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Thousands of American Passengers Monitored by TSA as Potential Threats

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been pulled into a new controversy after news broke that they have been monitoring thousands of American passengers as potential threats.

Passenger monitoring

The TSA had been monitoring flight passengers under the “Quiet Skies” program for several years, looking into people who were not registered in the Terrorist Screening Database or were not under investigation by any of the security agencies.  

And with no clear-cut rule of how to classify who was a potential threat, the agency ended up tracking thousands of passengers who had nothing to do with any kind of terrorist activity, wasting time and resources of the air marshals who were tasked to carry out the job. Passengers who exhibited signs of “abnormal awareness of the surroundings” like fidgeting, rapid blinking of the eyes, too much perspiration, etc., were all viewed with negative suspicion by the marshals.

People have understandably reacted angrily over TSA’s covert monitoring program, especially over the fact that they would have been viewed as a potential terrorist just because of something as simple as excessive perspiration. Meanwhile, the TSA has issued a statement trying to downplay the issue, saying that the Quiet Skies program is mostly intended for the security and safety of the passengers themselves.

Inside an airplane
The TSA had been monitoring flight passengers under the ‘Quiet Skies’ program for several years. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

“The program absolutely isn’t intended to surveil ordinary Americans. Instead, its purpose is to ensure passengers and flight crew are protected during air travel — no different than putting a police officer on a beat where intelligence and information present the need for increased watch and deterrence. The program analyzes information on a passenger’s travel patterns while taking the whole picture into account and adds an additional line of defense to aviation security”, CNN quotes a statement made by TSA.

Privacy issues

As reports started to appear about TSA’s monitoring program, several people voice strong views against it. Prominent among them was Senator Edward Markey from the District of Massachusetts, who criticized the breach of citizen’s privacy rights.  

“The Quiet Skies program is the very definition of ‘Big Brother’, and innocent Americans should not be subject to this kind of violation of their rights … This program raises serious privacy concerns, and depending on what criteria are being used for selecting individuals to surveil, including ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion, the program may be unconstitutional”,  The Epoch Times quotes Markey.

Senator Edward Markey
Senator Edward Markey from Massachusetts criticized the breach of citizen’s privacy rights. (Image: Wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has stated that TSA’s covert surveillance has raised a host of disturbing questions. It said that they will be requesting more information about TSA’s program under the Freedom of Information Act

“From what we know about the TSA’s secret surveillance program, it’s a bad idea. Now we need to know much more about how Quiet Skies works in order to make sure that the TSA is respecting the Constitution and Americans’ rights”, the organization’s senior staff attorney, Hugh Handeyside, writes in the ACLU blog.  

And although many others have also speculated that the TSA may have monitored people based on their nationality, religion, or race, they have completely rejected the rumor and stated that no such racial or religious bias existed during the monitoring program. TSA is yet to divulge how many terror plots have been foiled as a result of the Quiet Skies program.

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