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Wed May 20, 2015, 03:45 PM

How the DEA Harasses Amtrak Passengers [View all]

Hat tip, Trainorders: Amtrak, the ACLU, the DEA - a follow up

How the DEA Harasses Amtrak Passengers

A mathematician describes how his rights were apparently violated during a trip to Washington, D.C.

Conor Friedersdorf | May 19, 2015

Earlier this year, Aaron Heuser of Eugene, Oregon, had to travel to Washington, D.C. The trip had two purposes: The 37-year-old mathematician was officially leaving his job at National Institutes of Health and starting a new position at a private firm. Since he is terrified of flying he booked himself a sleeper car on Amtrak. Upon reaching Reno, Nevada, there was an unexpected knock at his door. “There was a DEA badge on the window,” he said. “Having a good reason to be making this trip and being a law abiding citizen, I opened the door and politely asked if there was a problem. The officer asked if I was Aaron Heuser, and then asked to see my ticket. He then told me that there were many red flags on my trip, mainly that I had a sleeper car, was traveling alone, and did not check my luggage.”

For decades, law enforcement has tried to intercept drug couriers on Amtrak trains. These efforts have utterly failed to stop the easy availability of marijuana, cocaine, and other narcotics. Meanwhile they’ve violated the rights of countless Americans. Earlier this week, I highlighted the story of Joseph Rivers, a 22-year old black man who left his hometown in hopes of becoming a music-video producer. En route to L.A., the DEA boarded his Amtrak and seized his life savings, $16,000 in cash, even though there was apparently no evidence he’d committed a crime or possessed any drugs.

Last year, the Associated Press reported that the DEA “paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network.” (This was reportedly done so that the DEA could avoid sharing seized assets with Amtrak police, which hints at how lucrative such seizures are.)

Around the same time, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request after getting reports about Amtrak passengers having their rights violated. “This type of targeting constitutes a significant invasion of personal privacy,” an attorney wrote in the accompanying memo. “It suggests that Amtrak is sharing the travel-related data of thousands of its passengers who have engaged in no wrongdoing.” ... Later an ACLU staffer reported on the results of the request. Amtrak employees are instructed to report conduct "indicative of criminal activity" to law enforcement.

Among them:

•Unusual nervousness of traveler
•Unusual calmness or straight ahead stare
•Looking around while making telephone call(s)
•Position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers)
•Carrying little or no luggage
•Purchase of tickets in cash
•Purchase tickets immediately prior to boarding

So you have nothing to worry about, unless you are nervous (or calm) or are ahead of (or behind) other passengers. Or anything else.

This Trainorders thread from 2011 was linked in the article: Today we were boarded (California Zephyr)

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mahatmakanejeeves May 2015 OP
grasswire May 2015 #1
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