That could include information on firearms ownership, mental illness and perhaps surveillance data provided by the NSA.
Under the program TSA checks databases and identifies people who are greater potential risks. Times reporters located a man who claims this has happened to him.
“They pat me down,” Abdulla Darrat of Queens, New York, said of his experiences with the TSA. “Then they pull out every single article of clothing in my bag. They take out every shirt and every pair of pants.”
Darrat claims he’s received this treatment at least eight times when he’s tried to fly. He said he has been taken aside and subjected to enhanced interrogation and he doesn’t know why.
“It adds this whole air of suspicion about me to everybody on the plane,” Darrat complained.
Privacy experts contacted by The Times think that Darrat was identified by TSA’s Transportation Security Enforcement Record System. This system searches a wide variety of records and automatically targets individuals who might be a threat to security.
How to avoid TSA tracking when you travel
It looks as if the TSA is collecting a vast database of information about air travelers.
Persons who want to avoid surveillance will have to find alternatives to commercial air travel in the future. Some of these alternatives include:
- Train travel (not available in all areas of the country).
- Bus travel.
- Private airplanes.
- Charter airplanes.
The problem is that most Americans simply don’t have the time or the money to take advantage of these alternatives when they travel long distances. Once again, the TSA has figured out how to harass the middle class but give the rich a free pass.