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How airline reservations are used to target illegal searches (papersplease.org)
220 points by kafkaesque on Sept 20, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 153 comments

"DHS lawyers claimed that international travel provides, in and of itself, sufficient Constitutional basis for detention and search of international travellers and the search, seizure and copying of the digital contents of their belongings."

Really? Fucking hell.. With every month that goes by, I am less and less inclined to travel to, or do business in, the US..

edit: I'm aware that later in the article they say the courts didn't really agree with this, but it doesn't seem to be preventing it from happening, especially when, after they got what they needed (I call bullshit on "destroy all copies"), they just back down and convince the victim to drop the case.

> Really? Fucking hell.. With every month that goes by, I am less and less inclined to travel to, or do business in, the US..

The insinuation being that the US is the only country doing this?

I hate this sort of thing as much as the next guy, but let's not pretend the US is the only country engaging in this behavior. We can certainly expect better, but don't blind yourself to the obvious. Based on recent events, maybe you shouldn't be traveling anywhere, period.

I wasn't insinuating anything. I said nothing more, or less, than what I said. Any insinuation or implication otherwise is of your own making, and is quite disingenuous I would add.

I live in Canada, so I'm on the border with the US, and while I have certainly travelled worldwide (including to some less than democratic countries), I have overwhelmingly travelled to the US, both for business and personal.

And over the last while, I have become increasingly uncomfortable crossing the border into the US, as compared to how it used to be, based on hearing more and more stories of detention and unreasonable search (both in the media and personal accounts from people I know). I have personally experienced at the very least a new level of hostility and aggressive questioning on a few occasions that I had not experienced before.

So certainly there are other countries where this type of treatment is possible at the border, but I am expressing dismay at the fact that the US is now "one of those" countries, when it didn't used to be.

And yes, "unreasonable" is in the eye of the beholder, but they're my eyes thank you very much, so I may eventually just opt out of visiting the US for any reason.

For a perspective from the other side of the border (I'm from the US): I've been to Canada a few times as a tourist and on business over the past decade, never staying more than a few days. Every time, without exception, I've been on the receiving end of "aggressive", extended questioning, ranging from such oddities as "You're here for our free health care, aren't you? Admit it! Just tell us you don't have insurance!" to lines of questioning that suggest involvement with a drug cartel.

I've also been subjected to extensive physical searches of all my belongings. (And just to be clear, I'm a healthy, Caucasian, 20-something, US born-and-raised, male.)

I often think of most Canadians as being friendlier than a lot of people around the US, but immigration and border control aren't one of those areas.

I had the same experience... I visited Montreal last month for a business trip, first time in a couple of years, and had 40 minutes of rather hostile questioning on my way in.

It didn't make much sense to me, and I assumed that they'd picked a middle-aged, grey-haired, white guy so that they couldn't be accused of racial profiling... but from comments here it seems it is a lot more general.

Some of the questions didn't make a lot of sense (especially not at gone midnight), one or two were personally rather insulting, and they seemed to think that I was over here for employment rather than business meetings.

Getting into China the following week, on the other hand, was a model of efficienty and politeness...

I currently live in eastern Washington state. Up until around 2003, I lived in Seattle. In 2003 and in prior years, entering Canada was as smooth as could be. The people at the Canadian border checkpoints were friendly and asked minimal questions. I always found my re-entry back into the U.S. to be a more rude, though not particularly arduous an ordeal as going the other way.

My most recent entry into .ca was quite the opposite. Bear in mind these are very rural crossing points, nothing like the I5 transit. The most recent Canadian agent was somewhat gruff and unpleasant, asking quite a few questions. Come to think of it, in a prior .ca entry, with a female friend from the UK, the Canadian agent seemed to be convinced that we were entering Canada for the purpose of getting married and asked us repeatedly whether we had such plans. After multiple denials, he went on to advise us not to do so anyway. What??? My crossings back into the U.S. from Canada very recently have been fairly painless compared to going the other way.

It depends on where you cross the border.

I've had nothing but good experiences crossing the border at the Thousand Islands Bridge or Massena, NY. Both ways, everybody was kind, friendly and patient. I hear nothing but horror stories about Niagara falls and the one time I flew into Vancouver was less than pleasant.

Just some more n=1 to stir the pot. :)

Israel is pretty bad in this department as well. I hear that visiting Israel with an Arabic last name, or, god forbid, trying to go visit Palestine from an Israeli airport will land you in all sorts of trouble. In fact I don't plan to visit Israel any time soon.

I believe this is the sentiment of grandparent commenter, the fact that there might be other places where something like this happens is no excuse for a beacon of democracy such as the US.

> I hear that visiting Israel with an Arabic last name, or, god forbid, trying to go visit Palestine from an Israeli airport will land you in all sorts of trouble.

I hear that visiting Arab countries with a Jewish last name, or, god forbid, trying to go visit Israel from an Arabian airport will land you in all sorts of trouble.

Any particular reason you're picking on one and not the other? A bit hypocritical, don't you think?

That was the point of my comment. Let's stop now, ok? We're all in the same boat.

