Political correctness at TSA checkpoints doesn’t fly

tsaThere is a crisis in airport security on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security argued with the airline industry over whose fees were more responsible for the insanely long lines at TSA checkpoints. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson called on the airlines to drop their fees for checked baggage this summer so flyers would bring fewer carry-on bags. The airlines said the TSA should drop its $85 fee to sign up for the speedier TSA PreCheck program.

In Europe, terrorism appears to have claimed an EgyptAir A320 that took off from Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris and vanished from radar over the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s likely that both the unreasonable delays at U.S. airports and the loss of the EgyptAir plane were caused by the same thing: the politically correct insistence that every passenger is equally likely to be a terrorist.

Since the 9/11 attacks, airport security has focused on two things: knowing who’s on the plane, and knowing what’s in the luggage.

The problem in the U.S. is caused by too much of the second, and the EgyptAir incident may have been caused by not enough of the first.

This spring, as thousands of Americans missed their flights due to TSA backups, the European parliament was still debating whether to allow the collection and sharing of airline reservation data by adopting a Passenger Name Record directive.

The Council of the European Union finally adopted the PNR in April. But the 28 member nations of the EU have two years to implement it. France had been planning to begin testing of the system this summer.

Why did Europe wait so long to start a PNR system? French Prime Minister Manuel Valls pressed hard for …

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CARTOON: Personal Data Protection

data cartoon

Oakland council to vote on surveillance camera limits

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

The Oakland City Council will vote Tuesday on a set of rules to ensure that surveillance cameras at the Port of Oakland could not become — as was once planned across the city — an Orwellian spy system intruding on the privacy of people in and around the port.

The camera network known as the Domain Awareness Center has been controversial since 2013, when it was envisioned as a way to help police and first responders keep watch over the entire city, aggregating footage from traffic cameras, license-plate readers and the city’s gunshot detection system, ShotSpotter, along with data from police records.

That idea was abandoned last year after activists disrupted and even shut down City Council meetings, accusing the city of trampling on their First Amendment rights. …

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Cellphone Surveillance Pursued by Silicon Valley Sheriffs

It’s not just the immense amount of information collected by such tech giants as Apple, Google and Facebook that is riling privacy advocates. Now the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department is seeking new cellphone surveillance technology — paid for by federal funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

With time running short on the availability of DHS grant money, and bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for advancing new phone protections, critics accused Santa Clara County officials of haste and overreach.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith found herself at the center of the dispute, which revolves around her request to the county’s Board of Supervisors for a portable surveillance system commonly known as “Stingray” (pictured above).

According to Ars Technica, “The same company that exclusively manufacturers the Stingray — Florida-based Harris Corporation — has for years been selling government agencies an entire range of secretive mobile phone surveillance technologies from a catalogue that it conceals from the public on national security grounds.”

For the Silicon Valley situation, the San Francisco Chronicle explained, “The device is said to mimic a cell tower, allowing authorities to track cellphones and pinpoint their location.” Stingray equipment ran a tab of over $500,000 — costs that could be covered by Homeland Security grants acquired by the county two years ago.

Skepticism on the Board of Supervisors has contributed to cops’ sense of urgency. Supervisor Sen. Joe Simitian, a former state senator, told the Contra Costa Times he knew about the potential Stingray deal since December. “I’m a little disappointed if they’re trying to hurry this up because the grant is going to expire,” he said. “It would have been nice to have been told about this a year ago.”

Stingray technology is already used in Alameda County and the cities of San Jose and San Francisco, with agencies around the San Diego and Los Angeles areas also getting into the act. But Simitian has spoken out about the value of more internal deliberation and resident input, criticizing Santa Clara sheriffs for holding a single, brief public meeting on the matter.

Legal questions

Challenges to Santa Clara’s plans haven’t just focused on the technology itself. Although some federal legislators have recently reintroduced a bill designed to bring some constraints to how cellphones can be monitored, for now police departments have enjoyed wide latitude in choosing how to proceed.

In Congress, the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act was recently rolled out by a bipartisan group including Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Designed to protect individuals’ cellphones from excessive intrusion by law enforcement or others, the act would require a warrant from police before using technology like Stingray to track locations.

“GPS data can be a valuable tool for law enforcement,” said Wyden in a statement, “but our laws need to keep up with technology and set out exactly when and how the government can collect Americans’ electronic location data.”

Santa Clara sheriffs, meanwhile, have tried to frame their broader approach in reasonable terms. The sheriff’s office announced its intended use of stingray technology “triangulates on a mobile phone only, and does not monitor, eavesdrop, or intercept conversations or data such as texts,” Ars Technica reported.

According to the Chronicle, Sheriff Smith tried to emphasize the potential benefits to allowing her office to set limits on its own:

“Smith … said the device will be used only ‘to acquire criminal-activity data to aid in apprehension and prosecution,’ and not to ‘observe community members.’ She said the device could help her deputies — and officers from other nearby agencies — find missing people and victims of human trafficking.

“But the department has no finalized policy for using the technology, and officials do not plan to seek public approval of a policy when it is completed.”

Changing expectations

That put California’s longstanding privacy and civil liberty advocates up in arms. “Because Stingrays are capable of dragnet secretive surveillance, they raise serious privacy issues and necessitate robust oversight by citizens, elected leaders and the judiciary,” wrote Matt Cagle of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The ‘just trust us’ approach to surveillance doesn’t cut it, especially when the surveillance is close to home. Yet the public’s ability to learn about and debate surveillance technology should not depend on the good will of law enforcement agencies – it should be incorporated into our democratic processes.”

Pending legislation, however, expectations for change have been blunted by events at the federal level.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, for years the U.S. Department of Justice has been using Stingray technology in a once-secret airborne surveillance program.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com