TSA defends 'Quiet Skies' monitoring program


The TSA said in a statement to CBS News the program's primary goal is to "ensure passengers and flight crew are protected during air travel", adding that it doesn't take race and religion into account and "is not meant to surveil ordinary Americans with routine reviews and active management via legal, privacy and civil rights and liberties offices, it is a practical method of keeping another act of terrorism from occurring at 30,000 feet".

Federal air marshals have for years been quietly monitoring small numbers of USA air passengers and reporting on in-flight behaviour considered suspicious, even if those individuals have no known terrorism links, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has said. Air marshals then track such passengers and document their behavior at airports and in-flight, including how often they go to the bathroom, how many hours they sleep, if a traveler has "strong body odor" or "wide open, staring eyes".

In addition, the TSA also pushed back against the publication's reporting.

However, marshals tasked with carrying out the surveillance have criticised the program, while U.S. lawmakers have demanded answers from the TSA about the controversial program.

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If a flyer is on the list for a certain amount of time and travels without incident, they are automatically removed from the list.

Gregory claimed that what's going on under the Quiet Skies program is not surveillance, because nobody follows the individuals around or listens to their calls.

While TSA officials have defended Quiet Skies as necessary policing tactic in a post-9/11 America, a number of anonymous communications from individual air marshals obtained by the Globe indicate that agents tasked with carrying out such dubious surveillance are themselves upset with the agency's priorities.

TSA officials have also insisted that the program does not target people based on their race or nationality, something TSA has sometimes come under criticism for doing.

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It is a time-consuming and expensive assignment, the air marshals say, which hampers their ability to do more important work. "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", the agency said in a statement. When a passenger is selected for Quiet Skies monitoring, a team of air marshals is placed on their flight and provided details including their place of birth. In May, The New York Times reported that the TSA had begun compiling a separate list for unruly passengers who the agency said may pose a threat to agency security screeners.

The government says it's another way to keep people safe.

Every U.S. citizen that enters the country is screened by the TSA, checking things such as travel patterns as well as running names against the terrorist watch list.

"The American public would be better served if [air marshals] were instead assigned to airport screening and check in areas so that active shooter events can be swiftly ended, and violations of federal crimes can be properly and consistently addressed", he told the Globe. "But if it's USA citizens - United States citizens don't lose their rights simply because they are in an airplane at 30,000 feet", Turley said.

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