Tag: transportation security administration

Man Acquitted of Crimes Associated with Asserting His Rights

(HT: Techdirt) It is infuriating to watch the video Phil Mocek made while attempting to assert his legal rights at the airport. The good news is that he has been acquitted of the bogus charges brought against him, including disorderly conduct, concealing his identity, refusing to obey a police officer, and criminal trespass.

The video illustrates the knowledge, fortitude, and cool it takes to assert one’s rights. We owe our thanks to Mr. Mocek, who has helped to educate the TSA and society in general about the law that applies at the airport.

Perhaps he can further the educational process by bringing an action under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violation of his civil rights under color of law. The Transporation Security Administration’s training programs might improve, or Congress might pay attention to the constitutional black hole they have created in airports—if it costs enough to threaten their earmark money.

Rep. Clyburn Wants Special Treatment at Airports

It’s fascinating to watch a member of Congress use a tragedy like Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting to seek advantage over us common folk. On Fox News Sunday this week, Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) suggested that Members of Congress should get special treatment at airports.

Airports are some of the safest places anyone can be. Don’t use your imagination—think about it: Airports teem with security personnel and security-conscious citizens. Because their travel schedules are generally unannounced, members of Congress are not any more exposed while traveling than during their other public movements. There is some risk—we know too well because of this weekend’s tragedy—when elected officials make announced public appearances, but that small risk is something they should generally continue to accept lest they fall even further out of touch with constituents.

It is vitally important that members of Congress experience air travel as the rest of us do. If they don’t, they will continue to impose its burdens on us without getting the valuable feedback of first-hand experience.

Prediction: DHS Programs Will Create Privacy Concerns in 2011

The holiday travel season this year revealed some of the real defects in the Transportation Security Administration’s new policy of subjecting select travelers to the “option” of going through airport strip-search machines or being subjected to an intrusive pat-down more akin to a groping. Anecdotes continue to come forth, including the recent story of a rape victim who was arrested at an airport in Austin, TX after refusing to let a TSA agent feel her breasts.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is working on the “next big thing”: body-scanning everywhere. This “privacy impact assessment” from DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate details a plan to use millimeter wave—a technology in strip-search machines—along with other techniques, to examine people from a distance, not just at the airport but anywhere DHS wants.

With time to observe TSA procedures this holiday season, I’ve noticed that it takes a very long time to get people through strip-search machines. In Milwaukee, the machines were cordoned off and out of use the Monday after Christmas Day because they needed to get people through. Watch for privacy concerns and sheer inefficiency to join up when TSA pushes forward with universal strip/grope requirements.

And the issue looks poised to grow in the new year. Republican ascendancy in the House coincides with their increasing agitation about this government security excess.

I’ll be speaking at an event next Thursday, January 6th, called ”The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures.” It’s hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) at the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington, DC.

EPIC recently wrote a letter asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to task the DHS Privacy Committee (or “DPIAC,” on which I serve) with studying the impact of the body scanner program on individuals’ constitutional and statutory rights:

The TSA’s deployment of body scanners as the primary screening technique in American airports has raised widespread public concerns about the protection of privacy. It is difficult to imagine that there is a higher priority issue for the DPIAC in 2011 than a comprehensive review of the TSA airport body scanner program.

Will the Secretary ask her expert panel for a thorough documented review? Wait and see.

Whatever happens there, privacy concerns with DHS programs will be big in 2011.

The Appeal of Trusted Traveler

There is a natural appeal to “trusted traveler” programs. We all see ourselves as trustworthy, and getting into such a program might improve our experience at the airport. This video captures the notion—and some of the difficulties—entertainingly.

I would fly on a plane even knowing that Jimmy Johnson had brought a machete on board. But what level of trust should attach to a Super Bowl ring?

Dave Meggett helped the New York Giants win Super Bowl XXV. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison last month after being convicted of criminal sexual misconduct and burglary. Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis was charged with murder in 2000, avoiding trial by agreeing to testify against others. The point is not to beat up on the NFL, but to beat up on the idea that you can trust a large-scale “trusted traveler” program.

Having some weakness is not fatal to the trusted traveler idea. A trusted traveler program might reduce costs and inconveniences without reducing risks by a greater amount. Indeed, it might make sense to trust all travelers more than the TSA does under its strip/grope policy.

