Canadian Privacy Commissioner Comments on the No-Fly List

Refreshingly sensible:

Stoddart told inquiry Commissioner John Major she is concerned that people could be placed on the list in error and face dire consequences if their identities are then disclosed to the RCMP or passed on to police agencies in other countries.

And she questioned why, if people are so dangerous that they can't get on a plane, they are deemed safe to travel by other means in Canada.

[...]

Between June 28, when the program came into effect, and the end of September, no passengers were turned away because of the list, the inquiry heard. Stoddart said that information only increases her suspicion about the value of the program.

"I think it only deepens the mystery of the rationale, the usefulness of this," Stoddart said. "The program is totally opaque."

Major suggested that perhaps less extreme measures could be taken. For example, individuals on the list might be able to undergo extra screening so they could be allowed to travel.

[...]

"We are looking to avoid what happened in 9/11. Presumably it's to keep dangerous people capable of blowing planes up -- or capturing them -- off the plane. It seems difficult that you can do that by a name (on a list) alone."

Other members of Stoddart's staff added there are concerns someone could be stranded in Canada after arriving without incident, only to be prevented from boarding their return flight.

Posted on November 13, 2007 at 12:25 PM • 21 Comments

Comments

MarcNovember 13, 2007 1:02 PM

I presume the reason a no-fly list member cannot be allowed to fly even if handcuffed into their seat is the lack of effective scrutiny of airport service personnel.


Lots of security theater on the concourse, and in the mean time, the minimum-wage catering truck driver is slipping all sorts of ugly stuff onto the plane via the back door (literally and figuratively), including the keys to the cuffs keeping the no-fly person restrained in their seat.

It all makes sense now.

SenseNovember 13, 2007 1:05 PM

Isn't anyone, or at least a large subset of the population, technically capable of blowing up or capturing planes, and thus "dangerous"? What makes one person more dangerous than another? What are the objective criteria?

bzelbobNovember 13, 2007 1:12 PM

From the Article:

"And she questioned why, if people are so dangerous that they can't get on a plane, they are deemed safe to travel by other means in Canada."

This is part of the larger problem with "Lists" like the no-fly list, etc. You haven't been proven to have committed a crime, but you MIGHT be willing to commit a crime, so we're going to deny you something based on being on a list.

With this kind of logic, it won't be long before we'll have all sorts of lists, like who can't buy fertilizer in stores, who can't be allowed to own handguns, who can't be allowed to brew extra strong chili-pepper sauce, etc.

And in case anyone is wondering whether governments would abuse this power, remember it has already happened.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixon's_Enemies_List

*All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.*

FPNovember 13, 2007 2:07 PM

A sudden outbreak of common sense? From the article, it's miniscule at best. If you're on the list by mistake, you get to fly but handcuffed to your seat, but there's still no way to get off the list, apparently.

Never mind that the plane will not get off the ground once other passengers learn that a "risky person" is on board, body searched and handcuffed or not.

"Major suggested that perhaps less extreme measures could be taken."

I recommend just the opposite. If someone shows up at an airport and gets a match on the no-fly list, he or she should be executed on the spot. If the cost of a false positive is too low, then the cost of proper list maintenance and redress procedures is too high in comparison. If it's only a full body search, who cares if you're on the list or not?

anonymous canuckNovember 13, 2007 2:07 PM

Ah then it's all about intent isn't it.

A friend returning from a stint in Saudi Arabia a number of years ago, related how they were pulled over for speeding and requested to pay a roadside fine.

Problem was traffic was heavy and no one was going anywhere fast.

No problem, the officer noticed they were all wearing seat belts. "Intent to speed". The roadside fine was the same.

alphadogNovember 13, 2007 2:10 PM

@bzelbob: Curious. Let's assume I am a person who talks of blowing up a plane with others that share a similar interest, and I am capable of it, but have not been found to have previously "committed an act of terrorism" nor have been found with active and detailed plans (meaning dates, methods, materials) for such an act? Should I be allowed on a plane, thus serving the noble ideal of "innocent before guilty", or should I be stopped, in the interest of potential harm?

My first problem with the program is the "opaqueness" of the list and the methodology whereby people end up on the list. At a minimum, I should be allowed to see if my name is on the list and why. (A fully open list comes with its own societal issues, though.)

The fact that the list is not respected and used is reason enough to cancel it.

- alphadog

Darth ParadoxNovember 13, 2007 3:26 PM

@anonymous canuck: That particular scam - pull the foreigner over on some specious/falsified charge, request a "roadside fine" with the implicit threat to make the driver's life hell if he doesn't just pony up the money, which then presumably goes straight into the officer's pocket - is a pretty common one. This certainly isn't the first time I've heard of it; it's a very easy way for a corrupt cop to make loads of money off of foreigners traveling in a country with an unreliable justice system.

bzelbobNovember 13, 2007 3:32 PM

@alphadog:

I think your first question is a excellent one. My answer to it is that regardless of what I think, I cannot stop you from boarding an aircraft unless I have some valid reason to do so. There's no law against THINKING about vulnerabilities in aircraft design, but if you actually DO something illegal, like placing an explosive on an aircraft, then you have broken the law and should be arrested. (And thus kept off the aircraft.)

My first problem with the list is it's very existence. (The fact that it's not respected follows from the fact that it should not exist.) If I can control your behavior with an opaque list that has nothing to do with the law, then we have abandoned the rule of law and have fallen into something else.

