Tag: TSA

TSA: If You Object to Giving Up Your Rights, We Should Take a Closer Look at You

TSA screeners and behavior detection officers may give you extra attention if you complain about security protocols (video at the jump). Former FBI agent Michael German sums up my feelings pretty well:

It’s circular reasoning where, you know, I’m going to ask someone to surrender their rights; if they refuse, that’s evidence that I need to take their rights away from them. And it’s simply inappropriate.

In related news, the GAO recently told Congress that the TSA’s Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) is not scientifically grounded. The GAO testimony is available here.

More Cato work on TSA screening here, here and here.

States Resisting Federal Power

If two points are sufficient to draw a trend line, then state resistance to federal authority is growing.

I reported earlier on my recent testimony to the Florida legislature on REAL ID. The state’s legislators have taken notice of what the motor vehicle bureaucrats have been doing in collaboration with federal officials, and they’re not too happy.

Yesterday, I was pleased to testify in the Pennsylvania legislature, where legislation to push back against the Transportation Security Administration’s strip/grope policy at airports has been introduced. The Constitution’s Supremacy Clause seems to make federal law paramount, but states have many angles for challenging federal power, especially when it’s as flawed and reactive as the TSA’s airport checkpoint policies.

TSA Unionizing

Worst news I’ve heard lately, via The New York Times:

Seeking to end a debate that has brewed for nearly a decade, the director of the Transportation Security Administration announced on Friday that a union would be allowed to bargain over working conditions on behalf of the nation’s 45,000 airport security officers, although certain issues like pay will not be subject to negotiation.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) has proposed an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would prohibit TSA workers from collective bargaining. Wicker’s proposal doesn’t go far enough. At the least, the decision to halt privatization of airport security should be reversed. Ideally, the TSA would be scrapped or reduced to merely inspecting the performance of airport security provided by the airports, not the government.

I doubt that allegations of TSA screener abuse are going to be dealt with better in a unionized workplace. I’m reminded of Sal Culosi’s murder. The Fairfax, Virginia SWAT officer that had a negligent discharge into Culosi’s chest at point blank range received a slap on the wrist, which was too much for the police union. And he killed a compliant suspect in an unnecessary SWAT raid. It seems a safe bet that your complaint about a pat-down gone too far will face additional resistance from TSA unions standing up for that agency’s bad apples.

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.