In a recent, less entertaining post, I argued that the TSA shouldn’t do “trusted traveler.” Airlines should be free to implement trusted traveler systems, winning the rewards for getting it right and paying the costs for getting it wrong.

Conservatives, Liberals, and the TSA

Libertarians often debate whether conservatives or liberals are more friendly to liberty. We often fall back on the idea that conservatives tend to support economic liberties but not civil liberties, while liberals support civil liberties but not economic liberties – though this old bromide hardly accounts for the economic policies of President Bush or the war-on-drugs-and-terror-and-Iraq policies of President Obama.

Score one for the conservatives in the surging outrage over the Transportation Security Administration’s new policy of body scanners and intimate pat-downs. You gotta figure you’ve gone too far in the violation of civil liberties when you’ve lost Rick Santorum, George Will, Kathleen Parker, and Charles Krauthammer. (Gene Healy points out that conservatives are reaping what they sowed.)

Meanwhile, where are the liberals outraged at this government intrusiveness? Where is Paul Krugman? Where is Arianna? Where is Frank Rich? Where is the New Republic? Oh sure, civil libertarians like Glenn Greenwald have criticized TSA excesses. But mainstream liberals have rallied around the Department of Homeland Security and its naked pictures: Dana Milbank channels John (“phantoms of lost liberty”) Ashcroft: “Republicans are providing the comfort [to our enemies]. They are objecting loudly to new airport security measures.” Ruth Marcus: “Don’t touch my junk? Grow up, America.” Eugene Robinson: “Be patient with the TSA.” Amitai Etzioni in the New Republic: “In defense of the ‘virtual strip-search.’” And finally, the editors of the New York Times: ”attacks are purely partisan and ideological.”

Could this just be a matter of viewing everything through a partisan lens? Liberals rally around the DHS of President Obama and Secretary Napolitano, while conservatives criticize it? Maybe. And although Slate refers to the opponents of body-scanning as “paranoid zealots,” that term would certainly seem to apply to apply to Mark Ames and Yasha Levine of the Nation, who stomp their feet, get red in the face, and declare every privacy advocate from John Tyner (“don’t touch my junk”) on to be “astroturf” tools of “Washington Lobbyists and Koch-Funded Libertarians.” (Glenn Greenwald took the article apart line by line.)

Most Americans want to be protected from terrorism and also to avoid unnecessary intrusions on liberty, privacy, and commerce. Security issues can be complex. A case can be made for the TSA’s new procedures. But it’s striking to see how many conservatives think the TSA has gone too far, and how dismissive – even contemptuous – liberals are of rising concerns about liberty and privacy.

Why I Took an Anti-Depressant

Musing on the latest abuses of the Transportation Security Administration, George F. Will recalls a column by the late William F. Buckley Jr. Faced with disastrous service on a commuter railroad, Buckley wrote, “In a more virile age, I thought, the passengers would have seized the conductor and strapped him down on a seat over the radiator to share the fate of his patrons.” But he had “nonchalantly walked down the gauntlet of eighty sweating American freemen, and not one of them had asked him to explain why the passengers in that car had been consigned to suffer.”

Buckley went on:

Every year, whether the Republican or the Democratic Party is in office, more and more power drains away from the individual to feed vast reservoirs in far-off places; and we have less and less say about the shape of events which shape our future. From this alienation of personal power comes the sense of resignation with which we accept the political dispensations of a powerful government whose hold upon us continues to increase.

And here’s the part that sent me looking for the anti-depressants: Buckley wrote this jeremiad in 1961.

The Security Logic Clarifies the Question

A new post on the TSA blog gets the logic behind the strip/grope combination correct.

[I]f you’re selected for AIT and choose to opt-out, we still need to check you for non-metallic threats. That’s why a pat-down is required. If you refuse both, you can’t fly.

Any alternative allows someone concealing something to decline the strip-search machine, decline the intimate pat-down, and leave the airport, returning another day in hopes of not being selected for the strip-search machine. The TSA reserves the right to fine you $11,000 for declining these searches.

So the question is joined: Should the TSA be able to condition air travel on you permitting someone to look at or touch your genitals?

I’ve argued that the strip/grope is security excess not validated by risk management. It’s akin to a regulation that fails the “arbitrary and capricious” standard in adminstrative law. But the TSA is not so constrained.