Also note that keeping "lists" has been a tactic known and used throughout history. When we don't have enough evidence, we put you on a list and, if I'm not mistaken, both Hitler and Stalin used "lists" of people to arrest and detain. This created fear of being put on the "list". Since the state agencies and not the courts controlled the lists, you had basically no rights and no appeal was possible. Then when the state wanted you to do something you didn't want to do, all it had to do is imply that you might be put on the "list" and you would cooperate because otherwise you, the lone citizen, faced the entire power of the state directly.

This is the insidious power of the "list". It transfers you from a system where you have rights (and thus power) to one where the state has all the power and you have none. If you think I'm overstating the case, just look at the no fly list as it stands today:

- You cannot tell ahead of time if you've been placed on the list.
- You cannot tell who placed you on it.
- You cannot tell why you were placed on it.
- You cannot get removed from the list except by a (recently added) appeals process which apparently takes months.
- Every year, more and more people get added to the list. (Now we are into the hundreds of thousands.)
- You can be stopped even if you are only 6 years old (or even younger).

The no-fly list will stop when every single person who is refused permission to fly join together in a lawsuit challenging the no-fly list as UNCONSTITUTIONAL and therefore unlawful.

Let's stop the insanity before the state decides we need a no-drive list.


Too LateNovember 13, 2007 3:47 PM

@bzelbob

"Let's stop the insanity before the state decides we need a no-drive list."

A little late for that one. The State already has that list, and everyone is on it by default.

You have to qualify for a State-granted license to get off that list.

Good thing that have that licensing requirement, though. There are never any collisions in the U.S. due to horrible driving (by licensed drivers), nor any drunk driving (by licensed drivers.)

But hey, at least you get to pay (through your taxes) for thousands of people to be DMV employees, so everyone feels that "the problem has been solved by our government."

cleversharkNovember 13, 2007 5:13 PM

Ironically only one of the 9/11 hijackers would have been prevented from taking his last flight by a no-fly list based on terrorism watchlists. So even looking back the no-fly list would have been ineffective at preventing the biggest act of terrorism on US soil.

AnonymousNovember 13, 2007 6:16 PM

And still, they don't have locks on the planes. Anyone with physical access to the airport service areas (esp. at night) can walk in, and do whatever they want....

Fake Bruce SchneierNovember 13, 2007 7:10 PM

I've often wondered how one gets on the list. If enough people were on the list, and they also refused the searches, travel would stop, the airlines would suffer (and the non-fliers would complain to their Congressional reps), and something useful might actually get done about the list. We need MORE people on the list, not LESS.

If only there were a checkbox on my driver's license form, like the one for "Register to vote" or "Organ donor".

CairnarvonNovember 14, 2007 8:22 AM

"Good thing that have that licensing requirement, though. There are never any collisions in the U.S. due to horrible driving (by licensed drivers), nor any drunk driving (by licensed drivers.)"

Similarly, we should get rid of laws against murder, since there are murderers regardless. It'd certainly reduce spending on all those prisons and police officers.

(I hope you're a troll, but I fear you might just be a Libertarian.)

UNTERNovember 14, 2007 9:47 AM

On the other hand:
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/10/25/america/NA-GEN-Canada-Protesters-Border.php

American anti-war activists have gotten themselves on an FBI "dangerous persons" list that excludes them from Canada. They can't get answers for why or how, there's no appeal process and they appear to only have civil disobedience misdemeanors on their record. Yet they get excluded like fugitive convicts.

Or like East German citizens trying to get out of East Berlin.

Ah, Soviet America. Authoritarianism smells so good in the morning!

jayhNovember 14, 2007 9:52 AM

@anonymous
"No problem, the officer noticed they were all wearing seat belts. "Intent to speed". The roadside fine was the same."

In Alabama, I believe, a person who chose to sleep of his alcohol in a parked car was convicted of DUI because the keys IN HIS POCKET indicated intent to drive.

Too LateNovember 14, 2007 2:53 PM

@Cairnarvon

"Similarly, we should get rid of laws against murder, since there are murderers regardless. It'd certainly reduce spending on all those prisons and police officers."

Of course not. But the State does not (presently) presume you are a murderer up until you pass a licensing exam "proving" your good standing as a non-murderous citizen.

Current state laws against murder work reasonably well. Current state licensing schemes (of all sorts) are a joke, and function primarily as 'jobs-for-votes' entrenched voting blocks for "government-is-the-answer" politicians (is that a redundant description?)

Pointing out the fact that bureaucracies are inefficient, wasteful, and poor "solutions", should not trigger us to proclaim, "The only alternative, that dreaded specter called 'privatization', will surely lead us to legalize murder as the next logical step, as sure as night follows day!"

CairnarvonNovember 14, 2007 3:12 PM

Too Late: So you honestly believe getting rid of driver's licenses won't cause the accident rates to skyrocket? What kind of fantasy world do you live in?

Too LateNovember 14, 2007 3:45 PM

@Cairnarvon

"So you honestly believe getting rid of driver's licenses won't cause the accident rates to skyrocket?"

I never considererd getting rid of driver's licenses. I'm talking about replacing the current inefficient, less-than-responsive government-run licensing agencies with private, competition-incentivized licensing companies.

The result would be less intrusion into the private life of the U.S. citizen by government bureaucracies, and safer roads for everyone.

It's been done successfully in a number of other industries.

JuisarianNovember 14, 2007 11:35 PM

A couple of things:

1. You need a license to drive a car and fly a plane. You don't need a license to be a passenger in a car, which is a more relevant analogy in this case.

2. If the people on this list are so dangerous that they cannot be allowed to fly, why aren't they arrested? It almost seems as if general society itself is being converted into a kind of lower-tier prison, with only a priveledged few allowed to move in and out of it.

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