Expanding the scope of Secure Flight: comment now

DHS/TSA is proposing expanding the scope of their “Secure Flight” program to determine the level of scrutiny passengers will get at airport checkpoints. They’re accepting comments until October 10th. If – like me – you oppose this latest assault on our privacy, please follow in the instructions at the end of this post to let them know what you think.

Secure Flight came into being in 2007 for the purpose of matching passengers’ names against watch lists. DHS/TSA collects a passenger’s full name, sex, birthdate, redress number or Known Traveler number, passport information (if applicable), reservation control number, record sequence number, record type, passenger update indicator, traveler reference number, and itinerary information. They then match that against a watch list in an effort to prevent terrorists from boarding planes. There are often errors in the watch lists, and no easy way to get off the list if you’re mistakenly added it.

Edward Hasbrouck, working with the Identity Project, published a great frequently asked questions (FAQ) about Secure Flight.

Now, DHS/TSA proposes to expand the purpose of Secure Flight beyond watch lists and also use it to determine the level of scrutiny you will get at the airport checkpoints. The TSA says that it plans “to implement a risk-based analysis of passenger and flight data provided through the computer system that processes Secure Flight and other data.” It’s almost like the old “green, yellow, red” system that TSA proposed years ago. If you were rated green, you’d be good to go; yellow meant you’d get more scrutiny at the checkpoint; and red would likely end up with the police being summoned.

This new proposed “risk” field is a black box. We don’t know how DHS/TSA is going to calculate this new “risk” score.

Looking at the specifics of the proposal in the Federal Register, I see that two of the sections under “Categories of Records in the System” are especially problematic. Section (b) states that physical descriptions of passengers may be kept; and section (e) states that if the “screening status” of a passenger is discussed among a TSA agent and representatives from other governmental agencies, the airlines, and law enforcement, that information may also be collected. It says nothing about verifying that the information collected is accurate.

In addition, the information collected by TSA/DHS will be shared with agencies far and wide, and it won’t be used strictly for preventing terrorism. Under “Routine uses of records maintained in the system, including categories of users of users and the purposes of such uses,” Section (10) allows the information to be used for general civil and criminal law, and section (13) allows passenger information to sent to the World Health Organization “for purposes of assisting such agencies or organizations in preventing exposure to or transmission of communicable or quarantinable disease or for combating other significant public health threats.”

While catching criminals and preventing the spread of communicable diseases is important, a rule aimed at preventing terrorism is not the place to do it.

This expansion of Secure Flight further diminishes passenger privacy since passengers will now have risk scores attached to their records based on unknowable data, and all of this information will be shared widely. Given what we know about the NSA’s and other agencies’ rampant surveillance, why should we trust that Secure Flight is going to protect our data or even get it right?

Earlier this year, we asked you to submit your comments about the TSA’s strip-search scanners and physical gropes during the public comment period. Now we’re asking you to do likewise for Secure Flight.

Please submit your comments, identified by docket number DHS-2013-0020, by one of the following methods:

(Photo courtesy of your tax dollars)

  • Deborah

    Comment periods are very important, and every comment counts. If no one comments then it allows the TSA to make the argument that no one cares about this type of security and so the TSA is free to keep on searching people in this manner. If they get many comments, particularly all negative ones like in the last comment period, it makesit much more difficult for the TSA to ignore those comments.

    And– the TSA has not ignored the comments – yet. They have a certain amount of time to digest everything that people sent in, and then must formulate a new rule that takes those comments into account. If they don’t, they are very likely to get sued and then made to implement a new rule.

    Commenting is a formal process (although it might not seem like one), and there are consequences to government agencies who ignore public comments.

    My best guess is that the TSA will ignore the comments, and then they’ll get sued, and then we’ll see where we go from there. All of the comments will be used in any lawsuits that arise.

    So, please — send in a comment.


  • TestJeff Pierce

    If you think about it, just like the NSA has unconstitutionally (I don’t use the word ‘illegally’ as they did it through a legal though unconstitutional law) collected information on almost EVERY PHONE CALL made by Americans, the TSA is collecting infomation on EVERY TRAVEL TRIP ever taken by Americans.

    The NSA used an illegal order by a secret court with no oversight by ctizens to force collection of information from private companies. The TSA used Congress’s authority to take all travel information from private companies.

    So, we have an agency in the TSA that outdoes the NSA in its insidiousness and illegality by MORE ACTIVELY evaluating that information on almost everyone who flies….if you believe what they want to do.

    I intend to fully review this newly proposed rule to find out:

    1) How does the GeTSApo intend to take this information and share it with others without my permission? At least the PreCheck lemmings paid and chose to be actively violated. They can give up their rights I guess in a free/not free country.

    2) Evaluate the weakening or my security – if one believes the GeTSApo – by suddenly allowing up to 25% of the public by the end of 2014 to get random “free passes” to avoid the very same security they have never fully subjected everyone to, yet which is considered vital to our safety.

    3) Evaluate if these new procedures will apply to the HIGHLY PROFILED medically-disabled, elderly who can’t walk well, and those in wheelchairs.

