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US Civil Liberties

Airport and Immigration Security

Project: US Civil Liberties
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS)‘s Automated Targeting System begins assigning terrorism risk scores to American and foreign citizens crossing US borders. The scores, generated by government computers, are supposed to approximate the risk that the travelers are terrorists or criminals. They are reportedly based on analysis of travelers’ “travel records and other data, including items such as where they are from, how they paid for tickets, their motor vehicle records, past one-way travel, seating preference and what kind of meal they ordered,” according to the Associated Press. The government plans to keep these scores on file for 40 years. Travelers are not permitted to challenge, or even see, their risk scores. DHS says the program is “one of the most advanced targeting systems in the world” and insists that without this data the nation’s ability to identify security threats “would be critically impaired.” [Associated Press, 11/30/2006; Associated Press, 12/1/2006] Critics of the initiative say the program violates the appropriations bill for the agency which prohibits “assigning risk to passengers whose names are not on government watch lists.” [Associated Press, 12/7/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Automated Targeting System

Category Tags: Privacy, Airport and Immigration Security, Citizenship Rights

Beginning at least by this time, some political activists begin noticing they are being subjected to extra surveillance and security checks when flying in the US. Numerous government agencies later admit they are using a “no fly” list that bans certain people from flying. The government says about 1,000 names are on the list. It is also admitted that there is a second list that subjects anyone on it to increased security every time they fly. A number of agencies, including the CIA, FBI, INS, and State Department, admit that they have added names to such lists, but no agency admits controlling the list. There are no guidelines to determine who gets on the lists and no procedures for getting off a list if someone is wrongfully on it. Airport security personnel note that the lists seem to be netting mostly priests, elderly nuns, Green Party campaign operatives, left-wing journalists, right-wing activists, and people affiliated with Arab or Arab-American groups. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/27/2002; Salon, 11/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, US Department of State

Category Tags: Privacy, Airport and Immigration Security

US Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) requests information from the Justice Department about the arrest of an alleged illegal alien smuggler from US Attorney Carol Lam (see November 8, 2002), the federal prosecutor who works the Southern California district. Issa asks for information about Lam’s decision not to prosecute Antonio Amparo-Lopez, who was arrested on suspicion of “alien smuggling” over the US-Mexican border. [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file] Issa was quoted in a December 2003 article in the Riverside, California, Press-Enterprise entitled “Border Agents Face Uphill Fight,” in which the Justice Department was criticized for not prosecuting immigrant smugglers frequently enough. Shortly thereafter, the same newspaper published an article detailing how one such smuggler, Amparo-Lopez, was arrested at a border checkpoint but was subsequently released. Lam will respond to Issa in mid-March, requesting that he direct his inquiries to the Justice Department in Washington. On May 24, Issa will receive a letter from Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, stating, “Based upon all of the facts and circumstances of his arrest, the United States Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Mr. Amparo-Lopez.” [National Review, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: William E. Moschella, US Department of Justice, Darrell E. Issa, Carol C. Lam, Antonio Amparo-Lopez, Riverside Press-Enterprise

Category Tags: Airport and Immigration Security, 2006 US Attorney Firings

US Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) and 13 other representatives sign a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft protesting the Justice Department’s policy towards prosecuting “alien smugglers,” or “coyotes,” who bring illegal immigrants across the US-Mexican border. Issa, who wrote the letter, says that the DOJ should adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy towards “alien smuggling” and should prosecute everyone accused of such a crime. Issa refers to decisions by US Attorney Carol Lam of the District of Southern California (see November 8, 2002) not to prosecute persons charged with the crime of “alien smuggling,” and references the case of Antonio Amparo-Lopez as an example of a “missed opportunity” to prosecute such an alleged criminal (see February 2, 2004). Issa writes: “It is unfortunate and unacceptable that anyone in the Department of Justice would deem alien smuggling, on any level or by any person, too low of a priority to warrant prosecution in a timely fashion. In our view, a lack of available resources for prosecution is not a valid reason for a decision not to prosecute and, in fact, would signify a mismanagement of your department’s priorities.” [US Department of Justice, 3/23/2007 pdf file] Issa represents California’s 49th District, which centers on San Diego and is part of Lam’s federal district. [Healthy City, 8/2011 pdf file] Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will send Issa a brief reply defending the Justice Department’s prosecution practices (see (December 30, 2004)). Issa’s spokesperson Frederick Hill will later tell columnist Byron York: “We were stumped in terms of getting information to explain the scope of the problem. We put the word out on the street that we were interested in getting more information about this.” York later writes, “Issa was hoping for a tip—perhaps from someone inside a law-enforcement organization—to give him the information he had been seeking.” [National Review, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Frederick Hill, Antonio Amparo-Lopez, Byron York, Darrell E. Issa, William E. Moschella, Carol C. Lam, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Airport and Immigration Security, 2006 US Attorney Firings

