Thursday, 14 February 2019

"An appeal to readers and librarians..."

As Co-Chair of the Book Division of the National Writers Union, I'm quoted today in Publishers Weekly in an article about "Controlled Digital Lending" (CDL), the flawed legal theory being used by the Internet Archive and its library "partners" as their jusitification for unauthorized, unpaid scanning and distribution on the Internet of hundreds of thousand of books -- including multiple editions of my Practical Nomad books.

Here's more information about what's happening and why it matters to writers, readers, and librarians:

If you are a reader or fan of my books, or of any books, please support writers in this campaign against CDL. As the Appeal from the victoms of CDL says, "When writers can't make a living, they can't afford to keep writing, and readers lose too."

This isn't a new issue for me or for the NWU. I said this about digital libraries two years ago when I was elected to represent writers on the Board of Directors of IFRRO (one of the other signers of today's Appeal from the victoms of CDL):

I'm a vocal advocate for funding for digital libraries: funding for the librarians, funding for the people who would build and manage the server farms, and, yes, funding to acquire the digital contents of those libraries. I don't think that a digital library should be created by confiscating the fruits of writers' labors any more than it should be built by conscripting the labor of computer programmers or librarians or bricklayers or any other workers.

Librarians, like teachers, do work that serves the public interest. We don't pay librarians or teachers as much as we should, but we don't expect them to work for free. Why should we expect writers to fill a digital library with their work for free? Opposing expropriation and unpaid forced labor is, I think, a moderate position that shouldn't be controversial.

Unfortunately, librarians and public interest advocates are often unaware of freelance writers' new and entrepreneurial business models -- most of which don't show up in library catalogs, which have failed to keep pace with crowdsourcing and peer-to-peer indexing and distribution systems -- or the ways that writers' livelihoods would be affected by well-meaning but unfunded digital library schemes.

Link | Posted by Edward, 14 February 2019, 13:46 ( 1:46 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, 2 February 2019

"A modern-day draft, if marketed carefully and cleverly,..."

"A modern-day draft, if marketed carefully and cleverly, could foster patriotism via the investment of every family in the nation. A greater involvement of the population to include National (nonmilitary) Service could reach every social demographic within the U.S."

The comments above were included in the recommendations from the Selective Service System made to the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. This report was sent to the NCMNPS in December 2017, but wasn't made public until this week, in response to my FOIA requests and after the conclusion of the first year of nationwide public events and collection of written public comments by the NCMNPS and the issuance of an Interim Report by the NCMNPS last week.

There's some, but only minimal, acknowledgement in the Selective Service System report of opposition to conscription. But dissent is conceptualized as "protest" (complaint) rather than as resistance (direct action) -- a political, religious, or moral, rather than a practical, impediment to the draft:

Historically, involuntary induction into the Armed Forces has been controversial, has initiated public dissent and protest.... Although many factors can influence fluctuation of registration rates, low registration compliance rates may reflect elements of society that do not have a incentive to serve, or exposure to the value of National or public service. Although many young men fail to register because they are unaware of the requirement (high school dropouts, immigrants, isolated communities), some populations and communities may be averse to service by religious conviction, moral perspective, or social pressures.

There's no mention at all in the Selective Service System report of the current decades-old Department of Justice policy of nonenforcement of the criminal penalties for wilful refusal to register for the draft. But there is an implicit admission that the low level of compliance, coupled with the lack of effective (or feasible) criminal penalties, would create the basis for challenges to the fairness of any draft based on the current incomplete and inaccurate registration database. In an exercise in wishful thinking, however, the Selective Service System fantasizes that this could be addressed by "careful and clever" marketing -- as though the reluctance of young men to kill and die on the government's command could be turned around by better targeted advertising ("outreach"):

In order to ensure a fair and equitable draft in a national emergency, it is imperative that as close to 100% of eligible men are in fact registered for Selective Service. One change that would be productive could be a widely expanded, interagency-driven national outreach that addresses all of society (registrants and influencers) with particular attention on a broad array of 'At risk' youth, undocumented persons, and elements of society that are not impacted or influenced by automatic registration processes (Drivers License Legislation, Alaska Permanent fund, federal employment etc.) A fair and equitable induction process through a lottery system requires full participation by the nation's eligible citizens.... Registration is the law; the nation should back this up by investing in citizenship activities, to include registration for Selective Service. There should be a consequence, other than loss of some federal benefits, for failure to register. That requires an investment in outreach.

