Category Archives: Law: Right to Travel

Domesticating Airport Dragnet Searches

Two articles examining the legality of the airport screening regime so many have come to take for granted appear in the online supplement to The Northwestern University Law Review: Revisiting “Special Needs” Theory Via Airport Searches by Professor Alexander Reinert of Cardozo and The Bin Laden Exception, by Professor Erik Luna of Washington and Lee.

The Reinert article treats the judicial acceptance of the airport screening regime as a foregone conclusion, and labors to limit the fallout:

[T]he TSA’s new search regime is more difficult to square with fundamental Fourth Amendment principles than the FAA’s initial airport screening procedures. Therefore, precisely because of the pressure on courts to adjust Fourth Amendment doctrine to meet the perceived needs of the TSA and the traveling public, it is all the more important that new doctrinal limitations accompany any judicial acceptance of the TSA’s new search regime. Specifically, I argue here that if courts are to give the TSA’s new search regime constitutional approval, it must be limited to its justifying purpose—safe air travel—and it must be grounded in the special needs exception to warrantless and suspicionless searches. Making explicit what has been implicitly required by most of the Supreme Court’s special needs jurisprudence, I propose a special exclusionary rule for searches like those conducted by the TSA that will best limit the ex post utility of such searches to their ex ante justifications. Under my proposal, the use of evidence discovered as a result of mass suspicionless searches like the TSA’s screenings should be limited to prosecutions for offenses that relate to the asserted justifications for the search regime. This link between justification and permissible use is one novel way to limit the reach of a special needs justification for these airport searches. In a way, then, the TSA’s new search regime offers an opportunity to revise and revisit special needs jurisprudence to minimize the risk that the exception will ultimately swallow the Fourth Amendment’s traditional preference for searches based on warrants and individualized suspicion.

The Luna response is even more pessimistic about the vitality of the incredible shrinking 4th Amendment:

In effect, TSA agents may now search any and all items in one’s baggage, given the sweeping claim that explosives “may be disguised as a simple piece of paper or cardboard, and may be hidden in just about anything, including a laptop, book, magazine, deck of cards, or packet of photographs.” Moreover, evidence of an agent’s impermissible motive—for instance, searching a bag for contraband wholly unrelated to terrorist threats—will be ignored so long as the TSA’s “programmatic motive” is airline safety. …

In the end, I just wish everyone would be a bit more honest. What is at play here is not a previously recognized exception to the Fourth Amendment—consent, good faith, special needs, and so on—but instead an entirely new exemption from otherwise applicable requirements, driven by an abiding fear of al Qaeda and its now-deceased kingpin rather than a reasoned assessment of terrorism-related risks. Let’s call it what it is: The Bin Laden Exception to the Constitution. If nothing else, putting a name to the systematic evasion of the nation’s most hallowed legal text might force some to face their own irrationality and question the wisdom of bending the Constitution, as well as spilling vast amounts of blood and treasure, all for the sake of one evil man and his outlaw organization.

Spotted via Pogo Was Right, On the Colloquy: The Fourth Amendment and Airport Screening Issues.

Posted in Law: Criminal Law, Law: Right to Travel | 1 Comment

Humorless Border Police. Where Have I Seen That Before?

Twitter news: US bars friends over Twitter joke. Spotted via Slashdot.

US special agents monitoring Twitter spotted Leigh Van Bryan’s messages weeks before he left for a holiday in Los Angeles with pal Emily Bunting.

The Department of Homeland Security flagged up Leigh as a potential threat when he posted a Twitter message to his pals ahead of his trip to Hollywood.

It read: “Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America”.

He was also quizzed about another tweet which quoted hit US comedy Family Guy and said: “3 weeks today, we’re totally in LA p*ssing people off on Hollywood Blvd and diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up!”

Agents even checked the pair’s cases for SPADES and suspected that Emily was to act as “lookout” while Leigh raided the film beauty’s tomb.

Serious note: I suppose once seized of the information about the first Tweet the decision to detain and question cannot be said to be absurd. The decision to jail and deport on the other hand does seem quite absurd.

And why are we spending the money to monitor all future UK tourists’ tweets? Obviously because we know that terrorists have a propensity to announce their plans on Twitter. In English. Stands to reason, really, given that Twitter is (or was) a tool used by revolutionaries….

Related: DHS’s Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative Update (Jan. 6, 2011)

Image from Negotiation is Over.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Law: Right to Travel | 1 Comment

News of the Weird

A woman is suing JetBlue for making her prove to them that she was wearing underwear.

The strange thing about this story is that it didn’t happen in Florida.

Oh wait. It was a flight from LaGuardia to Florida. So that’s OK then.

Posted in Law: Right to Travel | Leave a comment

Funny Underwear

4thAmendmentWear via SDFla Blog.

As it happens, I’m going flying tomorrow, but with less amusing underwear. Blogging may be sparse next week — it’s Spring Break, and I’ll be…well, not broken I hope.

Posted in Law: Right to Travel | 3 Comments

Challenging to the TSA Glow or Grope Policy On Returning to the USA

Matt Kernan was entering the USA, at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. He didn't have a connecting flight — he was heading home. The TSA wanted to subject him, as it apparently does all incoming passengers, to its glow or grope policy.

The problem, from the TSA's point of view, is that the arguably exigent circumstances that may exist for subjecting passengers to an intrusive suspicionless search when they are about to board an airplane — the fear of terrorist attack on a plane — do not exist when people are trying to leave the airport.

Mr. Kerman had four things many passengers do not have:

  • He had time.
  • He had, it appears, the iron self-control needed to remain polite at all times.
  • He had a recording device (voice only).
  • He had a good understanding of his rights.

