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The Sikh Coalition News
February 3, 2012

TSA Study Concludes Racial Profiling Audit is Possible; Congresswoman Chu Renews Call for TSA Profiling Audit

February 3, 2012 (New York, New York)  – An internal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) memorandum concluded that the agency can successfully audit its screening practices to guard against racial and religious profiling. The memorandum, released today by the Sikh Coalition, was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with the assistance of the law firm Covington & Burling  LLP.  

The TSA memorandum is significant because it validates the longstanding  demand of the Sikh Coalition and other civil rights organizations --- that the TSA combat profiling against Sikhs by auditing its screening practices.

Written over 2 years ago in response to concerns raised by the Sikh Coalition and other prominent civil rights organizations, the memorandum discusses eight “strategic options” that the TSA could implement to “address racial profiling concerns” and “improve internal business controls as they relate to secondary screening procedures.”

The memorandum lists data collection on screening, independent observational studies, and enhancing camera systems to review screening as ways the agency could prevent profiling.  It also discusses proposals from the Rand Corporation, Vera Institute for Justice, and two professors at the University of California at Berkeley to audit screening practices.

Since 2007, Sikh travelers have reported that they are routinely selected for secondary screening at some American airports, even after clearing advanced imaging technology machines without incident. The TSA memorandum cites the Sikh Coalition’s “TSA Report Cards” as evidence that the Sikh American community is concerned about profiling.

In response to these concerns, members of the U.S. Congress, led by Rep. Judy Chu (CA), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), wrote to TSA officials in January 2011 to request a briefing about internal controls against profiling.  In December 2011, a coalition of 38 civil rights organizations, led by the Sikh Coalition, renewed its call for an audit of TSA screening practices in response to reports that TSA personnel intentionally targeted Mexican and Dominican travelers through its Screening Passengers by Observational Techniques (SPOT) program in New Jersey and Hawaii.

“I am very concerned that reports of civil rights violations by TSA screeners are instances of a larger pattern” said Rep. Judy Chu in a press release issued yesterday by the Sikh Coalition.  “Auditing the SPOT program alone is not sufficient in determining if racial or religious profiling is a systemic problem.  Only an independent, publicly-reported audit can reveal the full extent to which TSA officers are violating civil rights and liberties.”

Because the TSA’s memorandum was partly redacted upon release, Covington & Burling LLP has filed a FOIA appeal on behalf of the Sikh Coalition to secure full disclosure from the agency.

“The TSA’s own consultant found that audits to guard against profiling are viable,” said Amardeep Singh, Program Director, Sikh Coalition. “The Sikh community is tired of TSA denials that profiling does not occur. The issue of whether Sikhs and other communities are being unfairly targeted needs to be settled once and for all through an independent audit of TSA screening practices.”

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