The report and recommendations from the Selective Service System were submitted to the NCMNPS in December 2017, as part of a package of reports from Cabinet departments and independent agencies required by the law that established the NCMNPS during the lame-duck Congressional session after the 2016 elections. The section from the Selective Service System was inexplicably missing from the version of the PDF file containing all the other agencies' reports initially released by the NCMNPS in response to my FOIA requests, although it was listed in the table of contents.

After I pointed out the unexplained omission, and requested that the NCMNPS conduct an additional search specifically for the Selective Service System report, a replacement version of the compilation of reports created on 31 January 2019 and including the previously missing pages from the Selective Service System was quietly posted this week.

I'm continuing to pursue the other records still not disclosed in response to my FOIA requests to the NCMNPS. [Update: On 6 February 2019 the NCMNPS released a PowerPoint presentation (PDF version) given to the members of the NCMNPS during their visit to the Selective Service System data center at Naval Station Great Lakes, North Chicago, IL, on 29 June 2018. It gives more detail than has been available previously concerning the sources of the current Selective Service System database of registrants for the draft.]

The NCMNPS will hold two days of public hearings on the future of the Selective Service System, military conscription, and compulsory national "service", including whether draft registration should be ended, extended to women, or modified in other ways, at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, on Wednesday and Thursday, April 24th and 25th, 2019. (Gallaudet University focuses on deaf and hard of hearing students, who would be deemed medicially unfit for military service under the criteria in current Selective Service regulations and contingency plans. A far smaller percentage of students at Gallaudet than at most colleges or universities are at risk of being drafted.) I'll be there, and I hope to see some of you there. The Commission needs to hear from those who will resist and those who will defend and support resisters in court, in the court of public opinion, and in and out of prison. If you are planning to attend, please get in touch. I don't know when the lists of invited witnesses will be confirmed, but NCMNPS staff told me last week that more details and a summary of the policy options being considered will be posted on the NCMNPS Web site two weeks before each of the hearings.

Link | Posted by Edward, 2 February 2019, 10:11 (10:11 AM) | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Interim Report of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service

[Members of the NCMNPS at the event yesterday launching the interim report. In foreground at podium: Debra Wada, Vice-Chair of the NCMNPS for military service issues and former Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower [sic] and Reserve Affairs. Photo from offical NCMNPS Twitter feed.]

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service (NCMNPS) released its interim report today.

The Commission was created in 2016 to study and report to Congress and the President on whether registration with the Selective Service System for military conscription ("the draft") should be ended, extended to young women as well as young men, extended to older women and men with skills in special demand by the military (in health care, computer science, STEM, foreign languages, etc.), or replaced with something else such as compulsory "national service" with both civilian and military options.

I've been following the Commission as closely as its penchant for secrecy has allowed. I attended four of the Commission's public events last year (in Boston, Nashua, Denver, and Los Angeles), possibly more than anyone else except the Commision and its staff and contractors; submitted detailed written testimony and personally deliveried copies of a petition initiated by Julie Mastrine and signed by more than 25,000 people asking that draft registration be ended rather than extended to women; testified in person at the Commission event in Denver; and obtained and published the most comprehensive collection of records of the Commision's activities, released in response to my Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The Commision's goal in its interim report released today is not really to "report" on what it has done, but to set the terms of debate (excluding options like, "Admit that draft registration has failed"), and test the political reaction to some of the proposals the Commission is considering.

As I told Gregory Korte for his story in USA Today about the Commission:

Edward Hasbrouck... was jailed for four months in the 1980s for refusing to register for the draft.

The prosecutor in that case: Robert Mueller, who became FBI director and is the special counsel investigating Donald Trump's presidential campaign....

Hasbrouck is one of more than 25,000 people who signed a petition urging the commission to end the draft.

