If you’re planning on flying, try not to fidget, use a computer, reverse your direction in an airport, have a “jump” in your Adam’s apple or a “cold penetrating stare.” Otherwise, you might be the target of a secret spying program that is shadowing unsuspecting regular travelers, the details of which were revealed today by the Boston Globe.
The program is supposed to focus on “known or partially known” terrorists, but some air marshals have privately told the Globe they’re following normal passengers.
When someone on the Quiet Skies list is selected for surveillance, a team of air marshals is placed on the person’s next flight. The team receives a file containing a photo and basic information — such as date and place of birth — about the target, according to agency documents.
The teams track citizens on domestic flights, to or from dozens of cities big and small — such as Boston and Harrisburg, Pa., Washington, D.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. — taking notes on whether travelers use a phone, go to the bathroom, chat with others, or change clothes, according to documents and people within the department.
The TSA appears to be confirming the existence of the domestic surveillance program, but refuses to discuss details. The Globe says Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport is one of the airports where the surveillance teams work.
The Globe says it’s a new tactic in which civilians not on a terrorist watch list are followed by about 2,000 to 3,000 air marshals nationwide.
“What we are doing is troubling and raising some serious questions as to the validity and legality of what we are doing and how we are doing it,” one marshal wrote to colleagues in a text message obtained by the newspaper.
“If TSA is using proxies for race or religion to single out travelers for surveillance, that could violate the travelers’ constitutional rights,” an ACLU official said. “These concerns are all the more acute because of TSA’s track record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor travelers who have done nothing wrong.”
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said U.S. citizens don’t give up their right to privacy just because they’re 30,000 feet in the air.
It’s a waste of money and resources, according to John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association.
“The American public would be better served if these [air marshals] were instead assigned to airport screening and check in areas so that active shooter events can be swiftly ended, and violations of federal crimes can be properly and consistently addressed.”
The program, called Quiet Skies, is an expansion of domestic surveillance by the TSA and air marshals, who previously only tracked travelers on a watch list.
Now, everyone is on a watch list.