First off both of what the sibling posters said is true.

1. Israel makes big claims of being an advanced democracy, unlike the Saudi monarchy

2. I wasn't singling Israel in particular. I wouldn't visit Saudi Arabia for the exact same reasons.

But there is another point where your parallel breaks, there is no way to get to Palestine without going through Israel, so if you are a social worker involved with the welfare issues in West Bank or Gaza, or even a Christian pilgrim trying to go to Betlehem, you have no choice but to submit to the ordeal.

"there is no way to get to Palestine without going through Israel"

Can't you get to the West Bank through Jordan and Gaza through Egypt?

The Egypt-Gaza crossing at Rafah is passable, though frequently closed (due to Egyptian restrictions). The Allenby/King Hussein Bridge from Jordan to the West Bank, on the other hand, is an Israeli-run border crossing, and it is definitely the least inviting crossing I've ever been through.

Israel, and the USA, make a big deal about being representative democracies and champions of human rights. Anytime their deeds don't match their words, criticism is warranted. The Saudis and other monarchy/dictatorships in the middle east don't make any such pretense.

at least Israel has the excuse of having enemies on its borders if not within. Not sure what my country's excuse is other than, we're too big to be failed.

I believe he was just giving an example. It didn't seem like he wanted to offend anyone.

It is a violation of military law for Israeli citizens to enter the Palestinian Territories, full stop. That is why many never visit, as it means severe penalties without trial. As a foreigner who crossed in and out, it is still unpleasant, particularly with Palestinians with Jerusalem plates (those fortunate enough to have free passage). The kind of asshole-ish behavior rivals the TSA.

If anything, that should make the TSA embarrassed.

This isn't even a new development. Back in the 70's and 80's my father had two passports, issued precisely to prevent being constantly detained and/or harassed when traveling.

His work took him to relatively long visits (anything up to 4 months, but usually just 2-3 weeks) to about half the countries in Arabian Peninsula and roughly 1/3 of the countries in Africa. (I've been told that I met the Namibian foreign minister when I was 3 and surprised him by apparently trying to sing their national anthem.) During that same time, my father also had to occasionally travel to US and, I believe, Israel. One of the passports was used when traveling in Arabic and (communist) African countries. The other was reserved for rest of the world.

I've been later informed that this practice was not as uncommon as I would have believed. People working "in the field" for industries that were involved in development aid projects did sometimes have multiple passports, for the very reason of making their constant travels easier.

Are you just here to be an argumentative dick?

"for a beacon of democracy such as the US."

I don't think that holds any longer.

> The insinuation being that the US is the only country doing this?

Can you please make up your mind? Either Americans are "exceptional" and this is "the best country in the world", or not. If not then I don't think its okay to hate on others when they are upset with things happening on this soil.

As we all know things in US go downhill since a while. This issue would not suprise in Russia in 80s or on Cuba, but if US is exceptional then it will be judged by exceptional rules. In this case it shows US fails miserably on "land of the free, home of the brave".

I have long speculated that the US chooses Cuba, NK, Russia, China, et al, as "enemies" purely out of jealousy.

I bet you'd call Zuck "exceptional" but I'd bet he's dead average athletically.

By "Zuck" do you mean Mark Zuckerberg? Mark Zuckerberg was the captain of the fencing team at Phillip Exeter, which requires much more than average athletic skills.

Based on recent events, maybe you shouldn't be traveling anywhere, period.

So, one should give up their freedom of movement because "recent events" have caused institutions to implement policies to eliminate it? Also, "everybody's doing it" is a pretty distasteful rationale.

Yes, and I think people forget this in singling out the US. Remember that the Five Eyes (US/UK/CA/AU/NZ) essentially operate as one security mechanism.

Since I first heard about FVEY, I have assumed that each of the member countries has total unrestricted access to 100% of the data that any of the other member countries have collected.

The more that we find out, the more I believe that that is an accurate assumption.

There's no way that the other 4 eyes have "100% unrestricted access to the data" of the big one...

Thats true, only Israel has that, as per recent revelations.

Israel doesn't have unrestricted access. The access is contingent on Israel promising not to use it to spy on us ;-)

You are probably right. Given the MOU with Israel, there are restrictions certainly for other governments.

Those restrictions include, presumably, that they agree that among eachother they promise not to read achothers' emails, and furthermore if they do this and use the information to spy on our government, they promise to do so discretely....

Its not the only one but it shouldn't be one of those who do.

Go to the scandinavian countries and experience how effective, friendly and welcoming airport terminals can be.

The only thing welcoming of landing at Arlanda is that my 3G data starts working again, and I have access to Eduroam. Arriving from ex-Schengen, especially at the non F-pier gates (due to the small passport control where you have to go up 3 flights of stairs and then down), isn't very welcoming at all.

We are not talking inconvenience here. We are talking the process of getting into the country or through security.

This doesn't lessen the severity of the issue.

And we can only avoid the ones we know about, so until further evidence appears the USA gets the spotlight.

Indeed. David Miranda was detained by British agents in London.