"I think any objective serious examination of the last 40 years of draft registration would conclude that draft registration has failed," he said."It cannot be enforced. There's no reason to think it can be salvaged by expanding it to women."

Here are some other key points to keep in mind as you read the interim report and/or news stories about it:

Continue reading "Interim Report of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service"
Link | Posted by Edward, 23 January 2019, 05:53 ( 5:53 AM) | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Another demonstration of CRS/GDS insecurity

Zack Whittaker had a report yesterday for Techcrunch on the latest rediscovery of a continuing vulnerability affecting sensitive personal data in airline reservations that I first reported, both publicly and to the responsible companies, more than 15 years ago: computerized reservations systems and systems that rely on them for data storage and retrieval, including airline check-in Web sites, use a short, insecure, unchangeable, system-assigned, and fundamentally insecure "record locator" as though it were a secure password to control access to passenger name record (PNR) data.

I wrote about these vulnerabilities and reported them to each of the major CRS/GDS companies in 2001, 2002, and 2003, specifically noting their applicability to airline check-in Web sites (among many other Web services). I pointed these vulnerabilities out in a submission to the US Federal Trade Commission in 2009 which was co-signed by several consumer and privacy organizations, in my 2013 testimony as an invited expert witness before the Advisory Committee on Aviation Consumer Protection of the U.S. Department of Transportation, in a complaint which was which finally accepted and docketed by the European Commission in 2017, and in my comments to the European Commission in December 2018 with respect to its current review of the European Union's regulations governing protection of personal data by CRSs.

Meanwhile, in late 2016, both the insecurity of "record locators" as passwords and "brute force" record locator attacks on one of the Web gateways to the Amadeus CRS that I had written about were publicly demonstrated by white-hat hackers, prompting another and more extensive round of publicity.

In my comments last month to the European Commission, I recounted some of this history and recommended that:

The privacy and data protection provisions of the CRS Code of Conduct.... Should be retained [and] should be enforced... including by requiring CRSs to replace "record locators" with user-selectable, user-changeable passwords.

I also pointed out the reason that airlines have not closed these vulnerabilities, or pressured CRSs to do so, despite having been aware of them for many years from my own and other reports:

In the absence of support by the CRSs for password controls on PNR access, numerous public-facing systems that rely on CRSs for data storage and functionality, including self-service check-in and itinerary viewing systems operated by airlines and travel agencies (or operated by CRSs in the names of airlines or travel agencies), rely on inherently insecure, fixed, CRS-assigned "record locators" in place of passwords. These record locators are printed on boarding passes, baggage tags, and itineraries. Travellers are never told that they need to treat record locators as unchangeable passwords....

Airlines accept this lack of security because it facilitates automation through self-service systems that reduce airline labor costs. More secure systems that require a unique or user-selectable password for access to each PNR would require more airline and/or airport staff to deal with lost or forgotten passwords, and might reduce or slow adoption of self-service check-in, flight change, or other labor-saving systems. In the absence of data protection enforcement, airlines have a financial interest in prioritizing their own business process automation over the security of travellers' personal data.

Airlines and other CRS users will implement more secure, but more costly, PNR access controls only if they are forced to do so through enforcement of data protection requirements, or if passwords are implemented by CRSs as requirements for all users. [emphasis added]

The responses by Amadeus to the latest demonstration of these longstanding, well-known, and already reported and publicized vulnerabilities, according to Techcrunch, is to claim to have taken "immediate action". But I spent hours on the phone and engaged in extensive e-mail correspondence with Amadeus in 20901-2003, trying unsuccessfully to get the company to do anything about this vulnerability or explain its inaction. There was no action in response, immediate or otherwise.

Yesterday Amadeus also said, according to Techcrunch, "We work with our customers and partners in the industry to address PNR security overall. The airline industry relies on IATA standards that were introduced to improve efficiency and customer service on a global scale. Because the industry works on common industry standards, including the PNR, further improvements should include reviewing and changing some of the industry standards themselves, which requires industry collaboration."

