Archive for April 2015

Feds Heighten Scrutiny of TSA Screeners and Aviation Staff to Thwart Insider Threat

Transportation Security Administration and aviation industry employees will be subjected to heightened electronic surveillance following several incidents involving insiders who abused their badges to traffic guns, federal officials announced Monday.

Among the actions that kick in immediately are random passenger-like screening of airline employees throughout the workday and biennial criminal history checks, until there is a system in place for “real-time recurrent” FBI background checks for all aviation workers, officials said.

TSA potentially also might monitor social media communications of individuals near certain airports, as well as suspect employees. And threat assessments of employees could be expanded to include cross-checks of employee information against additional U.S. and international watch lists.

The new and prospective measures stem from an advisory panel report the Department of Homeland Security requested after a former baggage handler last December allegedly helped smuggle loaded guns aboard a Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport plane bound for New York City.

The Aviation Security Advisory Committee called for an “immediate pilot” and full operation by the end of 2015.

One potentially divisive recommendation: “When a threat stream is identified, monitoring of social media via keyword GEO Fencing at the appropriate airport, or monitoring of the social media of suspect employees, can be effective tools to determine the existence of an insider threat.”

The committee acknowledged that social media monitoring “can be contentious” if not done appropriately, “but it is vital to today’s security.” DHS was hit with a lawsuit a few years ago for a national security surveillance program that would work, in part, by having the government concoct fake social media usernames and profiles to spy on users.

Other inspection techniques suggested include feeding security camera footage into prediction software that can flag odd activity.

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Surveillance strains the ‘backbone of democracy’

Wikimedia and other groups sued the U.S. National Security Agency on Tuesday and challenged one of its mass surveillance programs under the contention that the agency violates Americans’ privacy. In addition, the groups argue that the program would actually have the adverse effect of making individuals worldwide less likely to share sensitive information.

This lawsuit was filed in a Maryland federal court and claims that the NSA is violating U.S. constitutional protections and the law by tapping into high-capacity cables, switches and routers that move Internet traffic through the United States.

The case may become a potential front for privacy advocates who have challenged U.S. spying programs in the past. Privacy because a hotly contested issue in 2013, when documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the long reach of government surveillance.

This particular case, Wikimedia Foundation, et al, v. National Security Agency, attacks “upstream” collection, which happens along high-capacity cables of the Internet and away from individual users. According to the lawsuit, bulk collection violates the constitution’s First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and association, and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

“By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy,” Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement.

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