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TSA's 'Quiet Skies' program raises privacy, civil rights violations concerns

Posted at 10:12 PM, Aug 22, 2018

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DENVER -- Lawmakers and Homeland Security officials are demanding a review of the Transportation Security Administration's "Quiet Skies" program, which monitors airline passengers who are not accused of any crime and are not on any watch list.

The TSA's "Quiet Skies" initiative started in 2010 and was expanded just last March.

The Boston Globe first identified the program, which involves undercover air marshals following travelers at an airport and on a flight, noting behavior like excessive fidgeting or perspiration, or having a "cold, penetrating stare."

In a statement, the TSA said: "The primary purpose of this program is to ensure passengers and flight crew are protected during air travel. Contrary to the article 'Welcome to the Quiet Skies' published by The Boston Globe, the program doesn't take into account race and religion, and is not intended to surveil ordinary Americans. In the world of law enforcement, this program's core design is no different than putting a police officer on a beat where intelligence and other information presents the need for watch and deterrence. The program analyzes information on a passenger's travel patterns, and through a system of checks and balances, to include robust oversight, the program effectively adds an additional line of defense to aviation security. With routine reviews and active management via legal, privacy and civil rights and liberties offices, the program is a practical method of keeping another act of terrorism from occurring at 30,000 feet."

But going 360 on the program, Jeff Price, an aviation security expert with Metro State University of Denver, said behavior detection programs can work, but only if done correctly.

"It’s the way this was carried out; I think some people really disagree with. There are those civil rights questions as to how did you pick your target and then what did they do? What did they do to deserve that scrutiny because Americans aren’t really supposed to be followed around by the government for no reason," said Price. "I’m very familiar with TSA Behavior detection training and the Israeli detection training and some of these that are coming to light really just don’t make any sense."

While the TSA said its program does not take race or religion into account, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit to stop the program, saying "it may single out law-abiding Muslim travelers for official harassment.”

And the ACLU has filed a request for more information on the program, writing : “TSA is needlessly invading travelers’ privacy and retaining information on innocent activity.”