Even if this were true, the industry has had ample time -- more than 15 years -- to implement changes to IATA standards such as the AIRIMP. But the suggestion that closing this vulnerability would require changes to IATA standards is simply not true. Neither the AIRIMP (which sets standards for messaging between airlines and CRSs, but not for consumer-facing interfaces) nor any other IATA standard requires the use of a record locator as means of controlling access to PNR data, or precludes the inclusion in PNRs of user-selectable and user-changeable passwords or their use to control access to PNR data.

Yes, industry-wide changes are needed. But they need to start with Amadeus and the other CRSs that set the de facto standard of insecurity for handling of personal information in airline reservations.

Amadeus and the other CRS companies, as well as the airlines that accept their insecure services, need to stop lying, stop pointing fingers of blame at anyone but themselves, stop feigning surprise at each new report of the same well-known vulnerabilities, and get to work on fixing their problems.

Link | Posted by Edward, 16 January 2019, 21:16 ( 9:16 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 31 December 2018

Some highlights from my year of travel

[Liberec, Czechia]

My work for the Identity Project and my volunteer commitments to the National Writers Union left me relatively little time to write about my own travels this year, which included two months bicycling in Germany and several nearby European countries, and a week in Athens.

As I've sometimes done before, I'd like to share a few of the places I stayed, ate, and visited, with an emphasis on those that are (a) especially good value for the price, and (b) at least a little bit off the beaten path.

The Hasbrouck Uncertainty Principle of Travel says that sufficiently widely-read writing about a place inevitably changes it (and that travel changes the visitor as well as the place visited). But my readership isn't so large as to put a hotel, restaurant, museum, or small town on the Lonely Planet or Rick Steves trail if it isn't already on its way there. My point, though, isn't to tell you how to get away from the crowds, but to suggest some places and areas you might not have known about or considered, but that might be worth a stop if you are passing through, or a small detour if you are nearby:

Continue reading "Some highlights from my year of travel"
Link | Posted by Edward, 31 December 2018, 23:30 (11:30 PM) | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Review of the E.U. Code of Conduct for reservation systems

The European Commission is conducting a public consultation on the E.U. Code of Conduct for Computerised Reservation Systems.

The CRS Code of Conduct, although porly enforced, provides important conusmer and privacy protections for air travellers and airline ticket purchasers worldwide.

The CRS Code of Conduct was last reviewed a decade ago. Since then, several complaints have been lodged with the European Commission against CRS operators, including airlines, for failing to comply with the requirements of the CRS Code of Conduct. But the Commission has taken action on few, if any, of these complaints,

My own complaint was finally acknowledged by the Commission in May 2017, and has supposedly been under investigation. But a year and a half later, I've received no word of any action on my complaint, and no response to recent inquiries as to its status.

According to a report by the trade trade news site TheBeat.Travel, the same office of the European Commision that is investigating my complaint decided earlier this year to abandon its investigation of another complaint of violations of the Code of Conduct for CRSs:

In May this year, the EC alerted ETTSA [the complainant] that it "took the preliminary view that it did not need to act upon the complaints," according to an ETTSA statement.... "Rather than taking a position on substance, as one would legitimately expect after an assessment process lasting almost three years, the Commission said it intended to turn down the complaint merely on the basis that the [EU code of conduct for CRSs] 'no longer reflects market reality and that it may be revised in the future.'" Indeed, European regulators are reviewing "all provisions" within that code of conduct, which is the governing GDS regulation in the EU.

At a committee hearing in the European Parliament on 10 July 2018 where this complaint was discussed, MEPs criticized the Commission for delaying enforcement of the current CRS Code of Conduct merely because it might later be revised.

The key points in my own submission today to the European Commission are as follows:

I share the concern of other consumer advocates that the CRS Code of Conduct remains -- along with the requirement for each airline to publish and comply with a tariff of fares -- a key means of ensuring transparency and non-discrimination in airfares. CRSs facilitate comparison shopping, in the face of airlines' efforts to make it more difficult for consumers to compare prices and to replace fare tariffs with personalized prices.

