Amtrak asks TSA to start screening rail passengers

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jebr

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Consider me extremely suspicious of this program. From WVTM:

Amtrak has asked the TSA to start screening some of its passengers against the Terrorist Screening Database watchlist maintained by the Threat Screening Center to see if known or suspected terrorists have been riding the rails, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security privacy impact document obtained by the Hearst Television National Investigative Unit.

The program, part of the Amtrak Rail Passenger Threat Assessment and which has not been previously reported, would compare personal passenger information from Amtrak – which may also later include a traveler's "publicly available social media" profiles viewed by DHS personnel – to the government's terrorist screening database.

If the TSA finds any matches, the agency would then provide Amtrak with statistical and anonymized results that would not include passenger names, at least for this initial stage.
 

neroden

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The only possible legit use for this would be to demonstrate that the "watchlist" is a pile of crap, which we all know it is, by showing from the data TSA returned that it was nothing but a pile of false alarms. I doubt that's what Amtrak is planning.
 
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The OP stated that it would not include names in the initial state. That being said, if it did include names, I would be in favor of this, but only if the person could safely be removed before entering the train.
That would be similar to how the no fly list works. But that would be tough to enforce on Amtrak given the large number of stations many of them unattended.
 

Ryan

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Is it possible that Amtrak has been made aware of a credible, but not imminent, threat and wants to explore if participation in this system would be beneficial to the safety of Amtrak passengers?
Anything is possible, but "tatistical and anonymized results that would not include passenger names" would be profoundly unhelpful for learning about a hypothetical credible threat.

The OP stated that it would not include names in the initial state. That being said, if it did include names, I would be in favor of this, but only if the person could safely be removed before entering the train.
That would be similar to how the no fly list works. But that would be tough to enforce on Amtrak given the large number of stations many of them unattended.
In theory, since one has to give a name to buy a ticket (can you actually walk up to a ticket agent, hand them cash and get a ticket without providing a name?), boarding at an unattended station won't matter. In practice, given Amtrak's... light hand in actually checking IDs, one could use a fake name and probably avoid getting flagged if they're on The List.

That said, The List is profoundly unuseful for IDing actual bad people, and given the lack of transparency of what qualifies to get one on the list, if one is on the list, and the utter lack of recourse if you find yourself on the list in error, anything that makes use of it is immediately suspect in my mind.
 
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The scenario of a terrorist placing a bomb aboard an NEC train and getting off in Newark and then setting the bomb to go off in a crowded Penn Station worries me. A terrorist would obtain a false ID and then get legitimate credit cards based on the false ID. Then they use the app to purchase a ticket and then board the train. Since his luggage is not screened, there is no way to prevent him from getting on a train with a bomb and then getting off the train and leaving the bomb to explode after he has long disappeared. IMHO the rail system in the US is highly vulnerable. But so is the system in Europe. Not sure what could be done.

The ID process on airlines is also supported by all luggage being screened for explosives before it is taken on board the aircraft. So IMHO, this mode of transportation is somewhat better protected than rail.
 

jis

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Is this about bombs and terrorists? Or is it in preparation for using the no fly list only? That may be the mechanism to use to try to restrict disruptive people from getting onto planes and trains. I don't know. I am just wondering if such a repurposing may be in the works.


At first blush these two appear to be disconnected activities, but may converge at some point. Quite curious though....
 
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One can blow up almost anything anywhere.

I recently read an article about what happens if TSA finds a gun in your carry on luggage. Turns out it varies depending on the state law. In CT, it said, you will probably get arrested. In TX, they will just ask if you have enough time to run it back to the trunk of your car. Otherwise they will just politely confiscate it and send you on board.

A friend of mine from an unnamed Balkan country and I were travelling together, and the TSA confiscated his 1.5 inch moustache trimmer scissors that his dad had given him as a youth. No chance to return it to his car. Kind of ruined his trip.
 

Northwestern

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A new scheme for screening for potential terrorists aboard Amtrak. At first, it would seem like a good idea. However, like anything else that government does, the pendulum can swing well too far.


Quotation from the article:

"The program, part of the Amtrak Rail Passenger Threat Assessment and which has not been previously reported, would compare personal passenger information from Amtrak – which may also later include a traveler's "publicly available social media" profiles viewed by DHS personnel – to the government's terrorist screening database."

Social media profiles? You can see the potential for abuse. If a person takes a political position on Facebook or Twitter, which might be deemed too controversial or contentious, would a red flag go up? Also, the potential for erroneous data on a specific Amtrak passenger. I don't like it.
 

