July 31, 2018

About That TSA Profiling for ‘Quiet Skies’

It’s not toddlers from Toledo or wheelchair-bound grandmothers from Gatlinburg who present a threat.

In a scoop over the weekend, the Boston Globe reported, “Federal air marshals have begun 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 that is drawing criticism from within the agency.” The program is called “Quiet Skies.” An internal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) bulletin outlines the objective as decreasing threats by “unknown or partially known terrorists; and to identify and provide enhanced screening to higher risk travelers before they board aircraft based on analysis of terrorist trends, tradecraft and associations.”

Many are raising Fourth Amendment objections over the program. Much like errantly ending up on the terrorist watchlist, citizens have little recourse for removal — in fact, most profiling subjects may never even know they were singled out. Moreover, you don’t have to do anything wrong to end up being profiled; certain behaviors that don’t seem all that unusual are enough.

We certainly agree that the government isn’t to be blindly trusted with securing our Liberty because the Constitution is so often ignored by agencies and bureaucracies. For that reason, we objected when the TSA was created and we’ve noted its failures numerous times.

However, Mark Alexander has argued for years that terrorist profiling should be employed along the lines of the Israeli model of observing specific behavior. It’s not toddlers from Toledo or wheelchair-bound grandmothers from Gatlinburg who present a threat or who require random TSA groping; it’s Middle Eastern males between the ages of about 17 to 40. The TSA didn’t confirm any specific targets, but a spokesman did say, “These programs are … designed to protect the traveling public, but they’re not targeting the average American. … We’re talking about a very unique passenger that warrants the attention of a federal air marshal.” The TSA said people are dropped from observation after an undisclosed amount of time if there’s no reason to continue.

There is no obvious or blatant constitutional violation simply in observing and tracking certain behavior or individuals for a short time in public venues, particularly when the vulnerability of our air-travel system resulted in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history on 9/11. That isn’t to say the TSA’s program is effective, well managed, or a flawless use of resources. It is to say that some profiling isn’t wrong — quite the contrary — and it’s worth taking a moment to remember that amidst the sudden civil liberties panic among leftists who hate Donald Trump more than any terrorist.

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