Citing issues of questionable scientific justifications and documented examples of abuse, the watchdog group has termed the TSA program “unscientific, ineffective, and wasteful.”
Chances are that the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) screeners chatting with passengers in line at the airport checkpoint are not just making small talk. It is far more likely that specially trained personnel are instead attempting to psychologically profile travelers under a controversial scheme known as the “behavior detection” program.
A new report released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) finds that the program has a much broader reach than previously thought. The document based on Department of Homeland Security information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit reveals that the scope of the program extends to placing plainclothes agents undercover to study the behavior of passengers in the terminal.
While the TSA has long used plainclothes personnel to monitor passenger and employee activities in secure areas of US airports, this is the first indication that behavior detection agents are being used to interact with passengers waiting for flights. The ACLU maintains that this sort of covert interrogation is rife with the potential for abuse. According to the report, TSA documents indicate specific instances of “racial or religious profiling that the TSA concealed from the public.”
The just released report titled, “Bad Trip: Debunking the TSA’s Behavior Detection Program,” used the agency’s own academic studies to make a case that the entire program is objectively “unscientific and unreliable.” The ACLU report further alleges that TSA “repeatedly overstated the scientific validity of behavior detection in communications with members of Congress and the Government Accountability Office.”
Coupled with TSA documents that reveal “questions about anti-Muslim bias and the origins and focus of the TSA’s behavior detection program,” the paper concludes that the program not only represents a threat to civil liberties, but lacks any proven merit as a tool to keep the flying public safe. The ACLU used the document to call on US lawmakers to end all funding for the controversial practice.
In response to the potentially damning ACLU report, the TSA zealously defended its Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. The agency insisted that privacy concerns have been carefully addressed and dismissed any notion that the program utilizes any racial or religious profiling components.
“Behavior detection is threat-agnostic, and unlike technology, does not become obsolete when the adversary develops a new weapon or tactic,” TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson told The Los Angeles Times on Thursday.