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ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches (techcrunch.com) 115

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration over its alleged practices of searching the electronic devices of passengers traveling on domestic flights. "The federal government's policies on searching the phones, laptops, and tablets of domestic air passengers remain shrouded in secrecy," ACLU Foundation of Northern California attorney Vasudha Talla said in a blog post. "TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search," Talla added. "We don't know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don't know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices. Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant." TechCrunch reports: The lawsuit, which is directed toward the TSA field offices in San Francisco and its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, specifically asks the TSA to hand over records related to its policies, procedures and/or protocols pertaining to the search of electronic devices. This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically. The ACLU also wants to know what equipment the TSA uses to search, examine and extract any data from passengers' devices, as well as what kind of training TSA officers receive around screening and searching the devices. The ACLU says it first filed FOIA requests back in December, but TSA "subsequently improperly withheld the requested records," the ACLU wrote in a blog post today.
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ACLU Sues TSA Over Electronic Device Searches

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  • Electronic devices (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AHuxley ( 892839 )
    Who would risk "electronic devices" in any setting thats got security and that US courts have talked about what can be searched over generations?
    Stop taking private and business related sensitive "electronic devices" to areas where a search can be expected and a search is legal.
    US courts have been asked every generation to offer protections, the right to a lawyer, to courts, to not have a bag searched, to not be questioned, to not have electronic devices questioned.
    Every generation expects "airports" to
    • by msauve ( 701917 )

      Who would risk "electronic devices" in any setting thats got security and that US courts have talked about what can be searched over generations?

      Aldous,

      Lay off the Soma for a while, and come back when you're able to write coherent sentences.

      Thank you,
      The Anti World State

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        By the way, searching is the lie, installing software when you are not looking is the reality. Soon as that phone leaves you sight sell it, if you want your privacy back and make no mistake. They want to take you phone, simply refuse and catch the next flight, you digital life, you are the only person who has rights to it, don't say no and not only are you selling yourself out but in the most gutless fashion imaginable selling out all future generations, why, cowardice. When they ask what do you need to kee

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          ...searching is the lie, installing software when you are not looking is the reality.

          Do you have anything to back that up? Sounds paranoid.

          They want to take you phone, simply refuse and catch the next flight...

          Right. Because they're going to change the rules between the flight you booked and the next one. Let me know how that works out. I've got shit to do and I'm not going to explain to my customer that I'm a day late because I didn't want TSA to see my selfies.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated" is pretty god-damned mother-fucking clear-as-crystal. So pardon the shit out of my mother-fucking french for expecting the god-damned government to get a mother-fucking warrant first.
      • IANAL, but my understanding is that courts have found that searches at borders or airports are reasonable.

        • by dwillden ( 521345 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @04:55AM (#56251145) Homepage
          Searches at borders by Customs when you are crossing said border are considered reasonable. They have a duty and a law enforcement roll to ensure that our borders are secure and that you are not bringing illegal or pirated content into this country.

          The TSA has no such ruling, they have no such scope of operations. Their job is to screen for weapons, nothing more. They are not a law enforcement agency. They have no basis or cause to be searching electronic devices for anything. But they are getting away with it because people can't usually afford to miss a flight.
          • by Salgak1 ( 20136 )

            Homeland Security defines "the border" as anywhere within 100 miles of any border or shoreline. . .

            https://www.aclu.org/know-your... [aclu.org]

            • Again, reading comprehension. This is the TSA not Customs. Customs gets away with searches in the buffer zone. The TSA has no mission or business searching the contents of electronic devices.
              • Two-thirds of Americans live within 100 miles of a border. [aclu.org]

                Including the entire states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Florida, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Hawaii, and virtually all of Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and most of inhabited California.

                And Washington DC in its entirety, but that's not a state.

                This may not include a sliver of Vermont, though I doubt TSA will let the fly fishers off so easily.

                • The Buffer zone only applies to Customs searches, NOT the TSA. The TSA has no authority to search for law enforcement or customs duties purposes. The Buffer zone is irrelevant. This is about the TSA.
                  • Prove that. The ACLU is arguing about this now, and that is the point of the FOIA requests, because as I pointed out two-thirds of Americans, by residence, can be part of the buffer zone, and the TSA is searching devices belonging to passengers on entirely domestic travel, and yet does not explain why.

