Federal agency’s measure could lead to flyers self-censoring so as not to arouse suspicion

Expert: TSA Plan to Scrutinize Social Media Posts of Travelers "Disturbing"


Privacy expert Joe McNamee warns that a proposed plan by the TSA to scrutinize travelers’ social media posts is a “disturbing” threat to freedom of speech.

A potential change to the federal agency’s PreCheck program would involve collecting data from an individual’s blog posts and social media comments before determining whether they are a security risk. Purchase history would also potentially be one of the criteria used to determine a traveler’s threat level.

Once the measure is implemented, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see it imposed on all flyers.

McNamee, Executive Director of European Digital Rights, warned that the measure could lead to travelers self-censoring or even amending their purchase habits so as not to arouse suspicion.

“This is very disturbing from a free speech perspective,” he said. “It will be logical for anyone that is planning to rely on the TSA for any purpose to carefully self-censor any statement — or even any purchase — that could be misinterpreted and raise a flag as to their acceptability.”

“The amount of surveillance of online activities has already caused significant damage to free speech,” added McNamee, noting that the measure would also vacuum up a lot of “useless” data that wouldn’t even be pertinent to a security check.

As we have previously highlighted, the TSA has on several occasions made life difficult for travelers who have publicly criticized the federal agency.

CNN journalist Drew Griffin was also put on a TSA watch list immediately after he filed reports critical of the organization back in 2008.

Shortly after filing the reports, Griffin was placed on a watch list that at the time had swelled to over a million names. The TSA claimed that he was unfortunate enough to share the name with another Drew Griffin who had been legitimately placed on the list, but then denied that he was on the list altogether and blamed the airlines. The airlines responded by saying they were merely following a list provided to them by the TSA.

According to a leaked memo, the TSA also internally describe people who object to the established screening process as “domestic extremists,” which could include those who opt out of a body scan.