It seems to me that US is one of a select few countries who actually employ a lot of people full-time parting travelers with their electronics and harassing them.

A lot more countries reserve rights to do so; US actually do it on a grand scale. That makes all the difference.

I'm not sure that this is really the case.

I believe that it has gotten worse over the years, mostly due to politics and the fact that most people in the US do not have to deal with this. [We have a rather passport-holding-population]

You should never cross any border, US or otherwise, with a mobile phone, laptop, or any sensitive documents. Neither should your employees, if their device are user for work.

This is not a new revelation. Industrial espionage by spy services has been ongoing for a very long time.

How would you put this into action if you're a typical business traveler? It doesn't seem very practical.

The organization should have a number of laptops designated solely for international use. They should be restored to the org's "gold image" and kept "in stock" and available.

Prior to leaving on an international trip, the traveler "checks out" a laptop from I.T. for the duration of his trip. No personal or business data should exist on the data at this point. Once destinated, the needed business data can be downloaded to the laptop over a secure VPN back to company HQ.

Prior to returning, the traveler will run a "clean up" script that I.T. has developed. This script will upload any business documents that have been created or obtained while outside of the U.S. back to company servers (over that VPN) and then wipe the data from the laptop. Alternately, the laptop could have a partition set up that, when booted to, starts the reimaging process (sorta like how consumer PCs have a "restore partition"). This would be done, obviously, before returning to the U.S.

When the traveler has arrived back in the U.S., s/he returns the laptop to I.T. who again image it with their gold image and store it for the next user who needs it.

It wouldn't be that difficult or that much of a PITA, IMO -- it all depends on how important the data is to the company. It would likely require a change in policy and some users would almost certainly complain about it. Oh well.

Seems like a good plan, but if the laptop leaves your sight you don't know how the hardware has been tampered with.

I've heard of companies that consider any electronics thats ever been taken to China to be no longer useable on the company network. Their approach is to consider those devices "disposable". If ou take a laptop to China, buy a replacement when you get home and give the old one away - its never to be connected to the internal network again.

> If ou take a laptop to China, ...


At a previous job (.edu), we discovered a compromised host and shortly thereafter found that it was the laptop of a professor who had just returned from China.

Yup. This is more or less exactly how the company I work for does it.

More like all users would complain. Don't get me wrong, it sounds like like a good solution, but you would be amazed at the recalcitrance of users asked to do something new or different. Plus, your infrastructure and user workflows have to be able to support such a setup. If a user who travels a lot is utterly dead in the water without his dozen 10GB email archive files, and the VPN is a tiny 1mb/s pipe for the whole globe, the above isn't a particularly viable idea.

Most email clients let you store your archive online. Exchange certainly does - I can search from my phone, which only stores the last week's work email locally.

I think that's pretty rare, even among big co's that do a lot of government work.

The typical business traveler doesn't need gigabytes and gigabytes of documents. If you are traveling and need sensitive documents, buy a new laptop at your destination and load the data you need on it. When leaving, wipe it and leave it in a place where you or another employee can pick it up next time they are in that country.

It's unfortunate that business people (as opposed to programmers) typically don't have something as compact and transferrable as dotfiles for getting up and running on a branch new machine.

The question is how to travel with a new set of private keys securely so you don't give them up on exit. Coming back isn't a problem because you can just revoke access for that temporary public-private key pair before you log off during your last ssh session before returning to the country.

I don't think this is practical now. But it is a known problem and solutions for quickly getting a machine up and running are getting better and better. I imagine that a chef or puppet script could be used on the new machine to get everything up and running. You just need to ssh in once to fetch the script that would set up the machine at your destination.

Encrypt your stuff, and put it online.

I often wonder what the founders would think of the modern interpretation of the fourth amendment at our borders.

How would they have chosen to balance privacy against security in our age?

Considering the border search exception dates back to legislation by the First Congress in 1789, I don't think they'd have much of a problem with the current interpretation.

What would they think of putting "suspicious" people on a list so the govt could pounce on them the minute they try to cross the border? The purpose of which is to avoid warrant.

Read this and tell me what you think: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_and_Sedition_Acts. Remember, this is less than decade after ratification.

It is worth noting two things about the Alien and Sedition Acts.

1. A lot of the Founders really didn't like them. Both Madison and Jefferson spoke out against the laws and argued they were unconstitutional for various reasons.

2. They were allowed to expire around the same time Marbury v. Madison was decided so it isn't clear what the early court thought of the laws.

I agree that Alien & Sedition is a cheap shot (as would be "Lincoln suspended habeas"). It would be interesting for someone to dredge of examples of targeted surveillance and arrest policy from the time of the founders; I bet there's good stuff. You can find metadata surveillance policy in the mid-1800s!

There are a couple of questions.

The first is whether the Verizon warrant would have been considered ok to the founders. The answer is an easy "no." We have there essentially a general warrant, something they were quite familiar with and which they put in prohibitions regarding in the 4th Amendment. There is no serious question that the founders would be deeply concerned over the existence of such a warrant and nearly entirely opposed to such.

