The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), not content with pat-downs and other intrusive procedures that can break the air passenger's spirit, has been compiling a secret watch list of "unruly" passengers who might pose a threat to TSA staff at airport checkpoints.
The watch list - first reported Thursday by the New York Times - includes people deemed by the agency to have engaged in behavior or come into contact with a TSA officer in way the agency deemed to be offensive or threatening. People who are seen to be loitering suspiciously near the checkpoints could end up on the list, the Times says, citing a five-page TSA directive it obtained.
Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman, said the agency took the step to protect its officers from combative passengers, and that so far, fewer than 50 are on it. In fiscal 2017, there were more than 34 assaults on TSA officers, she said.
"TSA is committed to its people and wants to ensure there are safeguards in place to protect TSA officers and others from any individual who has previously exhibited disruptive or assaultive behavior at a screening checkpoint and is scheduled to fly," Farbstein said in an email Thursday.
Thousands of passengers, in turn, have complained about checkpoint behavior and physical contact by TSA officers that is offensive. But the secret watch list also raises questions about possible civil rights abuses and due process for those who land on the list.
The American Civil Liberties Union expressed some of the same concerns Thursday about the TSA watch list that the organization has raised about the broader system of national security watch lists. Too many innocent people are swept up onto watch lists maintained by the FBI and other agencies, and there are inadequate methods to challenge those designations, the ACLU said.
"It permits TSA officials to blacklist people for conduct that could be wholly innocuous," Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney in the national security project of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview. "This is conduct that's so completely subjective, and in many cases likely completely innocent, it just gives officers too much latitude to blacklist people arbitrarily and to essentially punish them for asserting their rights and in doing anything other than complying with officers demands."