Photo: AP

The TSA admitted to surveilling about 5,000 citizens this year as part of its secretive “Quiet Skies” program, which places travelers on TSA watch lists even if they aren’t suspected of a crime, the Boston Globe reports. In a meeting with members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee last week, the TSA reportedly declined to specify what exactly gets a person on the list for enhanced monitoring, but made one major admission: after monitoring thousands of people placed on the list, zero leads have been produced.

Launched in March, but first reported by the Globe in July, Quiet Skies drew immediate criticism once the program was publicly revealed. Under the guise of protecting passengers, the TSA created the program to conduct enhanced monitoring of certain travelers based only on whether they exhibited certain behaviors considered suspicious. Those on the watchlist are never notified, but if TSA has reason to suspect something’s off, it may place air marshals on passengers’ subsequent flights.

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“The program analyzes information on a passenger’s travel patterns, and through a system of checks and balances, to include robust oversight, effectively adds an additional line of defense to aviation security,” the TSA said in a statement last month.

What causes a person to put on the list? The TSA has offered few details. Fidgeting, using a computer, or even staring can cause someone to be flagged, the Globe reports. As Techdirt perfectly explains, following people not suspected of crimes and then deciding they may be suspicious is like putting the cart below the horse.

“Quiet Skies is the very definition of Big Brother,” Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey told the Globe. “American travelers deserve to have their privacy and civil rights protected even 30,000 feet in the air.”

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[The Boston Globe, Techdirt]