America's Shady 'Quiet Skies' Programme Has Tracked Thousands of Airline Passengers, Yet Produced No Leads

By Sidney Fussell on at

America's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) admitted to surveilling about 5,000 US citizens this year as part of its secretive “Quiet Skies” program, which places travellers on TSA watch lists even if they aren’t suspected of a crime, the Boston Globe reports. In a meeting with members of the US Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee last week, the TSA reportedly declined to specify what exactly gets a person on the list for enhanced monitoring, but made one major admission: after monitoring thousands of people placed on the list, zero leads have been produced.

Launched in March, but first reported by the Globe in July, Quiet Skies drew immediate criticism once the programme was publicly revealed. Under the guise of protecting passengers, the TSA created the programme to conduct enhanced monitoring of certain travellers based only on whether they exhibited certain behaviours considered suspicious. Those on the watchlist are never notified, but if TSA has reason to suspect something’s off, it may place air marshals on passengers’ subsequent flights.

“The program analyses information on a passenger’s travel patterns, and through a system of checks and balances, to include robust oversight, effectively adds an additional line of defence to aviation security,” the TSA said in a statement last month.

What causes a person to put on the list? The TSA has offered few details. Fidgeting, using a computer, or even staring can cause someone to be flagged, the Globe reports. As Techdirt perfectly explains, following people not suspected of crimes and then deciding they may be suspicious is like putting the cart below the horse.

“Quiet Skies is the very definition of Big Brother,” Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey told the Globe. “American travellers deserve to have their privacy and civil rights protected even 30,000 feet in the air.” [The Boston Globe, Techdirt]