PUBLISHED: 16:10 EST, 22 October 2013 | UPDATED: 17:26 EST, 22 October 2013
The Transportation Security Administration is expanding its searches to check a number of personal records before passengers even arrive at the airport, newly released documents have revealed.
The TSA already checks travelers against a terrorist watch list, but it will now reportedly start profiling them based on previous travel, property records, employment information and car registrations.
This will lead to a full background check – meaning much lighter screenings for some, but more invasive baggage checks in the terminal for others.
Scrutiny: Abdulla Darrat, who said he is singled out for extra security when he flies. The TSA is expanding its screening of travelers before they arrive at the airport by searching government and private databases
Stopped: His boarding card is marked with ‘SSSS’ and he is pulled over for an extensive baggage check and swabbing for explosives. He assumes it is because he traveled to Libya to see relatives
The prescreening, some of which is already taking place, has been detailed in documents the TSA released to comply with government regulations about the collection of data, the New York Times reported.
It means that the TSA can access a wide range of records, the Times reported, including tax identification number, past travel itineraries, property records, physical characteristics and law enforcement records.
THE URBAN PLANNER SCRUTINIZED EVERY TIME HE TRAVELS
Abdulla Darrat, an urban planner from Queens, told the Times he has had to undergo extra scrutiny all eight times he has flown since June.
He is unable to check in online and instead gets a boarding card at the airport – which is marked with ‘SSSS’ for extra screening.
‘They pat me down,’ he said. ‘Then they pull out every single article of clothing in my bag.’
After his baggage is swabbed for explosive residue, he is often stopped at the gate too.
‘It adds this whole air of suspicion about me to everybody on the plane,’ he said.
He said he has assumed the checks are because he had flown to Libya to see relatives.
For travelers who feel they have been wrongly placed on a watch list, the Department of Homeland Security has established a Traveler Redress Inquiry Program to file a complaint.
‘A lot of people I know have tried it,’ Darrat, 31, said. ‘And it just doesn’t really make a difference.’
The aim of the new checks is that one in four passengers can eventually undergo lighter screening – meaning they can keep on their shoes and jackets, wait in special lines and do not have to take laptops out of bags.
This PreCheck system, which is possible after the traveler submits their fingerprints and undergoes a criminal-background check, will lighten the workload for TSA agents too, the agency believes.
But there are concerns over who will get access to the information once it is provided in this PreCheck system – and over how little control the passenger will have.
Privacy notices say the information could be shared with federal, state and local authorities, foreign governments, law enforcement and intelligence agencies – and in some cases, private companies.
A recent privacy notice about PreCheck added that fingerprints submitted by people who apply for the program will be used by the FBI to check its unsolved crimes database.
Privacy advocates have also said they are worried that the checks will lead to profiling individuals based on their past travel patterns.
New searches: The TSA already checks travelers against a terrorist watch list, but it will now start profiling them based on travel, property records, employment information and car registrations
‘I think the best way to look at it is as a pre-crime assessment every time you fly,’ Edward Hasbrouck, a consultant to the Identity Project, told the Times.
‘The default will be the highest, most intrusive level of search, and anything less will be conditioned on providing some additional information in some fashion.’
Other critics have expressed their concerns over the assessments relying on algorithms rather than human judgment to decide who poses a risk and who does not.
It comes at a difficult time for the TSA, which has recently come under fire for apparently increasingly political screenings. Last week, Israeli cryptographer Adi Shamir was denied entry to the U.S. for an NSA-sponsored cryptography conference.
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