The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is scaling back a controversial program that surveilled everyday people in deep, deep detail.
The Quiet Skies program saw armed air marshals following passengers around airports and onto commercial flights, recording their behaviors in the process. Following outcry from public officials and a series of by the Boston Globe detailing the program, the TSA announced on Monday that it would be curbing the scope.
Quiet Skies, which has existed since 2012, has drawn scrutiny from the American Civil Liberties Union and members of Congress because the program monitors passengers seemingly without any rhyme or reason. The people followed were not on any terrorist watch lists or suspected of any crimes. Per the , which included interviews and agency documents, air marshals track passenger movements to the bathroom, and record seemingly innocuous details about whether or not they fidget, talk to other people, change their clothes, or sweat heavily.
Quiet Skies isn't dissolving, but has "evolved," an agency representative Part of that evolution means TSA will no longer compile passenger behaviors into a report if the person fails to do anything noteworthy. "The only change to the program has been in the reporting mechanism," TSA said in its statement.
Members of the Air Marshal Association aren't really in love with the program, either, citing its tendency to devote outsize attention to nothing in particular. John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association, :
“The TSA must start targeting passengers based on fully developed intelligence as required by the Strengthening Aviation Security Act of 2018, and stop assigning missions based on a single data point, such as the country visited while traveling,” Casaretti said. “Quiet Skies missions are degrading the health and readiness of our already overworked [air marshals], while squandering the talents of these highly trained agents.”
While TSA denied that it tracked "ordinary" passengers, people targeted by the program had a different view. A Globe report in August detailed the experience of Taylor Usry, a 39-year-old social media manager who was followed by air marshals before a flight from Charlotte to Florida. She was reportedly targeted because she had flown to Turkey, a country given special attention by the Quiet Skies program.
A team of armed federal air marshals was shadowing her every move — recording whether she touched her face or sweated, where she went, how she looked, and other seemingly minor details as she made her way through the Charlotte airport. The air marshals even flew with Usry, closely watching her until she left the Tampa airport, according to records reviewed by the Globe.
The program hasn't been completely stymied, though. Jenny Burke, a TSA spokeswoman, told CNN the program "continually assesses every measure, making adjustments to optimize effectiveness or address evolving threats."