Bob Dylan

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One can blow up almost anything anywhere.

I recently read an article about what happens if TSA finds a gun in your carry on luggage. Turns out it varies depending on the state law. In CT, it said, you will probably get arrested. In TX, they will just ask if you have enough time to run it back to the trunk of your car. Otherwise they will just politely confiscate it and send you on board.

A friend of mine from an unnamed Balkan country and I were travelling together, and the TSA confiscated his 1.5 inch moustache trimmer scissors that his dad had given him as a youth. No chance to return it to his car. Kind of ruined his trip.
😵‍💫 Imagine the horror that can be caused by a 1.5 inch Moustache Scissors!!! 🤪🤡

And @ the Austin Airport you'll be arrested if TSA finds a Gun in your Carry-on Luggage or on your person!

Since it a a Federal Crime I would like to think that this is true @ All Airports!
 
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AFS1970

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I have mixed feelings about this program, but to my mind the bad outweighs the good. Having worked in and around security and public safety, I recognize the need for better security. However, when most people think of surface transportation as quoted in the article, they are not thinking of trains, they are thinking of trucks and busses. One safety advantage that trains have, is that they only go on the tracks and the switches are often remotely controlled, so it's not like you can steal a train and take it down main street.

I am somewhat confused by what the end goal of this program is for. If they were just going to use the list, as is, to screen passengers that would be mostly reasonable. However, the idea that they are just looking to use data to prepare a report, smacks of some other motive. Then of course there are the many stories of errors on the list, including flagging an infant that had the same name as a known terrorist but obviously a different date of birth.

The unstaffed stations are of course a big issue for security in general, but so is the ability to get off well before your ticketed destination. Neither of these scenarios will likely crop up on the data. I am quite concerned of the idea that social media posts could be used to add someone to this list.
 

Todd

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This is good, if it is necessary...and we have no idea whether it is...speculating is totally pointless and a waste of time, because 99.99% of us have no idea...if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear...so why have anything negative to say about it? I'm just not into conspiracy stuff...maybe some people are...
 
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...if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear...
The problem isn't so much those that have something to hide, but those that have nothing but get on a list anyway due to bureaucratic error, or an overabundance of caution. Especially one which seems to have no opportunity to appeal it.

I had a little bit of this experience coming back from the UK to the US in the 1990's during the height of one of the IRA's bombing campaigns. I guess as a young adult male traveling alone I must have fit a profile as I was questioned heavily by the security people, my luggage searched thoroughly and various gifts unwrapped, and an agent even followed into the men's room to overhear any conversations between me and my uncle that was dropping me off. At least I was able to board my flight.
 
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The problem isn't so much those that have something to hide, but those that have nothing but get on a list anyway due to bureaucratic error, or an overabundance of caution. Especially one which seems to have no opportunity to appeal it.
I was once held up at the Canadian border for mysterious reasons that were never explained to me, but which I think involved my having the same name as someone who had some sort of criminal conviction and was thus ineligible to enter Canada. At least they eventually let me in.
 

fillyjonk

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the problem is the no-fly list has always had false positives. For years, a colleague's son - a small, polite, bespectacled child - was on the no-fly list because of his name (My only guess is there was someone like an IRA terrorist who shared his name; it was a very European name). It meant extra hassle and work every time they flew.

I'm guessing with a train, either you'd have to show up extra early (at manned stations where there's someone to check?) or you'd have to be prepared to be left standing on the platform as the train pulls out if all of a sudden your name were flagged, whether for good reason or no.

Then again: I'm not expecting this to really be implemented; every time I've bought a ticket it said I'd be required to show ID, I think I've been asked to show my ID twice in the 20 years I've been traveling. Similarly, there's a statement that your carry-ons "might" be hand-searched, that has literally never happened to me.
 

Barb Stout

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Social media profiles? You can see the potential for abuse. If a person takes a political position on Facebook or Twitter, which might be deemed too controversial or contentious, would a red flag go up? Also, the potential for erroneous data on a specific Amtrak passenger. I don't like it.
Yes, I can see this happening especially with this line from one of the articles that was also mentioned on the NBC evening news last night: "The biggest union of Amtrak employees, Transportation Communications International, urged the U.S. government to start screening rail passengers against Homeland Security's no-fly list after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump supporters. The union's statement also called for passengers whose names match the watchlist to be denied the ability to purchase Amtrak tickets." Lester of NBC pointed out that Washington Union Station is very close to where the action was.
 
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