Airlines don't want transportation to be commodified. Airlines don't want the services of Airlines A, B, C, and D in providing a bundle of services including transportation of 1 adult person and 2 pieces of checked luggage from Point P to Point Q to be regarded as fungible. But travellers do, in fact, regard air transportation as a commodity, and regard most airlines as fungible. Airbuses are Airbuses, and Boeings are Boeings, regardless of what logo is painted on the tail. Travellers want to compare prices, and CRSs that provide neutral displays are the best means available for them to do so.

The CRS Code of Conduct also includes significant and necessary -- although to date unenforced -- protections for the highly sensitive personal information about travellers stored in CRSs. These provisions of the CRS Code of Conduct should be retained and enforced, for the same reasons that were discussed in comments to the Commission by the Identity Project in 2007, the last time the CRS Code of Conduct was reviewed.

The privacy and data protection provisions of the CRS Code of Conduct:

  1. Should be retained, regardless of what other changes are made to the Code of Conduct;
  2. Should continue to explicitly define CRSs as data controllers, regardless of what other entities might also be considered controllers of the same data; and
  3. Should be enforced, both now and in the future, including by requiring CRSs to:
    • (a) Replace "record locators" with user-selectable, user-changeable passwords, and
    • (b) Add immutable access logs, similar to the current change logs, to PNR "histories", to enable CRSs and CRS users to provide data subjects with an accounting of disclosures and international transfers of PNR data and to enable oversight of purpose and geographic access controls.

The consultation ends Monday, 10 December 2018, Brussels time. You can submit comments through this online questionnaire or by e-mail to

Link | Posted by Edward, 9 December 2018, 22:34 (10:34 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

To vote, or not to vote?

As this Election Day in the USA has approached, I've been seeing more and more "Get Out The Vote" messages that argue (or, worse, don't bother to argue but rather presume as not needing argument) that voting is some kind of duty or obligation, and that eligible citizens "ought" to vote.

I think we need more, not less, discussion of whether or not to vote, and of the reasons people choose to vote or not to vote. And more people should have that choice. Non-citizens, people under 18 years old, people in most states (but not all) who are imprisoned or on parole or probation (which not infrequently continues for life) for felonies, and people in some states who were ever convicted of a felony, no matter how long ago, are disenfranchised by current state laws, and don't have a choice of whether to vote.

But telling me I have an ethical "duty" to vote is both wrong, in my opinion, and unlikely to persuade me to vote. I'm not trying to persuade anyone to vote, or not to vote, but here's my response to those who tell me I "ought" to vote, without first asking why I might choose not to do so:

Continue reading "To vote, or not to vote?"
Link | Posted by Edward, 6 November 2018, 11:46 (11:46 AM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 5 October 2018

A review of the Gemini PDA

[Is this the best mobile data communicator for travellers? Or just the smallest one with a usable keyboard?]

In September 2017, I wrote one of the first hands-on reviews of the prototype and plans for the Gemini PDA after I was part of a small meet-up in San Francisco with the CEO and CTO of Planet Computers Ltd. and a few backers of the Indiegogo project.

My Gemini arrived in San Francisco in March 2018 as part of the first production batch shipped to Indiegogo backers by express mail directly from the factory in Shenzhen. I've been using the Gemini intermittently since then, and took it with me on a two-month bicycle trip in Europe this summer. (I also brought my usual mini-laptop and Android smartphone, so I could see which devices -- if any -- were redundant, and which I would use in which situations.)

A year after my initial review, and six months after I received my Gemini, here's a detailed update on what works, what doesn't, what Planetcom needs to do to deliver on the promise of the Gemini (and the promises made to Indiegogo backers), and -- most importantly -- how to decide whether you should buy a Gemini to use on your travels.

Continue reading "A review of the Gemini PDA"
Link | Posted by Edward, 5 October 2018, 10:12 (10:12 AM) | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, 9 September 2018

How to get money from an airline

Check from Delta Air Lines for $732.15

Once upon a time, airline passengers could expect that if an airline cancelled a flight, the airline would arrange and pay for meals and hotel accommodations for stranded passengers until it was able to get them to their originally ticketed destinations on its own or other airlines' flights.