                    Prove your claim. TSA may well be conducting these searches claiming they are permitted in Title 8, but until they show why we should not assume anything. TSA may well assert they are justified as if they are

          • by Anonymous Coward

            They have a duty and a law enforcement roll

            Is that law enforecement "roll" purchased at Dunkin Donuts?

          • Has anyone here actually had their electonic devices searched on a domestic US flight?

            I've never seen a TSA ever ask to even turn something on, much less try to log on and search the device...?

            • by Nonesuch ( 90847 )

              I average about one domestic flight a week, but never out of SFO (where the ACLU complaint originates from), and have never had TSA "search" an electronic device, usually carrying a smartphone, an e-reader/tablet, and a full-size laptop

              Once or twice TSA has asked to do the "swab" explosives test on a laptop, but that's the extent of their interest in my electronics. I'm not saying the ACLU is overreacting to the TSA announcement of "enhanced scrutiny" for small electronics at the X-Ray belt, but you'd thi

        • by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @05:37AM (#56251211)

          ANAL, but my understanding is that courts have found that searches at borders or airports are reasonable.

          This is not about people traveling on international flights. This is about US citizens traveling on domestic flights within the continental US and never leaving US airspace.

          Neither the TSA nor Customs/Border authorities have the authority to perform any search of domestic travelers, demand ID/papers, or demand that you answer their questions.

          It is quite likely that these searches are ordered quite deliberately only as verbal orders so as not to leave a paper trail for when FOIA requests start rolling in like now. Likely, they just get a phone call from some department, agency, or agent/officer/official requesting they search some person of interest, follow through, and report back by phone without creating any documents revealing the practice of performing unconstitutional searches without a warrant. Stonewalling or otherwise stymieing legitimate FOIA requests and other legitimate requests for documents, even subpoenas from Congress, seems to be quite in vogue for the US government.

          That's what happens when governments get too big and powerful; they start breaking their own laws with impunity while using those same laws as a weapon against opposition and those who would hold them accountable for their crimes.

          The TSA very likely has not provided any responsive documents in response to the ACLU's FOIA request because the policies in question are not of the written variety so they cannot provide that which they deliberately chose not to create.

          None of which should surprise anyone. The federal government has trampled on every one of the 10 rights in the BoR, I'd contend even the 3rd Amendment which forbids the quartering of soldiers. The reason the Third was created was the King would send soldiers to "quarter" in the homes of colonists they suspected of rebellion so the soldiers could search everything and watch everything they did.

          I contend the US government is quartering *digital soldiers* in our devices in the form of the tools and vulnerabilities created or kept quiet in order to perform the same task as the King's soldiers did in spying on the colonists.

          Our freedoms are disappearing quickly. Better wake up and make some noise, as it may already be too late to stop it.

          Strat

          • Title 8, baby.

              8 U.S.C. 1357(a)(1)-(a)(3) among other statutes. Yes, they exceed their authority, but that's what this fight will be about.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              There is no US Code, law, Act, etc that can authorize violating the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. and an unconstitutional law is no law at all.

      • "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated" is pretty god-damned mother-fucking clear-as-crystal. So pardon the shit out of my mother-fucking french for expecting the god-damned government to get a mother-fucking warrant first.

        Here's the problem with your little rant. They know the weakness in your argument and in that particular amendment is in defining the word "unreasonable". If they convince a court that the search is a reasonable one then that whole pesky amendment problem goes away. They don't have to get a warrant if they can convince the courts that what they are doing is reasonable. The entire amendment hinges on what we define the word "unreasonable" to mean and that is the bit under attack.

      • "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated" is pretty god-damned mother-fucking clear-as-crystal.

        "Shall not be violated". "Shall not be infringed". Interesting how the one is regarded as holy writ, while the other is regarded as...well, not really meaning anything.

        Note that I didn't specify which was which. Because, in any given group of people, there'll be some who go the one way and some the ot

  • by AlanObject ( 3603453 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @09:20PM (#56250149)

    I have to travel with my laptop but if I had anything to hide it sure as hell wouldn't be there. Anyone caught at the border with something illegal is an idiot an is destined to be caught.