A Justice Department review of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center discovers that the terrorist watch list used to screen people entering the US is based on incomplete and inaccurate information. The report also criticizes the poor technical performance of the facility. In the report, Inspector General Glenn Fine writes, “While the [Terrorist Screening Database] is constantly evolving, we found that the management of its information technology, a critical part of the terrorist screening process, has been deficient.” The Justice Department also warns that missing or duplicate information hinders the usefulness of the lists. Fine states that: “We found instances where the consolidated database did not contain names that should have been included on the watch list. In addition, we found inaccurate information related to persons included in the database.” [The Register, 6/14/2005] The problems will not be corrected by 2006 (see March 2006).

Entity Tags: Glenn Fine, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Terrorist Screening Center, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Airport and Immigration Security, Gov't Violations of Prisoner Rights

The US interagency National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) maintains a watch list of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects, a number that has more than quadrupled since the the list was created in 2003 by merging other watch lists together. NCTC officials estimate that, due to aliases, some 200,000 individuals are represented on the list. The main US watch list at the time of 9/11 had 60,000 names on it (see December 11, 1999). An administration official says, “The vast majority are non-US persons and do not live in the US.” However, officials refuse to state how many on the list are US citizens and how many names on the list were obtained through the controversial wiretapping program run by the National Security Agency (NSA). Civil liberties and privacy advocates claim that the scale of the list heightens their concerns that watch lists include the names of large numbers of innocent people. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he cannot discuss specifics but says, “Information is collected, information is retained, and information disseminated in a way to protect the privacy interests of all Americans.” A September 2003 presidential directive instructs agencies to supply data for the list only about people who are “known or appropriately suspected to be… engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the scope of the NCTC list highlights the “false positive” problem, in which innocent people have been stopped from flying because their names are wrongly included or are similar to suspects’ names. “If there are that many people on the list, a lot of them probably shouldn’t be there. But how are they ever going to get off?” [Washington Post, 2/15/2006] Numerous problems with the list will be found in 2006 (see March 2006).

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, National Counterterrorism Center, Terror Screening Center, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Airport and Immigration Security

Six American Muslim religious leaders (imams) are forced off of a US Airways jetliner soon after boarding. The plane was scheduled to leave around the time of evening prayers and the imams decided to pray off to the side of the gate before boarding. This apparently made some passengers nervous and they reported it to a flight attendant who then, with the captain, asked the six Muslims to leave the plane. When they refused, the police were called and they were led away in handcuffs. [Associated Press, 11/21/2006]

Category Tags: Airport and Immigration Security

The Electronic Frontier Foundation files a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to obtain more information about a secret program called the Automated Targeting System (ATS) (see 2002 and After). This program allows the government to assign terror risk numbers to American citizens who enter or leave the US. The suit demands an expedited response to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed earlier in the month. Frontier Foundation Senior Counsel David Sobel says, “DHS needs to provide answers, and provide them quickly, to the millions of law-abiding citizens who are worried about this ‘risk assessment’ score that will follow them throughout their lives.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 12/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Airport and Immigration Security

