Purchasing train tickets with cash, exiting a train before or after other passengers, or appearing calm or nervous are all examples of behavior that Amtrak employees have been told to report as “suspicious activity.”
A document entitled Guidelines for Amtrak Customer Service Employees, which was obtained by the ACLU after an FOIA request, lists a number of different behaviors that are “indicative of criminal activity” and should immediately be reported to law enforcement personnel by Amtrak ticket agents.
Those behaviors include;
– 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
Of course, such behaviors are so ludicrously broad that virtually anyone is likely to have engaged in at least one of the above activities at some point for a perfectly innocent reason. The demonization of using cash as a tool of criminals or terrorists is also a theme that has become more prevalent in recent years, primarily because authorities dislike the anonymity of hard currency.
“As we have seen with Suspicious Activity Reports and the TSA’s SPOT program, reporting based on broad categories of “suspicious” behavior is problematic because it almost always results in racial and religious profiling, as well as the targeting of perfectly innocent activity,” reports the ACLU. “Most importantly, building mountains of irrelevant data is ultimately an ineffective law enforcement tactic.”
The report also notes how Amtrak has not caught a single criminal or terrorist as a result of the snitch program, with one woman arrested instead for talking too loudly on their phone, in addition to a photographer who was arrested for taking pictures for the annual Amtrak “Picture our Train” competition.
The program has also greased the skids for police to engage in civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement to confiscate money from travelers with no due process whatsoever.
In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was partnering with Amtrak to expand its ‘See Something, Say Something’ program to rail transportation.
As we documented at the time, the promotional videos that accompanied the launch of the campaign characterized “suspicious activity” as a whole range of mundane behaviors, including opposing surveillance, using a video camera, talking to police officers, wearing hoodies, driving vans, writing on a piece of paper, and using a cell phone recording application.
The DHS received criticism back in 2010 after it partnered with Walmart to remind employees and shoppers to report suspicious activity. The federal agency also tasked hot dog sellers and other vendors with spotting potential terrorists at the 2012 Super Bowl.
Airport security-style measures have increasingly been implemented across other forms of transportation in recent years. Back in 2011, a video emerged of train passengers, including children, being subjected to TSA pat downs and bag searches after they had already disembarked at the Savannah train station.
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