Read all about it at the misnamed You Don't Need to See His Identification — misnamed, because in practice they do need to see your ID to establish that you are a citizen with a right to reenter the country. (Yes, there are rare cases of people establishing their right to re-enter by witness testimony when they have lost their passports, but that's not something you want to get into.)

To the lawyer's eye there are a few critical points here. The first is that, once you have successfully identified yourself as a US citizen and undergone the ordinary customs process to demonstrate an absence of contraband, you have an absolute legal right to re-enter the US. Court decisions are very clear about this.

The second point is that Mr. Kernan was very careful at all times to say he would comply with any order, but would not accede to invasive searches unless he was told he was being required to submit to it. This is the thing that no one wanted to go on the record as saying, most probably because the TSA's legal position on this is much, much shakier than for passengers attempting to board aircraft. Mr. Kernan also understood that asking a police officer if he was being detained or was free to go is the magic phrase which invokes your Constitutional rights.

I can't emphasize enough that anyone trying to do this better have a lot of time — it took Mr. Kernan 2.5 hours to get through the checkpoint — and especially the iron self-control to remain polite while dealing with officious and occasionally intimidating officialdom. There is a real chance of arrest; if your behavior was perfect it would, I think, be a false arrest, but absent a tape the chances of proving you were not causing a disturbance, or interference with an officer's pursuit of his duty, would not be good enough to make me happy. Mr. Kernan had the good fortune to engage with well-trained and and sensible local police officers and TSA officials who were not in the end vindictive. Your mileage may vary.

And there's the rub: the constitutional right to enter the country freely is made so risky and difficult to exercise as to be rendered almost meaningless.

(Spotted via boingboing's Traveller re-enters USA without passing through a pornoscanner or having his genitals touched.)

Posted in Law: Right to Travel | 5 Comments

The Point of Protest is to be Effective

It’s a rare day when Eugene Volokh totally misses the point of something (it’s not a rare day when I disagree with him, but that’s different). But in endorsing Kent Scheidegger on National Opt-Out Day, I think we’ve got one.

the idea of scheduling a gum-up-the-works protest for the day before Thanksgiving is beyond despicable. National Opt-Out Day is a call for large numbers of people to opt out of the scanners and elect the longer manual search, all on the same day. It is a cruel and heartless act of vandalism that will seriously hurt other passengers, not the people at whom it is supposedly directed….

This is wrong on almost every front. First, there is absolutely nothing “despicable” about urging people to exercise their legal right to opt-out of being x-rayed. This isn’t even a case where people are being asked to engage in Gandhi/King style non-violent protest and, say, peacefully block a road waiting to be arrested, although if the cause were just I’d be more likely to call it “courageous” rather than “despicable”. Repeat, there is nothing wrong with exercising your legal right to choose one intrusive form of suspicionless government search over a possibly dangerous form of suspicionless government irradiation. Do you trust the TSA people at your airport to properly calibrate the backscatter x-ray machines or the so-called millimeter wave machines? I don’t: Even hospitals get the x-ray dosages wrong with alarming frequency, and I’m betting hospital machines are more closely monitored for health risks than the TSA‘s high-volume machines are.

No, this is a basic Alinsky-style tactic in which people are urged to do that which they are allowed to do, en mass, in order to demonstrate their distaste regarding what they are forced to do (choose between being irradiated or being searched over-intrusively) or not allowed to do (travel freely). There is little point in such protest at six in the morning on a light travel day — the tree may fall in the forest, but no one will notice. The whole point of the exercise is to create pressure for change while acting entirely within the law. Pressure for change is increased if bystanders are co-opted into complaining about the resultant delays or even persuaded to join in the protest.

My general view is that when my fellow citizens are motivated to participate in the political process by any form of organizing around legal action — even stuff I disagree with — this is a good thing for the system. (The hardest case is when the motivation is lies. But then the real problem is the lies and the liars, not the well-intentioned protesters.) Most of the time I feel the same way about non-violent protest too, even if it consists of civil disobedience. Where I draw the line is violence and threats of violence. Of course, if I disagree with protesters, I reserve the right to attempt to point out the error of their ways, but that goes to substance, not tactics.

Reading complaints about the upcoming protest one is left with the strong suspicion that the “despicable” aspect of this protest from the point of view of those who prefer their fellow citizens just shut up and take it is that it is a protest, or rather that it is a protest that just might work. Meanwhile, as the protesters were considerate enough to warn of their plans, plan to be at the airport early.

PS. I’m traveling on Wednesday, so I and my family will be among those inconvenienced at MIA. I’ll be among those opting out if not run through a metal detector, although I would have done so regardless of the existence of the opt-out movement because I’ve had more than a couple of lifetime’s supply of x-rays this year. (See TSA Glow or Grope Policy.)

Posted in Law: Right to Travel | 13 Comments

TSA Glow or Grope Policy

Bruce Schneier has lilnks to everything you could want on the TSA Backscatter X-ray Backlash (now with extra groping!).

I'm scheduled to fly on Nov. 24, which has now been declared to be a day of protest against all this. I had already planned to decline any scanning as I've had all the x-rays I need already this year, and then some. I suppose they'll think I'm part of the protest as indeed, to be fair, I might have been anyway. I'm flying late in the day, lines will be long — it's the busiest air traffic day of the year — and TSA professionalism will be stretched, I imagine, to the breaking point. What fun that will be.

Bonus link: Keeping the skies safe from nail clippers (armed returnees from Afghanistan encounter TSA in Indiana).

Posted in Law: Right to Travel | 3 Comments