    Why the hell woudn't they encrypt it, stash it on a server, and downloaded when they get home? Alternatively send it to a home server before you even get on the plane? Then, of course, deep-delete everything.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Thats the only way now.
      The device can be looked at, turned on, questions asked. An empty computer that works is what a business should be supporting until it is safe to use a computer again.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2018 @09:28PM (#56250181)

      Anyone caught at the border

      This is about standard domestic searches NOT the border exception.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        AC searches are searches.
        Domestic searches can be no less aware of security issues given the past US domestic security issues.
        Why would any nation leave the "domestic" side of their security wide open?
        Why would anyone allow domestic travel to be less secure?
        • by Anonymous Coward

          "Why would anyone allow domestic travel to be less secure?"

          First and foremost, FREEDOM you asshole. Secondly, this sad state of security that you support is not sustainable. It costs way too much, offering little protection, and impedes freedom. No one, including the government can protect you all of the time. Wake up to reality.

        • by dwillden ( 521345 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @05:05AM (#56251159) Homepage
          Why? Maybe because such searches are not in the scope or mission of the TSA. The TSA is not a law enforcement agency, they've tried to become one. but have been repeatedly rebuffed. Get caught trying to pass through security with a weapon and they call the airport or local city police to arrest you because they can't.

          They have no business searching any electronic devices. Their mission is simple, screen passengers and their checked luggage for weapons capable of bringing down or hijacking an aircraft. Nothing more.

          This is not a border crossing. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right to Travel freely within and out of this country as one of the non-enumerated fundamental rights of this country. These searches are a massive invasion of our 4th amendment rights and a massive mission creep of an agency that has a very simple job (that they are rather inept at doing).

          They are not Customs which is tasked to control illegal content (pirated IP, Kidde porn etc) from entering the country. They are not a Law enforcement agency (FBI) tasked with trying to stop the existence and movement of illegal content. They are the TSA, tasked with making sure no weapons or bombs get into our airport Secure zones.

          Please explain what content security screeners need to be looking for. What file (that a TSA goon is likely to find) is going to threaten a flight?
        • by Nonesuch ( 90847 )

          AC searches are searches. Domestic searches can be no less aware of security issues given the past US domestic security issues. Why would any nation leave the "domestic" side of their security wide open? Why would anyone allow domestic travel to be less secure?

          No, searches are not searches

          Customs and Border Protection (CBP) searches aren't about securing the plane or airport, they are about the Federal government controlling what enters the country. Traditionally, Customs is limited to searches when crossing the border, though they've managed to redefine "border" to anywhere within 100 miles of any national border.

          Not looking at what kind of pirated software a citizen has on her laptop when taking a domestic flight from San Francisco to Dallas does not make the

    • by Sloppy ( 14984 )

      I have to travel with my laptop but if I had anything to hide it sure as hell wouldn't be there. Anyone caught at the border with something illegal is an idiot an is destined to be caught.

      [Emphasis mine.] Ok, now imagine you don't have anything to hide. What happens then? Do you think that magically prevents the search?

      The government got caught red-handed doing the searches, and they arn't even denying they were doing it. They did the searches before, and independent of, whether or not they found anything i

      • Do you think that magically prevents the search?

        I don't get how you could conclude that I would think something like that.

        The point is that a search -- legal or illegal, consensual or not -- won't find anything if I don't keep anything on there that the law considers contraband or evidence of illegality.

        My other point is there is absolutely no reason to have anything like that on your portable device except stupidity.

  • TSA has ONE job (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2018 @09:21PM (#56250151)

    TSA has ONE job. Keep people from bringing dangerous items on planes. The data on electronic devices doesn't qualify as such. This actually makes flying less safe because it distracts TSA from keeping truly dangerous items off of planes.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Data on electronic devices can show a persons support of and funding for a banned group.
      That they travelled to a nation to support and funded a banned group.
      Photographs, faith based and political support for groups of interest to the USA. Funds for and meetings with people and groups of interest to the USA.
      GPS, images that show the device owner when questioned was in a nation they failed to mention when asked about.
      • Re:TSA has ONE job (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Nonesuch ( 90847 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @10:18PM (#56250343) Homepage Journal

        Data on electronic devices can show a persons support of and funding for a banned group. That they travelled to a nation to support and funded a banned group. Photographs, faith based and political support for groups of interest to the USA. Funds for and meetings with people and groups of interest to the USA. GPS, images that show the device owner when questioned was in a nation they failed to mention when asked about.