2007: US Citizens Harassed by Customs

The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) receives over twenty complaints from Northern California residents reporting excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents upon their entering the country. The residents say they have been interrogated about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, and political associations when they returned from traveling abroad, regardless of their First Amendment rights. The residents say their books, business cards, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories were examined and sometimes copied. When they complained, some of them were told, according to the ALC, “This is the border, and you have no rights.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008]
Interrogation at the Border - Nabila Mango, a US citizen from San Francisco, returns from a trip to Jordan in December 2007. She will say she is told by customs officials at San Francisco International Airport to list every person she met and every place she slept. Her Arabic music books, business cards, and cell phone are examined, and she believes some of her documents are copied. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Her daughter tries repeatedly to call her on her cell phone during the interrogation, but Mango finds that customs officials erased the records of her calls. [Washington Post, 2/7/2008] “In my 40 years in this country, I have never felt as vulnerable as I did during that interrogation,” Mango will say. “I want to find out whether my government is keeping files on me and other Americans based on our associations and ideas.” A California citizen, Amir Khan, will also say he is stopped and interrogated every time he returns to the country. He has his laptop, cell phone, and personal notebooks searched. He is never told why he is being singled out. “One customs officer even told me that no matter what I do, nothing would improve,” he will say. “Why do I have to part with my civil liberties each time I return home?” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Software engineer Kamran Habib, a permanent US resident, has his laptop and cell phone searched three times in 2007. Now, Habib says, “every time I travel, I basically clean out my phone. It’s better for me to keep my colleagues and friends safe than to get them on the list as well.”
Search and Seizure - Maria Udy, a marketing executive in Bethesda, Maryland, will say her company laptop is seized by a federal agent as she attempts to fly from Washington’s Dulles International Airport to London. Udy, a British citizen, is told by the agent that he has “a security concern” with her. “I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight,” she will recall. Udy is told that it is standard procedure to keep the computer for 10 to 15 days; over a year later, her laptop will not have been returned, and she will not be given any explanation. A tech engineer who wishes to remain anonymous will say he has a similar experience in the same airport months earlier. The engineer, a US citizen, says a federal agent requires him to open up his laptop and type in his password. “This laptop doesn’t belong to me,” he protests. “It belongs to my company.” He has little choice; he logs on, and the agent copies down every Web site he had visited on the laptop. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE)‘s Susan Gurley will say her organization has filed its own FOIA request to find out what happened to seized laptops and other electronic devices. “Is it destroyed right then and there if the person is in fact just a regular business traveler?” she asks. “People are quite concerned. They don’t want proprietary business information floating, not knowing where it has landed or where it is going. It increases the anxiety level.” The ALC’s Shiran Sinnar says that by examining the websites people visit and the phone numbers they store, “the government is going well beyond its traditional role of looking for contraband and really is looking into the content of people’s thoughts and ideas and their lawful political activities.” Legal experts say that if conducted inside the country, such searches would require a warrant and probable cause. The government insists that a laptop is legally the same as a suitcase, and can be opened and examined essentially at will. Law professor David Cole disagrees: “It’s one thing to say it’s reasonable for government agents to open your luggage. It’s another thing to say it’s reasonable for them to read your mind and everything you have thought over the last year. What a laptop records is as personal as a diary but much more extensive. It records every website you have searched. Every email you have sent. It’s as if you’re crossing the border with your home in your suitcase.” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]

The FBI terrorist watch list now includes over half a million names, which civil liberties advocates say limits its usefulness. Although the actual content of the list is classified, the FBI’s 2008 budget request refers to “the entire watch list of 509,000 names,” which is utilized by its Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. It is common for many names on the list to be associated with one individual. The FBI foreign and domestic terror watch list, combined with the interagency National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC) list of suspected international terrorists, comprise the watch list used by federal security screening personnel on the lookout for terrorists. The NCTC refuses to reveal how many US citizens are on the list (see February 15, 2006). ACLU senior legislative counsel Tim Sparapani says the FBI watch list “grows seemingly without control or limitation. If we have 509,000 names on that list, the watch list is virtually useless.” Internal reviews of the list by the US Terrorist Screening Center have previously found the list to be incomplete and inaccurate (see June 14, 2005). Reviews of versions of the list reveal the names of US lawmakers; former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, imprisoned at the time of review; al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui, also imprisoned; and 14 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, all deceased (see March 2006). [ABC News (The Blotter), 6/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Timothy Sparapani, Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Category Tags: Airport and Immigration Security