However the harder question would be whether the Founders would have found the surveillance authorized by the warrant to be problematic even without a warrant or what they would have thought of the warrant. That's the big question and I don't have an answer there. I do think that the programs would almost certainly have been extremely controversialin part at least due to the existence of secret courts and wide-ranging warrants.

"border search" was extremely more narrow in scope bath then, across all dimensions.

If a customs official thought you had contraband in 1789, he could search your person, open boxes on your ship, etc, without a warrant and without probable cause. See U.S. v. Ramsey: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6107136132398268... (616-617).

The difference is that this "plenary power" to search at the border has different implications today now that people carry their whole lives around with them on their phones. But that seems to me to be a fault of the people rather than a fault of the law.

...a fault of the people rather than a fault of the law.

An entire philosophy of government, in a nutshell!

You know, it's actually OK to change laws that are bad for the people. For example, three of the four Alien & Sedition Acts were allowed to expire within three years (the fourth is only in force during declared wars), since no one actually liked them.

<brechtquote> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_L%C3%B6sung </brechtquote>

I hope they would have some pause over the border zone attached to constricted friendly borders (For example, I don't see much reason to consider Michigan a border zone...).

And I do see CPB vehicles dozens of miles from the bridges, apparently working hard enforcing that open border (or buying Subway).

"Michigan" isn't a border zone. You might be referring to what I think is probably an urban myth about the "100 mile Constitution free zone stretching inward from every border", which is not a fact of law (and was in fact explicitly refuted by SCOTUS in the '70s).

Yeah. I can't figure what business they have in St. Ignace though.

This is probably the case you are talking about:


I tend to think that the notion of borders and jurisdictions were much more important and understood in the past than today.

Easy air travel and mass communication of all forms has blurred our sense of national/jurisdictional borders, but they certainly still exist.

Crossing an international border is something significant, you are leaving behind one social contract and entering into a different one.

It seems some of us have indeed left the old myth of the social contract behind us, just like we've abandoned the myth of the divine right of kings. Certainly easy air travel and mass communication has changed us, but I'd like to think it's our nation states who are not keeping up with the change.

I'm not sure I understand what you are saying.

Are you making an anarchical argument in which the entire notion of governmental authority and/or social contracts is discarded?

Or are you saying that nation-states are inappropriate sources of authority in preference for some sort of trans-national/global authority?

Regardless of what you want, the fact is that we still have nation states and their associated social contracts and a unilateral effort by an indvidual to disregard or violate those norms isn't without consequences.

There are certainly arguments to be made that some of those social contracts are perverse and one-sided in nature (e.g. North Korea as an extreme example).

What are the flaws in the typical 'Western' social contract that you would see fixed? what is your fix?

I think that many of the founders would probably be more upset by our reflexive resort to suppositions about what the founders would think in discussions of public policy than they would be upset (or supportive) of any particular policy that we find controversial.

They would be too appaled at general policy to worry about particulars for a while. "When we decided at least one congressman per 30,000 persons we were imagining, you know, one per 40,000. How can you possibly have a representative democracy like this? Wait, did you start a two-party system as well?"

> They would be too appaled at general policy to worry about particulars for a while

Yeah, see, this kind of thing is mostly just a way of projecting modern preferences on to the founders. If you look at the founders as a whole, you see very little consensus on general policy.

Hamilton and Jefferson, for example, didn't agree on much (and certainly not on what government of the United States should look like beyond "more like the Constitution than the Articles of Confederation".) To the extent that "the founders" would be shocked by (or even "opposed to" -- they had familiarity with enough extremes in government that they probably wouldn't be shocked by much) features of our present government, they wouldn't be the same features for different founders, and the features some of the founders opposed, others would probably find the most desirable.

Hamilton -- who wanted Presidents and Senators to serve, like members of the Supreme Court, for life, would probably be generally pleased with the way the power of incumbency works out so that short of major scandal, turnover is not all that common (and be displeased with Presidential term limits being written into the Constitution.)

Jefferson, OTOH, might well see things 180-degrees the opposite, given his keen focus on the need for periodic renewal.

> Wait, did you start a two-party system as well?

The two-party system was well in place by Washington's second election, most of the founders were still alive and active in politics -- and, for that matter, provided the leadership for both factions.

So, no, I don't think they'd ask that question, except perhaps as a result of senility. They started a two-party system.

The Electoral College more or less guarantees a two party system.

Show me a country that does not reserve to itself the right to carry out border inspections (and if you're going to mention the EU, that change is only recent and by treaty, effectively making Europe into a single country of multiple states). As long as there have been borders there have been smugglers, and as long as there have been smugglers there have been customs agents. This is especially true of the US, because before the 16th amendment and the creation of income tax, import duties were a primary source of government revenue.

EU being "a single country of multiple states" is purely a myth. First, you are refering to Schengen Area, which is a subset of the EU. Second, and more importantly, several countries, such as France, keep "special cases" for border control within a 20KM buffer zone to the frontier. (and I believe a similar smaller range is applied to any train station receiving non-domestic trains). Look at a map of EU, look at France, and you'll quickly see that, with its central position, France is a basically a big "border control area"...

