TSA's 'Quiet Skies' program raises legal and civil liberty questions


Recently revealed program has been tracking US citizens, even those who are not on a terrorist watch list or suspected of a crime.

"Quiet Skies" is a program that has been in existence since 2010, but came under fire after a report this weekend by the Boston Globe.

The bulletin indicates the program is meant to diminish threats to commercial flights posed by "unknown or partially known terrorists".

Under a sensitive, previously undisclosed programme called "Quiet Skies", the TSA has since 2010 tasked marshals to identify passengers who raise flags because of travel histories or other factors and conduct secret observations of their actions - including behaviour as common as sweating heavily or using the restroom repeatedly - as they fly between U.S. destinations.

TSA documents show there are about 40 to 50 passengers on domestic flights that fall under Quiet Skies criteria each day.

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If a flyer is on the list for a certain amount of time and travels without incident, they are automatically removed from the list.

Travellers are not notified when they have been added to the "Quiet Skies" list, which United States media report contains fewer than 50 people.

He also defended the role of the air marshal program, calling it "necessary if we're going to avoid another 9/11".

Whistleblower Robert MacLean is an air marshal who was awarded protected whistleblower status after he raised concerns about agency practices in 2003.

Spokeswoman Michelle Negron said the program "doesn't take into account race and religion, and it is not meant to surveil ordinary Americans". According to the Globe, officials look for such behaviors in those who are under surveillance as being abnormally aware of surroundings; exhibiting behavioral indicators such as excessive fidgeting, excessive perspiration, rapid eye blinking, rubbing or wringing of hands; with an appearance that was different than information provided; or if the person slept during the flight.

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"The program absolutely isn't meant to surveil ordinary Americans", TSA officials said in a statement.

"The program analyzes information on a passenger's travel patterns while taking the whole picture into account", Gregory added.

The TSA said the program is not targeting ordinary Americans. As The Boston Globe's report made the rounds on Sunday and Monday, some privacy experts expressed concerns that the Quiet Skies initiative could cross a line if it is too selective in who it targets.

Vox cited John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association as saying, "The American public would be better served if [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".

Legal experts like George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley said the program raises serious privacy concerns and issue warnings about creating a "fishbowl society where citizens feel that they are under constant surveillance and observation". "But if it's USA citizens - US citizens don't lose their rights simply because they are in an airplane at 30,000 feet", George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

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"If this was about foreign citizens, the government would have considerable power".