        While these are within the scope of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) search [cbp.gov], all of the above are outside the allowed activities of the TSA [tsa.gov].

        The article states " This lawsuit comes after a number of reports came in pertaining to the searches of electronic devices of passengers traveling domestically.... TSA does, however, have public policies pertaining to the search and seizure of electronic devices at the border and during international trips."

        The complaint [aclunc.org] seems to conflate TSA and CBP searches, and alleges TSA is searching the contents of electronic devices held by domestic travelers flying through SFO, but provides no evidence to support this claim.

        • Re:TSA has ONE job (Score:5, Informative)

          by BlueStrat ( 756137 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @10:39PM (#56250411)

          The complaint [aclunc.org] seems to conflate TSA and CBP searches, and alleges TSA is searching the contents of electronic devices held by domestic travelers flying through SFO, but provides no evidence to support this claim.

          A complaint is not the document where evidence is provided. The complainant may well be holding their cards close so that the TSA hasn't the chance to alter, conceal, or destroy additional corroborating evidence they might be currently unaware they possess.

          Not providing evidence in a court complaint filing is normal and not indicative of anything.

          Strat

      • TSA requires a valid ID -- they don't ask for a passport or about international travel.
      • That may be true about what the data may show. But it's outside the TSA's scope and mission. They are NOT law enforcement. It's not their job to find out what people might be planning in the future, or what groups they might support. Their job is simple. Keep weapons and bombs out of the secure areas of airports.

        Even the most radical ISIS believer, if they have no weapons or explosives cannot be refused entry to the secure zone of an airport by TSA. That isn't their job. Their job is to make sure he
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Which all sounds like a really terrible way of detecting people who might want to harm the US.

        A lot of those people are radicalized in "safe" countries. People like ISIS realized that it is much easier to just radicalize people over the internet than to try to cross borders. Cheaper and more effective too. Weapons are everywhere, just hire a truck or buy some kitchen knives.

        On the other hand, you probably want people like journalists and aid workers to be able to visit those countries, and ideally want to a

      • by Sloppy ( 14984 )

        Data on electronic devices can show a persons support of and funding for a banned group.

        Some day I should download this data that you're talking about, and smuggle it onto the plane. Then I'll hit a pilot over the head with it, and the plane will be mine!!

      • Data on electronic devices can show a persons support of and funding for a banned group.

        Yes, that's called a search of your papers and property and requires a warrant.

    • I thought the TSA's job was to shout "PAPERS PLEASE" at Americans to get them used to being watched by their own homegrown Gestpo.
    • TSA has ONE job. Keep people from bringing dangerous items on planes. The data on electronic devices doesn't qualify as such. This actually makes flying less safe because it distracts TSA from keeping truly dangerous items off of planes.

      Just a little devil's avocation here. One the items people often overlook as potentially dangerous is the people themselves. Searching electronic devices could give insights into the person whom owns it. Not saying this is right or even legal to be doing, just pointing out a reasonable justification.

      • by flink ( 18449 )

        Searching electronic devices could give insights into the person whom owns it. Not saying this is right or even legal to be doing, just pointing out a reasonable justification.

        If it's neither ethical nor legal, it's pretty hard to argue that it's reasonable.

      • We require warrants for that, because long ago The People realized kings would filtch through the papers of uppity political opponents to find something minor to tag them with.

        That value-judgement has aready been made and placed in the Constitution.

    • The original justification for turning on a computer at airport security was that it might just be a bomb in a laptop case. That's far less convincing now that you can buy a cheap single-board computer and put both a bomb and a computer in a typical laptop case.
      • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

        It's never been convincing, since anyone can simply trade battery life for illicit cargo capacity. Instead of a nine-cell battery, you can have a three cell battery and 1/3 the run time -- but the machine will still operate just fine for that shorter time. The space formerly occupied by the other six cells can be filled with whatever you like. The risk has gone down over time as the machines get smaller and smaller, thus leaving less space to substitute contents.