Travel to US? Oh man, you don't value your freedom and privacy enough.

"By agreeing to settle the case, the DHS avoided either any new appellate precedent limiting its borders search authority, or any judicial review of the specific basis for its actions with respect to Mr. House. As in other cases, the DHS treated the threat of judicial review of its actions as the ultimate danger to be avoided at all costs, even if that required destroying evidence it had previously claimed was vitally needed."

What a cancerous growth this DHS is.

While I can't blame them at all, it is too bad Mr. House settled. I wonder what would have been the outcome.

I heard this quote earlier this week during a discussion about the failure to stop the Naval Base shooter. He should have been picked up or at least been on someone's radar well before killing 13 people.

"When we're watching EVERYBODY, you'll never catch ANYBODY." which made a lot of sense to me. It seems like these agencies are trying to watch everybody in an effort to catch one lone person without considering any supporting data. Thus, you end up with scenario's like this where innocent people are being caught up in this wide net their casting.

"TECS was the first pre-DHS database of Federal government logs of international travel. Several other “systems of records” (a term of art used in the Privacy Act) about travelers, including the Automated Targeting System (ATS) and DHS copies of PNR data (airline reservations) were originally considered part of TECS. The TECS file for an individual traveler typically includes a log of their border crossings (with record locators that serve as pointers to their PNR data ) and free-text notes on anything that customs and immigration inspectors thought warranted inclusion in the traveler’s permanent file."

Example on http://hasbrouck.org/documents/secondary.pdf

Is there a way to consult this database? (FOIA?)

It could be interesting.

It's more surprising that DHS keeps copies of the PNR data. The passport/visa stuff is acceptable but you can tell a lot more about someone from PNR data. Who they travel with, payment information, itinerary, changes in travel, medical conditions, baggage, services, it goes on and on.

One of the many reasons I never fly to/from the US, and avoid ever passing through.

Canada is part of the "Five Eyes" but enjoy your placebo.

Yes but passing through our airports isn't a nightmare...

Last time I checked airport security in canada murdered Polish citizen because he did not spoke english.

You are correct.


The entire 10 minute cellphone video of the incident can be found on YouTube, if anyone is interested.

oh my god! don't point 'em to the obvious.

That's quite disingenuous... He was tasered and restrained because he had become unruly and destructive.

Certainly the situation could have (and should have) been handled better, and the RCMP should have only tasered him once, but to call it murder, and specifically to say it's because he didn't speak english, is a blatant falsehood.

Last I checked there was no (official) death penalty for chair-throwing. Call it institutional incompetence in de-escalation and maybe we can find some common ground.

he was tasered, cuffed and than tasered several times more. No CPR. That is murder.

But passing through the land crossing can be. I'm a Canadian citizen and I've gotten far worse treatment from Canadian officials than I have from US officials.

It's an anecdote I know, but it is what it is.

I've has the opposite experience as a US citizen.

That is a disturbing pattern. Tourists welcome. Citizens shall not question the government...

So they sent him through a different customs agent, who took a cell phone he voluntarily gave to them, and then let him go... Doesn't sound particularly awful.

Anyhow, they probably suspected he was going to work illegally in Canada (plenty of people come as visitors and work illegally), and wanted to make sure that those weren't his plans.

Edit - furthermore, having any sort of sensitive information on a cell phone is idiotic, since they are far from secure. It's not terribly difficult to hack any device with physical access - and it's not hard to simply lose your cell phone...

Holding a US citizen for 4 hours. And tricked him into giving his cellphone. Yep. He probably came there to work illegally.

4 hours? Unless I misheard, he mentioned he waited in the queue for an hour, and then waited on the agent for half an hour.

If you've ever flown into Toronto when it's busy, you can spend longer waiting on the normal queue in customs... Is that detainment too?

I'm sure if he wanted, he could have gone back the other way. He didn't need to enter Canada. At no point in the podcast did he describe anything that could actually be called 'holding' or 'detainment'....

Alot of my friends did the oppostie. American employers pay higher wages for professional labour than those in Canada. Most americans travel to study in Canada. Canadian economy is quite conservative, maybe thats why it fared ok in last recession.

So it does not make sense, to me at least.

my 2c.

Unfortuately people are very risk averse here, and like many VCs(according to PG) they don't exactly understand the tech their investing in. I guess SV or the US in general have investor class that can take risks.

Personally for political reasons I will stay in Canada, but finding investors for my startup is going to be difficult.

Lucikly Intel will save the day for me.(fingers crossed).

Most (all?) Canadian airports do not use neutron scanners, and have a traditional security layout. There is a lot less hassle.

I doubt that any airport anywhere uses neutron scanners (whatever those may be).

You're right of course, I'm not sure what I was thinking when I typed that.

I of course mean the (typically backscatter x-ray) full body scanners.

For what it's worth, even though I cited the wrong tech (see my other reply), gamma ray ("neutron") scanners are pretty cool tech, and worth knowing about :)


questioned him about his political activities and beliefs

confiscated his laptop computer, camera and a USB drive

If this happened to a computer scientist abroad, say Moscow airport, there would be a storm coming from the western media about oppressive regimes and human rights. Possibly even a condemnation from the US government.

