By Hugh Handeyside
The Transportation Security Administration is engaging in covert surveillance of innocent fliers — and raising a host of disturbing questions in the process.
Internal TSA documents uncovered by The Boston Globe reveal that under a program called “Quiet Skies,” every day federal air marshals are tracking and shadowing dozens of U.S. citizens who are not under investigation or suspected of any actual wrongdoing.
The documents show that the TSA is using secret criteria that include travel patterns and specific behaviors to determine which travelers to target. The marshals then secretly follow the passengers and document their conduct in granular detail, going so far as to fly with them on subsequent flights. The agency retains the marshals’ observations and reports in its internal files.
The red flags here are plentiful. First, federal law enforcement shouldn’t be tracking and monitoring travelers and then logging detailed information about them without any basis to believe that they’ve done anything wrong. That the TSA appears to be doing exactly that through the Quiet Skies program is at once troubling and illogical — it needlessly invades the privacy of thousands of Americans while flooding the agency’s databases with useless information on innocent activity.
This program also raises serious constitutional concerns. If the TSA’s secret targeting criteria rely on race or religion, it could amount to unconstitutional profiling.