Published: Thu, August 02, 2018
Markets | By Otis Pena

Air marshals have secretly monitored U.S. passengers for years, report says

Air marshals have secretly monitored U.S. passengers for years, report says

Questions are being raised over a new American airport security program where USA air marshals shadow the movements of ordinary domestic passengers and report suspicious behaviour, such as repeated trips to the bathroom, to the Transport Security Administration (TSA).

"I am troubled by reports that the TSA is tracking U.S. citizens who are not suspected of any crime and then monitoring seemingly innocuous behavior such as whether a person slept on their plane, used the bathroom, or obtained a rental vehicle", Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, wrote Monday in a letter to the agency that included a number of questions about the program.

The TSA launched Quiet Skies in March, but the public is just hearing about it now thanks to a July 29 report by The Boston Globe, which obtained TSA bulletins on the program and talked to air marshals involved in it.

The TSA acknowledged to NBC News that the program exists but said it's "not meant to surveil ordinary Americans" or factor in race or religion in its judgments. The program, which launched in March, uses armed federal air marshals to covertly monitor how USA citizens behave on commercial domestic flights.

A government surveillance program that secretly monitors Americans on domestic flights, even if they are not suspected of any crime and have no ties to terrorism, is being questioned by civil liberties advocates and the general public.

Here's how the program works: All U.S. citizens are subjected to screenings, and thousands of Americans have already been surveilled. "The sole goal of this program officially is to ensure passengers and flight crew are protected during their air travel".

"[It] effectively adds an additional line of defense to aviation security", the statement said.

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An air marshal source told CNN some marshals have concerns about the program, saying focusing on passengers who "look suspicious" pulls the marshals away from their mission of protecting the cockpit because they are keeping up surveillance of the individual.

A spokesman for the agency said that if a passenger's behaviour is uneventful and the flight goes smoothly, they will not be approached or arrested.

The Marshals then observe the people for behavioral cues that have been previously associated with those of terrorists.

About 40 to 50 passengers are tracked every day on domestic flights under thr program, but TSA officials said individuals are not targeted based on race or nationality. The document leaked to the Globe says the program specifically targets travelers who are not on terrorist watch lists and are not under investigation by any agency. When a passenger is selected for Quiet Skies monitoring, a team of air marshals is placed on their flight and provided details including their place of birth. "These concerns are all the more acute because of TSA's track record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor travelers who have done nothing wrong".

"We're seeing examples of the TSA following around people who are in no way significantly suspect".

In light of these constitutional concerns being raised, TSA still maintains the program has strong oversight from legal and civil liberty experts, adding that Congress has even been briefed on the program four times in the last two months.

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