Today, it's become increasingly common for airlines to cancel flights preemptively, or to delay departures for hours, if they fear that flights might be delayed or diverted by adverse weather, air traffic congestion, unavailability of flight crews, or other circumstances. But it's no longer routine for most U.S. airlines, on most routes, to provide hotel or meal vouchers to passengers holding tickets on cancelled or delayed flights.

U.S. Federal law entitles ticketed passengers to cash compensation if, but only if, they are involuntarily denied boarding because a flight is "overbooked". But airlines are usually able to evade cash payments by bribing passengers on overbooked flights with airline scrip, not cash, to "voluntarily" give up their seats.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's guide to flyers' rights doesn't even mention airline-paid hotel accommodations as a possibility, and describes meal vouchers or any other compensation as an "amenity" entirely at the discretion of the airline:

Each airline has its own policies about what it will do for delayed passengers waiting at the airport; there are no federal requirements. If you are delayed, ask the airline staff if it will pay for meals or a phone call. Some airlines, often those charging very low fares, do not provide any amenities to stranded passengers. Others may not offer amenities if the delay is caused by bad weather or something else beyond the airline's control. Contrary to popular belief, for domestic itineraries [within the U.S.] airlines are not required to compensate passengers whose flights are delayed or cancelled.

That's an accurate statement of U.S. law. Fortunately, consumer protection law is much better in many other countries than it is in the U.S.

As the check pictured above shows, there are still times when airlines, including U.S. airlines, pay cash compensation to passengers with tickets on cancelled or delayed flights. In some cases, passengers are legally entitled to cash compensation as well as food and lodging while they are delayed. Often, all you need to do to receive accommodations and/or compensation is ask.

But many, perhaps most, U.S. travellers have given up hope of ever getting cash rather than scrip from an airline, don't realize that they may have more rights under foreign law than under U.S. law, even when they are flying on a U.S. airline, and don't know what to ask for, when, or how.

I got the check from Delta Air Lines pictured above for US$735.15 (for one passenger, on one cancelled flight), as well as vouchers from the airline for a night in an airport hotel outside Paris, transfers from the airport to the hotel and back, and dinner and breakfast in the hotel restaurant. I got where I was going a day late, and had to rearrange some of my plans, but US$735 is enough that I felt fairly compensated.

Getting paid by the airline wasn't hard, but I wouldn't have gotten anything if I hadn't known to ask.

Here's how getting compensated worked for me, and what you need to know:

Continue reading "How to get money from an airline"
Link | Posted by Edward, 9 September 2018, 13:38 ( 1:38 PM) | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Thoughts from Berlin on the Stasi and the TSA

Most of the writing I've published during the last couple of months has been on the Web site of the Identity Project (

I don't usually repost those articles here, but today's includes more than most about my recent travels.

Some excerpts (full article here):

Jana Winter has a detailed investigative report on the front page of today's Boston Globe about a previously secret TSA program of illegal surveillance of innocent air travelers, "Quiet Skies".

According to the story in the Globe, based in part on descriptions and documents apparently leaked by dissident Federal Air Marshals, the "Quiet Skies" program selects certain airline passengers, who aren't on any blacklist ("watchlist") or under investigation for any crime, on the basis of algorithmic profiling, countries previously visited (merely traveling to Turkey has been enough to get some people selected), phone numbers or email addresses, and/or other factors in DHS files about them.

A team of FAMs is assigned to follow each targeted traveler from the time they arrive at their airport of origin (which the TSA knows from its access to airline reservations through the Secure Flight program), onto and on the plane, through any connecting airports, and until the unwitting target of their surveillance leaves the airport at their final destination.

The FAM gumshoes are required to file detailed reports on each traveler they are assigned to stalk, including a checklist of details such as whether the person being tailed used the toilet in the airport or on the plane, whether they slept for most of the flight or only briefly, and whether they had "strong body odor" or engaged in "excessive fidgeting."

Is this the reincarnation of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, the (re)emergence of an American Stasi, or standard operating procedure for a government that regards travel as inherently suspicious, rather than as the exercise of human and Constitutional rights?

All of the above, unfortunately.

The story in the Globe speaks for itself, and is worth reading in full.

But lest it be misunderstood, here are some key points about what today's news reveals, what's new and what isn't, and why it's significant:...

