You know how invasive and discriminatory TSA checks can be when you’re about to fly? Well, it looks like similar practices may be coming to trains if you travel using Amtrak.
According to WLKY News, Amtrak has asked the TSA to start using the Terrorist Screening Database to check some passengers riding on trains. The plan was revealed in in documents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The program, part of the Amtrak Rail Passenger Threat Assessment and which has not been previously reported, would compare personal passenger information from Amtrak – which may also later include a traveler’s “publicly available social media” profiles viewed by DHS personnel – to the government’s terrorist screening database.
If the TSA finds any matches, the agency would then provide Amtrak with statistical and anonymized results that would not include passenger names, at least for this initial stage.
Currently, airline passengers can opt out of watchlist screening by choosing not to fly. But Amtrak passengers apparently won’t have that option because the screening will initially use “several months” of past travel on the busy Northeast Corridor, according to the threat assessment privacy document. Amtrak routes go through 46 of the 50 states. A spokesperson for the railroad did not respond to a question about whether passengers will be able to ask Amtrak to exclude past travel from the new screening.
Needless to say, the new program is really getting a lot of attention from people who care about, you know, our civil liberties.
A lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil rights non-profit organization, called the new measure “terrifying.”
This program is going to be far from perfect. Even DHS is acknowledging that its possible mistakes will be made… which is really not good considering people need to get places and deserve privacy. The DHS documents say that’s nothing to worry about.
The assessment goes on to assert that incorrect matches will have “no impact” on individual passengers’ privacy because only past travel records will be used and only statistical, or anonymized, results will be given to Amtrak. That means no passengers who are positive for a watchlist match will have their identities turned over to Amtrak. The limitation would be in place for at least in the initial phase of the program. But even then, the impact on travelers could go beyond TSA or Amtrak.
In the same document, DHS notes that the information gathered could be used for other purposes, including that potential and confirmed matches may be shared “with other law enforcement agencies pursuant to established routine uses.”
Amtrak itself isn’t alone in asking for these screenings. WLKY reports the company’s biggest union, Transportation Communications International, asked the government to start screening passengers against the Homeland Security no-fly list in the days following the January 6th attack on the Capitol.