Court Limits on TSA Searches
This is good news:
A federal judge in June threw out seizure of three fake passports from a traveler, saying that TSA screeners violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Congress authorizes TSA to search travelers for weapons and explosives; beyond that, the agency is overstepping its bounds, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley said.
"The extent of the search went beyond the permissible purpose of detecting weapons and explosives and was instead motivated by a desire to uncover contraband evidencing ordinary criminal wrongdoing," Judge Marbley wrote.
In the second case, Steven Bierfeldt, treasurer for the Campaign for Liberty, a political organization launched from Ron Paul's presidential run, was detained at the St. Louis airport because he was carrying $4,700 in a lock box from the sale of tickets, T-shirts, bumper stickers and campaign paraphernalia. TSA screeners quizzed him about the cash, his employment and the purpose of his trip to St. Louis, then summoned local police and threatened him with arrest because he responded to their questions with a question of his own: What were his rights and could TSA legally require him to answer?
Mr. Bierfeldt's suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, seeks to bar TSA from "conducting suspicion-less pre-flight searches of passengers or their belongings for items other than weapons or explosives."
I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago:
...Obama should mandate that airport security be solely about terrorism, and not a general-purpose security checkpoint to catch everyone from pot smokers to deadbeat dads.
The Constitution provides us, both Americans and visitors to America, with strong protections against invasive police searches. Two exceptions come into play at airport security checkpoints. The first is "implied consent," which means that you cannot refuse to be searched; your consent is implied when you purchased your ticket. And the second is "plain view," which means that if the TSA officer happens to see something unrelated to airport security while screening you, he is allowed to act on that.
Both of these principles are well established and make sense, but it's their combination that turns airport security checkpoints into police-state-like checkpoints.
The TSA should limit its searches to bombs and weapons and leave general policing to the police -- where we know courts and the Constitution still apply.
Posted on July 8, 2009 at 6:42 AM • 85 Comments