The rough standard is basically that data must be provided by airlines to authorities at the point of landing at least 15 minutes before departure. In practice they probably provide it earlier.

I did some FOIAs in to this stuff with the EU recently @ http://www.asktheeu.org/en/request/information_on_pnr_agreem...

My interpretation was that the picture the response painted was of five eyes nations all hitting up the EU for their passenger data. Right after the US got their claws in Australia was in there and the US utilized its grand experience with bureaucracy to ensure the EU Data Protection Supervisor didn't even have time to review the proposal before it was passed.

After that query, I updated Wikipedia's info over here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passenger_name_record#Internat...

The lesson here is that you are wary of authorities for whatever reason (and we probably all should be), then you should seek to avoid pre-booking flights (or ships) ... just turn up and buy a ticket instead ... and preferably avoid long haul flights at all, certainly those terminating in countries with dodgy authorities, if you can afford to do so.

Amazing! Thank you for your efforts into investigating this. I find the EU FOIA site fascinating and I wish the US had an equivalent.

This seems extreme but the reality is that foreigners and homosexuals are sketchy. This sort of policing is important.

What's so sketchy about them?

I suppose you haven't learnt about the ghastly things done by the likes of Alan Turing, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris.

(If you don't get the sarcasm there, please forgive me and the gentlemen mentioned above too...)


I can understand foreigners, but why homosexuals?

He's being facetious.

I don't mean to undermine the effort of put into the lawsuit and this careful analysis. But... Shocking. Government has access to passenger's itinerary. I mean, with all the recent revelations, we might have just assumed that.

You have missed the point. It is not that the government has access to your itinerary, it is that low-level government officials (apparently) have access to your itinerary with no administrative oversight whatsoever. The NSA at least puts on a show of getting FISA court approval. But DHS isn't even going through the motions.

The key passage from the article:

"The implication is that rather than search its own ATS database of copies of PNR data, the ICE investigator searched the airline’s own internal PNR database, using the DHS root access to the Sabre computerized reservation system (CRS) used by American Airlines. That was probably easier than searching ATS because the way DHS “ingests” PNR data from CRSs into ATS leaves the data less well indexed in TECS and ATS than it was (and still is — the airline sends DHS a copy, but of course retains the PNR data itself) in the CRS.

Notably, there’s nothing to indicate that the ICE investigator needed approval from a supervisor to go into Sabre, or tried some other source of PNR information (e.g. the internal ATS database of DHS copies of PNR data) first. Root access to Sabre was apparently at his fingertips, and his use of it warranted no special comment and no recording of compliance with any authorization protocols. It was a routine tool for him."

I think this even misses the broader point a little. For political opponents of particular government actions, constitutional protection against illegal searches and seizures do not exist if you travel internationally. Of course, DHS has been given extraordinary power when it comes to searches and seizure under the presumption that those powers would be used only to protect our boarders. But here they've been used to circumvent the legal framework for searches pertaining to domestic investigations, which exist largely so this sort of thing won't happen. The DHS has broken that presumed mandate, and abused its extraordinary powers not for heroic ends like the action movie cop that just wants to get the ultimate bad guy, but to harass people associated with inconvenient political groups. It's evidence that, as we might have suspected if we were more rational as a country after 9/11, that no government agency, no matter how noble its mandate, can handle the responsibility of being handed its own reigns. It's a clear indication that the full power of the constitution needs to encompass all government agencies and all of their associated actions.

I, personally, have no trust in any government, so I sort of assumed that too. But that's me. I think you're right and it raises an important question for others, whether the government is really what they think it is.

That sort of cynicism is probably the chief enabler of such corruption. As with any other human endeavor, government will never be perfect, but that isn't a reason to give up on holding government to high standards.

It is reasonable to take precautionary steps in your personal life while at the very same time demanding that the government behave such that those steps are completely unnecessary.

Some of us believe the government can't be "fixed." Who watches the watchers, and all that.

Uh, what exactly is shocking about this? The government has the right to know the precise identity of each and every person that's crossing its borders. It's also reasonably entitled to know the identify of each person flying into its sovereign airspace. How do you think they enforce visas and customs?

I would start with the question of why is it that people need visas. We live on the same earth. We should be allowed to travel wherever we want. It's ridiculous.

Since you're being downvoted, but no one has commented to explain why (it's not just that your opinion is unpopular), I feel like I should put in my thoughts. I once felt the way you do, but upon reflection I don't any longer, so I thought I should share why.

While you may believe that current surveillance has gone too far, advocating for no security is much too far the other direction. As usual, the answer is somewhere in the middle.

Without any visas or border control, you have no way to prevent ingress and egress of known criminals, people carrying infectious diseases, or any of myriad other actually real threats. Just because people exaggerate threats like terrorism does not mean there is nothing to defend against.

It is also important to prevent people who have no means of sustenance from moving into your country and becoming a burden. In no way am I implying that exceptions should not be granted for asylum or other exceptional circumstances. However, being in a country is a bit like being in a club -- everyone pays dues (taxes) and there are perks too. Why should club members want to give everyone the perks while they have all the responsibilities?

