TSA tracking American citizens with 'Quiet Skies' program

The "Quiet Skies" program, as first reported in the Boston Globe, uses a computer algorithm to spot flyers -- including American citizens -- whose travel and activities match with current threat intelligence.

The TSA said in a statement the program’s primary purpose is to “ensure passengers and flight crew are protected during air travel,” adding that it doesn’t take race and religion into account and “is not intended to surveil ordinary Americans with routine reviews and active management via legal, privacy and civil rights and liberties offices, it is a practical method of keeping another act of terrorism from occurring at 30,000 feet.”

Officials familiar with the program said “Quiet Skies” complies with security constraints and privacy requirements. One source said the “Quiet Skies” team has to be prepared to justify why an individual is being questioned if they are challenged.

If a flyer is on the list for a certain amount of time and travels without incident, they are automatically removed from the list. Some in the security field believe this creates a certain level of risk because if the person being surveilled is a sleeper agent, they may succeed in flying under the radar. But congressional concerns about redress prompted the policy.

The "Quiet Skies" program has been in existence since 2010 and the TSA says Congress and the airlines have been briefed on the program over the last 12 to 18 months. 

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