Two civil liberties organizations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), file a joint lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security. The two organizations file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and demand that DHS make available its records on the questioning and searches of lawful travelers through US borders. The suit follows a large number of complaints by US citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have spoken out about what they term excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents (see 2007). ALC’s Shirin Sinnar says, “When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation’s doorstep. The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process.” EFF’s Marcia Hofmann agrees, saying, “The public has the right to know what the government’s standards are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information. When will agents read your email? When do they copy data, where is it stored, and for how long? How will this information follow you throughout your life? The secrecy surrounding border search policies means that DHS has no accountability to America’s travelers.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] The lawsuit demands the public release of DHS’s policies on border searches and interrogations. It also demands an explanation as to how far government agents can go in questioning and searching citizens who are not suspected of any crime. The question of whether federal agents have the right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.
Racial or Religious Profiling? - Almost all of the complaints come from travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent. Many of the complainants believe they were targeted because of racial or religious profiling. US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger denies the charge. It is not her agency’s “intent to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny,” she says, and adds that a laptop may be seized if it contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity. However, a Customs officers training guide says that “it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual’s connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity.” Law professor David Cole asks, “What’s the difference between that and targeting people because they are Arab or Muslim?” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, US Customs and Border Protection, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Asian Law Caucus, David D. Cole, Marcia Hofmann, US Department of Homeland Security, Shirin Sinnar

Category Tags: Detainments in US, Airport and Immigration Security, Privacy, Impositions on Rights and Freedoms, Government Classification

Michael Futi.Michael Futi. [Source: Honolulu Advertiser]A 14-day old child dies after he and his mother are locked in a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secure room at Honolulu International Airport. Luaipou Futi flew her son, Michael Tony Futi, from their home in American Samoa for heart surgery. Michael becomes increasingly distressed in the hot room; his mother and a nurse who accompanied them to Hawaii, Arizona Veavea, bang on the door and shout for help. While the baby struggles to breathe and the two women beg for someone to call 911, people on the other side order them to stay calm and refuse to let them out. After 30 minutes of pleading, the door is opened. Fifteen minutes later, city paramedics take Michael to the Moana-lua Medical Center. Michael dies later in the morning. A translator, Simamao Nofoa, says of Mrs. Futi: “She was so happy—the minute she got on that plane—because she knew her baby was coming here…. They were the first ones out of the plane. If they would let them come immediately, her baby would have still been here. Her son would have still been alive. She’s heartbroken. She can’t eat. She can’t sleep…. She’s traumatized.” The Futis were scheduled to go directly from the hospital to Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women and Children, where Michael was scheduled to be hospitalized. But immigration officials detained the Futis for some apparent problem with Mrs. Futi’s visa waiver form. A lawyer retained by Mrs. Futi, Rick Fried, says all of their travel documents were in order, and shows the documents as proof. Veavea says that she tried to explain to the DHS officials that the baby was ill and needed immediate medical treatment, and asked if she and the baby can be released while officials dealt with Mrs. Futi’s documents. The officials refused, and detained everyone. Fried says: “Even if they had a valid cause for holding the mother of the baby… there is absolutely no basis for holding the baby or the baby’s nurse, who traveled with no luggage.… [T]he baby and the nurse are naturalized American citizens and have a US passport.” Fried also notes that airport personnel should have taken notice that Michael flew from Samoa to Hawaii while hooked up to an oxygen tank. [Honolulu Advertiser, 2/13/2008]

Entity Tags: Simamao Nofoa, Arizona Veavea, Michael Tony Futi, US Department of Homeland Security, Rick Fried, Luaipou Futi

Category Tags: Detainments in US, Airport and Immigration Security

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