Your thought that people should try to be closer to one another is admirable, but I think if you reflect on it further, you'll agree that some forms of restriction are necessary.

And yet, if everyone were in the same "club", these sorts of restrictions would be unnecessary.

As for infectious diseases, they should be controlled locally, not on some arbitrarily defined border.

The problem is not that there are restrictions, but who imposes them and for what reason. Governments, for example, mostly don't want people to come and work illegally. Well, why do you think that is? It's because they would compete with the local labour force who would suffer in this case. Often forgotten is the fact that currently it's consumers who suffer from higher prices - this fact doesn't get nearly as much attention.

Diseases and criminal activity is just a small fraction of all immigration issues. Government doesn't care about it as much. I'd be absolutely fine with them if those were the only restrictions.

Because securing and defending territory, with its associated resources and productive capacity, is one of the most fundamental activities of socially-organized mammals.

Let the mammals organize voluntarily. In my country, for example, some people are against central asian immigrants. That's fine. I propose they don't do any business with them and don't allow them on their private property. I, on the other hand, am completely fine with them, so I do business with them. I never signed a single document which says that government is allowed to make such decisions on my behalf.

You can't continue to reside in territory controlled and defended by a sovereign people and then claim you signed no document consenting to abide by their rules. Your mere presence in their territory subjects you to their jurisdiction. That is in fact the whole purpose of securing and controlling territory--to establish dominion over that territory and those within.

Who are they? How are they different from me? Am I not a part of them? And if 60% of people say it's okay to kill the rest of the 40%, should the 40% submit?

In a democratic society, "they" are the majority. You are a part of them, but you get your one vote and no more. They can bind you without your explicit consent, because at the end of the day they are the ones who protect you from the dangers of other nations, anarchy, etc.

So if this 60% majority decides to kill the 40% minority, would you still think it's okay to do so? If not, then how about 70%/30%? Or 90%/10%? Where are the lines for which actions and who decides on them?

It's unfortunate that you're being downvoted. Your statements in this thread are ethically rational.

Cheers to a free mind such as yourself who won't be lured into circular reasoning by the happenstance of being born subject to arbitrary policy, and to a free mind who recognizes that borders are inhumane comparatively, in a natural sense, irrespective of the policies of other groups that claim territory and dictate the travels of others.

Land grab has been a 'bumpy road' over the course of millennia, to say the least, yet mob rule within a framework of a [rule of law] does not make the effects of policy more justified ethically. Historically and presently, the lines are drawn under a simple premise: "might makes right." I believe it's eventually possible to change that mindset. It would take an entire "nation" to effectively lead by example, under the ironic creed of Lady Liberty. That's clearly a daunting prospect any time soon, at least for large nations. However, nurturing more people to have freer, conscientious minds who can extrapolate ethics from [law/might] are the important part of a path to getting there.

From whence do these universal "ethics" arise? Do the descend from some supernatural deity? Are they a natural phenomenon, like gravity? Can you set up an experiment to detect their existence?

There is nothing "free" about a mind that believes and children's fairy tales like universal "ethics."

Human ethics are a construct of individual human minds. What "universal" ethics? You're misinterpreting my words if that's your response to them.

The only lines are in the conscience of the sovereign majority.

The majority of whom? Do you think the majority of the world would vote that they need a visa to travel to, say, the US?

Also, there's no need to protect me from anarchy, since the exact meaning of the word "anarchy" is "no rulers". I'd rather be protected from _rulers, than from lack of rulers.

The majority of the people controlling a territory, obviously. Control of the territory and the power to legislate rules within it are the two sides of the same coin. The rest of the world doesn't get a vote because they're on the outside, not the inside.

Re: anarchy, it's a cute philosophy for sheltered westerners who grew up with the blessings of good government. Ask anyone in rural Pakistan, where government power is almost nil and warlords dominate, what they think of anarchy.

Let's separate "the way it is" from "the way it should be".

I agree that the majority of the people controlling a territory get to set the rules they wish to set - that's "the way it is". A warlord gets to set the rules within the territory he's controlling. Putin gets to set the rules in Russia. The banking / military-industrial cartel gets to set the rules in the US.

What "should be", however, is an entirely different matter. "The majority of people controlling my house" should consist of exactly one person - me. That's the definition of private property. I should be the one setting the rules in my house - not "the majority of the people", not "the majority of Americans", not "the majority of the residents of Washington". My ownership of my private property should not be consistent upon the will of a group of people in a randomly selected geographical area.

Warlords are not "anarchy", warlords are proto-governments, feudal governments, whatever you call them. Anarchy means "no rulers", no warlords, in particular.

> Warlords are not "anarchy", warlords are proto-governments, feudal governments, whatever you call them. Anarchy means "no rulers", no warlords, in particular.

Exactly. Government (a collective domination) is only more humane the more its architecture is built to transparently protect people from tyranny. Tyranny especially includes itself: tyranny of government, of groups, and of individuals. It might be from a mafia. It might be a Congress. It might be a roving gang. It might be the head of a state. It's subjecting you physically and economically either way.