  • by mbeckman ( 645148 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @10:15PM (#56250331)
    The TSA's own rules say that you can keep your belongings in sight while they are being inspected. The ACLU said of one woman passenger searched in the security line: "The agents did not ask her to unlock the phones, but took them for at least 10 minutes out of her view, she said, adding that she quickly became distraught." She should have loudly and repeatedly demanded to regain sight of her property. I've done this and gotten them to comply.
    • "Carry On: It is recommended that you keep your belongings in sight during the screening process. If you are carrying or wearing an item that might alarm our officers, requiring additional screening, you may ask that your belongings be brought to you to keep your property in sight." https://www.tsa.gov/blog/2016/... [tsa.gov]
    • by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @10:28PM (#56250379)
      Better solution: Bring a phone or laptop with hidden recording enabled and keylogger through a TSA checkpoint. See exactly what the fucking pigs are doing -- if it's recorded and keylogged, it's no longer secret. Post it on Youtube and Cryptome.
      • by PinkyGigglebrain ( 730753 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @11:06PM (#56250487)
        People!

        Could we please stop calling police and other LEOs "Pigs"?

        To the best of my knowledge no member of the species Sus (includes boar, warthog, etc.) has ever done anything to deserve that kind of insult.

        Call the TSA and LEO's what they are: "Brownshirts" [urbandictionary.com]
        • The TSA is not law enforcement though - which makes the "pig" label even less appropriate, interestingly.
          • Law enforcement needs to go through the courts to punish (at least in theory). The TSA can just put you on a No Fly List. No appeal possible.

            Do not mess with them.

            (It always amazes me that the USA has the strongest constitution yet the ugliest laws. What would the USA be like without any constitution, better or far worse?)

            • you kind of proved my point.

              "Do not mess with them."

              I'm sure during the 1930s many of the German people felt the same about the Brownshirts and didn't do anything. We all know how well that worked don't we?

              The TSA are capable of extrajudicial action that affects the lives and freedoms of people, and not just US Citizens. Better to speak now while we still have a voice than watch silently as another nation falls into tyranny.

  • by Chelloveck ( 14643 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @10:43PM (#56250427) Homepage
    Dear ACLU, here is the information you requested. [REDACTED][redacted][REDACTED][redacted][REDACTED][redacted][REDACTED][redacted][REDACTED][redacted][REDACTED][redacted][REDACTED][redacted][REDACTED][redacted][REDACTED][redacted] and the horse you rode in on. Love, TSA.
  • Stopped Flying... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rally2xs ( 1093023 ) on Tuesday March 13, 2018 @01:02AM (#56250825)

    ...because of TSA nonsense. If they're going to feel me up, if the airlines are going to beat me up, and if they want to look at my phone and computer, they're going to have to chase me down at 80 mph on I-10 to do it. I like to drive anyway, and they can take their big brother state and shove it. All they're doing, from the bag searches to these electronic searches, are illegal under the 4th Amendment according to Judge Napolitano on Fox News. He was very specific. Illegal. But they just do it anyway.

    Stick my bags in the trunk, phone on my belt and computer on the seat beside me, and they're going to have to work to see any of 'em.

    • It should be noted that I-10 runs within the 100 mile buffer zone. You are subject to ICE checkpoints on that freeway. Better to move north to I-80, only rarely does it come within reach of any border buffer zone.
      • Yeah, but they just waved me thru in both directions last week. They can't put together the people and infrastructure to go searching everything on that highway.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      For that reason self-driving cars are really going to hurt airlines. It's a shame trains are so crappy in the US or they would be another good option. In Japan it's barely worth flying anywhere on the main islands because by the time you have been to the airport and flown the train is usually faster and drops you off right in the city centre.

  • This sound like a good use case for TrueCrypt's good ole hidden partition setup. Just put in the password for the clean boring copy of your OS for these goons.

  • Not to go all The Defenders (60s TV show), but what's the probable cause behind all of the rampant searching of people and what they're carrying? Is it that since anyone might be a terrorist everyone is a legitimate suspect so it's all good? Seems to me that this police state crap is unconstitutional and with even less basis than NYC's stop + frisk BS.

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein

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