    4) Evaluate this new rule in the context of “administrative searches”. Does this make the GeTSApo stray from an administrative search when it no longer equally applies the law to all?

  • frostysnowman

    Please explain how this is not profiling? The TSA is scared to death to profile at the airport at the risk of offending someone, hence we are all suspected terrorists, but this expansion of Secure Fight is not offensive? I realize Secure Flight is optional now, but if this new procedure goes forward, how long will it be before it is mandatory for all travelers? Soon I’ll have to worry about my credit score and my Secure Flight Potential Terorist Score! I’m sure the TSA will do nothing to protect our data, particularly considering they can’t protect our iPads and iPods for their own staff at the airport check points. This is bad.

  • Susan Richart

    My comments were entered 2 days ago and the comment page shows only 2 comments received as of midnight last night.

  • Svensonon

    I’m sure commenting on this program will make just as much difference as commenting on the last TSA program did.


    • Svensonon, by that token, one could say that all political activism is a waste of time, because our overlords are so much more powerful than we are and “things will never change.” As for me, I choose to go down fighting. Social justice isn’t achieved overnight.

      • Svensonon

        It isn’t achieved at all by ineffective means. The last TSA comment period resulted in over 5000 comments, all of which were ignored.

        I’m not against activism, I’m against ineffective activism. And writing a comment that can (and will) be easily ignored is about as ineffective as it can get.

        This TSA comment period- like the last one- is called a “safety valve”. It lets people blow off steam, and think they did something, even when they clearly didn’t.

        TSA comment periods are like TSA comment cards. Immediately placed in the round file. Why validate a farcical system by taking part in it?

        • There are many farcical systems in the U.S. More than I can enumerate in this post. Why validate them by living here?

          • Svensonon

            I asked you why you continue to take part in a corrupt system, and your answer is, “well you do it too!”

            That doesn’t seem logical, or rational. And is doesn’t answer the question either. But here’s an easier one.

            Do you have any evidence that the TSA comment period on this event will be of any more value than the previous comment period?

          • Daisiemae

            What does it hurt to post a comment? If someone wants to post a comment, it is their business, not yours. You are free to decline to participate if you desire.

          • Svensonon

            It hurts because it perpetuates a system that is broken. It hurts because it substitutes for actual and effective action. And it hurts because it makes people think they are making a difference when they clearly aren’t.

            Of course people have the right to waste their own time. The question is, who would want to?

            If you want to kill the beast, you have to strike at it. Powerful, effective blows. Not muss its hair.

            While people are filling out comment cards, they are NOT calling up their senator. They are NOT talking to the airport administrator. They are generating heat, but no light.

            In your interactions with the TSA, have you had even ONE that leads you to believe that a public comment is all that is needed to change their mind?

          • Daisiemae

            You apparently have never read this blog before. All of the people here are extremely active doing all those things and more.

            Making a comment on the website is one more thing in a long list of things that people are doing here. Every single opportunity that Americans can find to express their displeasure with TSA should be exploited to the max. Lots of little things can add up to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Change only comes after a long struggle comprised of many small acts of resistance.

            You should make certain you know what you are talking about before you start criticizing people. Again, you are free to decline commenting but other people are free to comment if they so desire.

          • Svensonon, Not true. Again as I’ve said umpteen times, there are many ways to resist, not just one. And you’re wrong that thousands of us aren’t calling/writing/badgering our reps in Congress, or boycotting flying, or refusing to step into the strip-search scanners, or any number of other things to resist. Here, again:


          • Svensonon, I’ve answered your question and ones like it umpteen times at this blog. But I’ll do it again:

            We need evidence. We need a written record. We need a written record of people’s complaints and opinions. Because IF IF IF Congress ever gets its act together to do anything, they will need that written record to buttress their arguments. If nobody goes on the record, then they can say that nobody gives a shit. Why would you want to give our overlords that power?

          • Svensonon

            Why would you think our overlords would care what is written? Why do you think our overlords wouldn’t ignore what is written, when it suits them.

            Your idea that we need to keep writing comments because they might someday work is like saying we need to keep sending letters to Santa because he might someday answer them.

            And just think, IF IF IF Santa does decide to leave the North Pole, he will need your letters to know what to leave under your tree.

          • Svensonon, sigh. You’re really determined to miss the point, aren’t you? See Deborah Pierce’s latest comment. I’m through with this.

          • Daisiemae

            If writing comments is such a useless waste of time, why are you continually posting here?

            Big fat hypocrite in my book.

          • I would also like to know what Svensonon is doing to fight the system.

  • Enaylius

    Done. my comment and tracking number “Absolutely not! Nothing
    but a total rollback to pre-9/11 security will suffice! No body
    scanners, no gropes, no security scores, no expansion of data sharing.
    Only total adherence to the Bill of Rights of the United States
    Constitution and Privacy protection laws will be allowed! This is
    nothing short of another power grab and profiling of citizens by the
    Federal Government. Absolutely not I vote NO on the expansion of Secure

    • Marie Shively

      Just wanted to let you know that I borrowed part of your post in my comment to the DHS/TSA comments site. I could not have said it any better!

  • Susan Richart

    I still want to know who “certain non-travelers” are and the TSA gets information on non-travelers.