Do you sometimes get that eerie feeling someone is watching you at the check-in baggage counter at the airport? Or maybe someone in an aisle seat next to the exit door has been casually giving you “the-once-over” through your flight?
Is it your imagination or is there someone actually keeping tabs on you?
According to a recent report, the seemingly familiar face that you’re certain you’ve seen somewhere before may in fact be a federal air marshal secretly keeping an eye on you.
The Boston Globe recently reported that the government has a program in place called “Quiet Skies,” and since 2010 this program has been monitoring a small number of U.S. passengers who have raised the suspicions of Uncle Sam for a variety of reasons.
These potential red flags include travel histories, on board actions, and behavior as common as sweating heavily, using the restroom repeatedly or perhaps changing clothes while in the bathroom.
According to the Globe, when a person is placed on the watch list, a team of air marshals are assigned to that individual, and are placed on that individual’s next flight schedule. The team then receives personal information regarding the individual, who’s never informed that he or she is being monitored.
A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration down-played the program, suggesting the tactics used are similar to “the cop on the corner who is placed there because there is an increased possibility that something might happen.”
The agency stated that passengers were not singled out because of race or religion and emphasized that it did not follow those “flagged” passengers around the airport.
Adding, “In the world of law enforcement, this program’s core design is no different than putting a police officer on a beat where intelligence and other information presents the need for watch and deterrence.”
Obviously the program is quite controversial among many civil libertarians regarding a full range of civil liberties that many see as being abused.
Including some within the agency itself, who told the Globe the program diverts resources from legitimate threats and is a waste of time and money.
One air marshal reportedly filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s Office about the program.
John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association, told the Globe in a statement:
“The American public would be better served if these [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.”
Respected George Washington University law and constitutional professor Jonathan Turley weighted in on the controversy stating:
“If this was about foreign citizens, the government would have considerable power. But if its U.S. citizens, U.S. citizens don’t lose their rights simply because they are in an airplane at 30,000 feet.”
Adding, “There may be indeed constitutional issues here depending on how restrictive or intrusive these measures are.”
Senior staff attorney Hugh Handeyside with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, called on the TSA to provide more information about the program to passengers.
“Such surveillance not only makes no sense, it is a big waste of taxpayer money and raises a number of constitutional questions,” he said. “These concerns and the need for transparency are all the more acute because of TSA’s track record of using unreliable and unscientific techniques to screen and monitor travelers who have done nothing wrong.”
The use of Air Marshals on domestic flights followed the horrific events of September 11th 2001 — along with the creation of the TSA, which screens on average over 2-million passengers a day. Within the last decade, There’s no doubt that in recent years Americans have slowly relinquished their privacy rights, some voluntarily and some by government decree.