Junaid M. Afeef
4 minute read
July 30, 2018

"Quiet Skies" Screening Raises Civil Liberties and Profiling Concerns with Civil Liberties Experts

The Boston Globe recently broke the story on “Quiet Skies” where Federal air marshals are “following ordinary US citizens not suspected of a crime or on any terrorist watch list and collecting extensive information about their movements and behavior under a new domestic surveillance program.” The Boston Globe notes that the program is being criticized within the Transportation Security Administration as well.

The Boston Globe noted that:

Since this initiative launched in March, dozens of air marshals have raised concerns about the Quiet Skies program with senior officials and colleagues, sought legal counsel, and expressed misgivings about the surveillance program, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Globe.

The behavioral checklist reprinted by the Boston Globe identifies six (6) topical areas with numerous “behaviors” under each category that a federal air marshal is to keep track of as she or he watches a person targeted for surveillance. The topical areas are:

  • Subject was abnormally aware of surroundings
  • Subject exhibited behavioral indicators
  • Subject’s appearance was different from information provided
  • Subject slept during the flight
  • General observations
  • For domestic arrivals only

Law enforcement officers are trained to observe the communities they serve and protect and to follow up on observations that raise a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Whether the same is being done through the “Quiet Skies” remains to be seen.

In a follow up story by the Washington Post, TSA spokesman James O. Gregory is quoted as saying the following:

We are no different than the cop on the corner who is placed there because there is an increased possibility that something might happen. When you’re in a tube at 30,000 feet… it makes sense to put someone there.

One does not have to be a target of a federal criminal investigation to be selected for surveillance under the “Quiet Skies” program according to the news reports. Similarly, a person on the street does not have to be a target of a criminal investigation to be stopped and questioned by the police either. On the street,once the questioning ends and there is no basis for further questions the person on the street can move on. In the case of the “Quiet Skies” surveillance there does not seem to be any opportunity to for a target to explain why he dropped a lot of weight (crossfit and a Keto diet perhaps?) or the reason for her “cold penetrating stare” (her job is on the chopping block and she’s sitting at her gate lost in thought about what’s next perhaps?). And with the “Quiet Skies” surveillance the observations on an individual presumably gets recorded and saved in a data file.

The program raises a lot of questions. At what point does that file get purged? How does an individual exonerate himself from the suspicion of being a potential terrorist? What could go wrong with a data file on people who are not accused of committing any crimes, but have been identified as possibly being affiliated with terrorism of some type?

The current lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department over its gang database which is alleged by the plaintiffs to contain out of date and racially skewed information on thousands of people resulting in one of the plaintiffs allegedly being repeatedly stopped and harrassed by the police may be helpful for comparison purposes and to see what could go wrong.

In addition to civil liberties advocates, the “Quiet Skies” surveillance program is being questions by terrorism experts as well: