If you’re a law abiding US citizen, a team of armed undercover US Air Marshals could be following you on your next flight, taking minute-by-minute notes whether or not you engage in such threatening behavior as sleeping on the plane, using a phone, going to the bathroom or talking to other passengers.
The Boston Globe has revealed a new federal program that profiles and surveils ordinary US citizen travelers who otherwise have no legitimate reason for being profiled. The secret program, called “Quiet Skies”, was set up to monitor US citizens with no prior record and who don’t result in red flags being raised at the airport. The people surveiled and followed in this program are, according to a TSA memo cited by the Globe article, “not under investigation by any agency and are not in the Terrorist Screening Data Base”.
In essence, the program gives the TSA the option to monitor and track whoever it likes for any reason whatsoever, effectively granting TSA agents a green light to violate anyone’s personal privacy even as the legal and constitutional implications of such profiling remain unknown. And, understandably, internal pushback against the relatively new program has emerged as some Federal Air Marshals have noted that it is a drain on resources and is way too time consuming and costly.
Further, concerns have been raised by legal experts, like Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, who said that “if this was about foreign citizens, the government would have considerable power. But if it’s US citizens — US citizens don’t lose their rights simply because they are in an airplane at 30,000 feet.”
Predictably, the TSA defended the program to the Boston Globe when asked and declined to note for the article whether or not the program has been successful in stopping any threats. In fact, it wouldn’t even confirm that the program existed. But documents provided to the Boston Globe by FSA sources confirm that this highly controversial program does, in fact, exist.
So if you’re not on any terrorist watch list and you are not under investigation by the Federal Government, what exactly do armed Air Marshals look for when a “small team of them” watches you as you fly or home to visit relatives for the holidays?
Amazingly, the red flag “triggers” for in depth surveillance involve behaviors that essentially all passengers are susceptible to, such as:
- whether or not passengers fidget
- whether or not they are using a computer on the flight
- whether or not they stare off into space
- face touching
- exaggerated emotions
- whether or not a subject has lost or gained weight from the information provided to authorities
- whether or not the subject has facial hair, tattoos, piercings,
- whether not they slept during the flight
- whether not they use the bathroom on the flight
- how they were picked up when they arrive.
The full “behavior checklist”, uploaded on the Boston Globe website, is both astonishing and frightening.