Until now, there has been no Edward Snowden from within the TSA or DHS, despite the numbers of people involved in travel surveillance and control.

Thousands of Federal Air Marshals have been ordered to inform on anyone they overhear saying anything suspicious on an airplane. Tens of thousands of TSA employees and contractors, and a similar order of magnitude of CBP staff, have been ordered to carry out suspicionless searches and profiling of travelers. An unknown number of programmers, at a cost of billions of dollars, have coded the DHS into the ecosystem of airline reservation data, giving the DHS root access to reservation data and positive control of boarding-pass issuance. An unknown number of "analysts" at the "National Targeting Center" and in airports in the US and around the world spend their days reviewing secret dossiers about innocent travelers and deciding, on the basis of secret criteria, which of them to allow to board which flights.

Until now, none of these people has spoken out against being ordered to spy on travelers or to control who is and who isn't allowed to travel where....

I'm writing this on a peaceful sunny Sunday morning in Berlin, in a pleasant modern hotel a few blocks east of the former course of the Berlin Wall. I've spent the last several weeks in the former DDR and neighboring former members of the Warsaw Pact. I've been talking with people I meet, visiting museums and memorials, and reading translations of local writing about the legacy of the former secret police of those countries.

Today, the Stasi isn't bugging my East Berlin hotel room, and local people can talk with me, a foreigner, without fear that they will be called in for questioning about what we talked about or that someone who overhears our conversation will inform on them to the secret police, with subsequent adverse effects on their ability to get permission to work or travel.

But the DHS has all the details of my airline reservations home to the USA, even though I'm flying on a foreign airline by way of a third country. And data such as what phone number or email address are reported to the DHS by the airline, on this or any previous trip, could cause me to be shadowed and reported on by Federal agents, or for airlines not to receive DHS permission to transport me. Just as nobody could travel from the DDR to the West without permission from the Stasi, granted or denied on the basis of a secret dossier maintained about each individual, nobody today can leave or return to the US by air without permission from the DHS, granted or denied on the basis of a similarly secret dossier and subject to no statutory standards and, to date, to no judicial review.

East Berliners no longer have to apply to the Stasi for permission to cross to West Berlin or to travel abroad. But each US or foreign citizen who wants to travel by air to, from, or within the USA has to get permission from the DHS before the airline is allowed to issue their boarding pass. And there are DHS "advisors" permanently assigned to sit behind the scenes in German airports, making "recommendations" to German authorities, on the basis of secret DHS dossiers and secret DHS algorithms, of who those German authorities should -- and should not -- allow to board flights from Germany.

There are places of remembrance in Berlin and elsewhere dedicated to preserving the memory of what was wrong with the Stasi and its counterparts in neighboring countries, that their evils neither be forgotten nor be repeated. But we have nothing like that in the USA, much less a monument on the Mall in Washington to the victims of COINTELPRO -- an FBI program for surveillance and suppression of dissent that was exposed only by illegal direct action, not by any mechanism for self-correction within the government.

We hope that the latest expose on the "Quiet Skies" program will be seen not as evidence of an aberration or an excess that should be "corrected" or an agency that should be "reigned in", but as further evidence of the fundamental character of the TSA as a lawless agency dedicated in practice, notwithstanding its rhetoric of "security", to surveillance and control of the movements of US citizens and foreigners alike.

The TSA can no more be "reformed" than could the Stasi. Nor can many other DHS components. We look forward to the day when they are abolished. Then their archives can be thrown open to the public, as those of the Stasi have been, to serve as a library of techniques of government surveillance and control against which we must be vigilant.

In the meantime, the secret police should be mocked, shamed, denounced, exposed, and defied both by those who are asked to submit to, and those who are asked to become perpetrators of, their evils.

We commend each of the Federal Air Marshals whose leaks contributed to the report in the Globe today. We celebrate their whistleblowing, and hope it will be emulated by others throughout the DHS.

And we hope that more people will say, "No," to the entire police-state enterprise of government surveillance and control of travel of which "Quiet Skies" is just a small part.

Link | Posted by Edward, 29 July 2018, 08:28 ( 8:28 AM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)