February 25, 2004
Why Won't DHS Respond To ACLU FOIA On JetBlue?
The ACLU has been trying unsuccessfully to find out more about the role of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the JetBlue privacy scandal, in which the airline handed over millions of customer records to a military contractor. The ACLU has been stonewalled by the government, but now has proof that the documents we seek not only exist, but have already been compiled by the government. Here's the story so far.
Step 1: JetBlue story breaks
- "Homeland Security - Airline Passenger Risk Assessment" Torch Concepts' presentation to the TSA in February 2003 (PDF)
- Ryan Singel, JetBlue Shared Passenger Data, Wired News, Sept. 18, 2003.
- JetBlue Apologizes For Divulging Info, Reuters, Sept. 19, 2003.
- JetBlue in Privacy Faux Pas, Associated Press, Sept. 20, 2003.
- Ryan Singel and Noah Shachtman, Army Admits Using JetBlue Data, Wired News, Sept. 23, 2003.
Step 2: ACLU files FOIA request with DHS
In an attempt to discover whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had any role in the JetBlue data transfer -- and especially whether it was related to the airline passenger profiling program CAPPS II -- the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking documents related to the incident.
Step 3: The ACLU receives no response to its FOIA request
The only response from the government is a letter denying "expedited processing" of the request.
Step 4: DHS issues its report on the JetBlue incident
In the report, the DHS privacy officer explicitly makes reference to material on JetBlue compiled by the DHS FOIA office. Why won't DHS release that information to the public?
"This report is based on a substantial document review by the DHS Privacy Office. These documents were obtained from a variety of sources: documents voluntarily provided by DHS employees.... The DHS Privacy Office further recognizes the work of our colleagues at the TSA FOIA office for their assistance in compiling documents for our review."
- DHS Privacy Office, Report to the Pubic on Events Surrounding jetBlue Data Transfer
Step 5: ACLU asks for information compiled by DHS Privacy Office
Given that the information originally requested by the ACLU on JetBlue has already been compiled, the ACLU asks in a letter to DHS for its immediate release. We also file a new FOIA request for other information that the DHS privacy office reports collecting for its own investigation.