So begins the complexity of how to have a system of governance that can limit people from claiming power over others. The US didn't achieve this, sadly, compared to the corporate oligarchy it continues to entrench itself into. Having a more humane system than what most dictatorships had was a worthy cause, especially in the 18th century. It's a low bar to set and mentally dwell in now though. Imagine a world where there are no people who want to improve or truly change the systems into which they're violently subjected. It's a scary thought. It looks a lot like reality.

Time for another exciting round of "Let's Relitigate Civilization!"

With guest host Judith Sheindlin.

The fact that my friends and I can't show up at your house unexpected and stay indefinitely must seem ridiculous to you as well.

When I'm not letting _your_ friends in _my_ house, this is OK, since my house is my property.

When _my_ friends cannot visit me in _my_ house, however, because they are lacking a piece of paper called visa, the world is really messed up.

Your house is yours because of an agreement with the country you live in.

Let's say I built a house on a land that belongs to no country. Now, whose house is it? It's mine as long as I can protect it. So property rights are defined not by some piece of paper, but rather by the ability to enforce them. Government is just one way to enforce property rights, I'd argue a rather inefficient one, since it usually can only deal with consequences of an intrusion (and not prevent it). In an absence of government, I could hire a private protection agency to enforce my property rights. And since many other people would be interested in doing the same, there will be a demand and prices would be very affordable.

So don't you dare say that I have my house because of the government.

Land you can defend is "territory." Land other people will defend on your behalf is "property."

The key distinction between the two is that nerds like us on Hacker News can't defend territory. Without ganging up together to ensure collective defense, we're at the mercy of the physically strong. Without society, nerds have nothing to trade for security. That's why before the existence of democratic government, the western world was dominated by military men (feudal barons), not businessmen or intellectual men.

So, say, the first American settlers used to own their houses because of an agreement with the British government - right? Now, at the exact moment they wished to secede, and started the War of Independence, they violated the agreement, and lost their property rights - right? So anyone could walk into anyone else's home, anyone could take anyone else's stuff... Communism! ;)

"Agreements" with sovereign powers are only sometimes worth the paper on which they're printed. A well-stocked armory, however, tends to retain its value in all climates.

I would go on tangent and fantasize about quasi-corporate state described in SnowCrash. Towards which we are moving, slowly. :)

I mean, with all the recent revelations, we might have just assumed that.

Assuming things versus verifying things are two different ways to live your life.

for the sake of simplifying my point i assume many if not most of you are us-based us-citizen:

whenever an issue like this comes up everybody starts to fight and nitpick. as if nobody can see through it. as if everybody is blinded. as if everybody doesn't care about the core of the matter. as if an entire generation or two is just too dumbed down to recognize the scheme.

you know, i love you. but i'm sick of you. if you don't fix your bloody country, nobody will do it for you.

Any computer with sensitive files should have them encrypted, or preferably have your entire hard drive encrypted. They should also be backed-up in case the computer is lost, stolen, destroyed, or seized.

If a person or company keeps sensitive files on an insecure computer, then that company/person should be at fault.

If you send sensitive data over the internet then it should be encrypted. If not, then companies, governments, and other organizations could easily grab that data.

In reality though, there are millions of completely insecure computers and devices which carry data that could harm companies, individuals, or governments if compromised. Educating the operators of those machines and ensuring that they properly secure them is very difficult. The best method would be to have hard-drive level encryption on all devices, make sure people know how to properly backup data, and to educate people that they can easily say, "I don't know the password, I'm suppose to call my IT manager after I arrive at my destination and he will provide the password."

1. Light-gray on black color scheme invites eye strain.

2. Bright orange link text is even more horrible than usual because of light gray on black color scheme.

3. Extra tiny font size (1em) is almost unreadable against black background.

4. There are constant readability crimes in the text with overuse of scare quotes, unnecessary abuse of the 'and/or' abomination, incorrect use of double scare quotes outside literal quotations, and overuse of parenthetical statements.

5. Use of "beg the question" to mean "raise the question" is incorrect.

The content was fine, but you'd better be young, brave, and impervious to pain if you want to access it.

The focus on that article is silly.

Of course I want law officials to have real time information about travel and be able to catch a criminal before he flees.

The issue should not be that, but that they use that to initiate illegal searches.

The focus should be on illegal searches, period.

when was the last time a "criminal" was caught during flee-by-flight and the government was NOT involved in the first place?

This is my point.

This is like those dumb fox new things saying something trivial is a crime because it 'involved computers'.

They can already do that, but inefficiently by posting your pictures all over the place and having officers look for your face. AFTER they get a warrant or follow due process.

This is just a more efficient way of doing the above.

The focus should be on the lack of due process, not on the means being more efficient.

To future investigative writers: Diagrams and acronym glossaries please. If a subject is hard to understand, unclear presentation is another barrier. (People have limited attention and thoughtspace.)

So this is the global stasi panopticon world that we are leaving our children with. It's just disgusting.

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