U.S. Supreme Court Denies Review, Allows TSA To Read Your Personal Documents At Checkpoint

THe U.S. Supreme Court today denied one of my two pending petitions before it. This petition asked the court to review the 11th CIrcuit’s ruling that the TSA’s warrantless checkpoint searches are not limited to weapons or explosives, but can include virtually anything, including your personal documents. Love letters, photographs, business proposals, etc., are all fair game, and it leaves the door wide open to searches of electronic devices, such as your cell phone and laptop. (Note that this petition does not cover the nude body scanners — that petition is still pending.)

The original case comes from 2012, when the TSA decided that it wanted to tear apart my belongings because I had the audacity to refuse to let them touch my genitals at one of their checkpoints. They spent half an hour going through the little pockets inside my pants, flipping through (and reading) pages from books that I had, looking at the names on all the plastic cards they found, and generally looking not for something dangerous, but rather for something illegal, such that they could teach me a lesson about bending over and complying. In the end, they found nothing, and kicked me out of the airport. As icing on the cake, they conspired with the airport authority to lie when I filed Freedom of Information Act requests about the incident.

Other than that their intent was to teach me a lesson, none of the above facts are disputed by the TSA. Instead, they argued that all of the above was totally acceptable (.pdf). And, it worked. The district court dismissed all claims, and the Court of Appeals refused to reverse.

One must ask how much of the Fourth Amendment is left when it is “reasonable” for the government to demand to read your papers simply because you want to travel? Does that remind you of another oppressive regime of the last century? It very much does to me.

Where to from here? If the courts think that current law allows the TSA to conduct these invasive searches that have no real correlation to transportation safety, then the law needs to change. I’ll be waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the nude body scanner petition first, and then will work on promoting new legislation to fix what the courts should have.

14 thoughts on “U.S. Supreme Court Denies Review, Allows TSA To Read Your Personal Documents At Checkpoint

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  1. Let’s send a Certified-letters to Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Kagan and ask them if they will allow the TSA to touch their breasts and genitals? That’s a fair question.

  2. “Either the constitution was complicit in the tyranny of government we have now, or it was powerless to stop it; either way it is unfit to exist.”- Lysander Spooner (paraphrased)

  3. I read part of your appeal to 11th circuit. It is a shame the supreme court could not have narrowed the case to one or two counts for consideration. You had many serious concerns raised and it is a shame that they could not be addressed.

    I think all justices in the federal court system need to have those Certified letters sent to them.

    I am wondering — (1) are you capable of filing a separate lawsuit on the failure to timely release the video from the airport — did the government organization follow the public records rules(laws)? The issue for me is just with the owner of the video and did that owner follow the rules. If not, they need to be held accountable.

    (2) can you file a lawsuit for from the TSA site : “Mission
    Protect the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.“ In other words, their failure to ensure freedom of movement for you? The ruling that allowed for the intensive searches of property should have allowed you to proceed to fly. With no results on explosives, the fact that they found your concealed carry licence (evidence of passing a criminal check) and the ability to conduct a non-intrusive physical search (which they failed to do) — I look at that as grounds that the TSA failed in their mandate.

    This issue of freedom of movement is one of the vital arguments that the lawsuit in my belief did not address. The lack of not allowing you to have a physical search modified to the specifications that you gave is appalling.

    Except for the groin and breasts, I believe the buttocks would easily allow for a modified no-person contact search. An example of a modified search is: Would you have allowed saran wrap to be pulled against your buttocks (after your pockets are emptied)? An impression on the saran wrap would indicate that there is something there that should not be there. Even though this may take three people (two for the wrap and one to observe), I think that promoting no-person contact is a valid alternative to groping the buttocks of an individual.

    Now for the property search issue of laptops and cellphones — this will need to have someone step up for the challenge if a content search is performed. I personally would allow for chemical swipe to test for explosives but not a content search — I will offer to start up any device to show that it functions.

    For the future:
    1) I think a legal challenge to the existing pat-down methodology needs to be made. This needs to be framed around the U.S vs Davis case. To get around this legal challenge, a legislative change can be performed but would require a heroic congress person submitting a bill for the change.

    2) Legal challenge for searching content on electronic devices.

    3) Legal challenge for length of time to search (two points on this — the searchee and people behind the searchee) — my word of the day searchee. This issue is when a delay incurred by searching causes the searchee to miss a flight that they gave enough time to catch.

    4) A legislative / legal assault on the handling of inspection of those with disabilities/special medical conditions. I find it appalling that there are several cases of incredibly bad behavior of TSA employees with regards to those with disabilities / special medical conditions. I can assume that there are TSA employees who have handled themselves professionally when dealing with the disabled and/or special medical conditions but the issues of when problems occur suggests a wholesale change is required.

  4. Convicted terrorist Sara Jane Olson went through TSA Pre-Check:

    The Inspector General makes two recommendations in the report. The first is heavily redacted and reads: “We recommend that the TSA Chief Risk Officer: Discontinue _____ Secure Flight program _______________.” TSA disagreed with that recommendation. The Inspector General said in considered TSA’s action “non-responsive to the intent of the recommendation which remains open and unresolved.” It appears from the exchange that TSA considered Olson a low risk, and therefore acceptable for TSA Pre Check.

    The second recommendation was that passengers be referred to the standard screening check when agents believe the passenger should not be eligible for TSA Pre Check. TSA agreed with that recommendation.

  5. Soon Americans will be too intimated to berate or criticize TSA agents decked out in tactical gear:

    Will TSA agents be given armored mine-resistant vehicles ‘tanks’ and automatic weapons? Of course they will.

    “We are sickened by the mindlessness and ferocity of this attack on TSA officers,” Cox said in a statement on the union website. “TSOs go to work every day to keep our nation safe from violent individuals who look to inflict harm on the flying public. All too often, TSOs become the targets of violence themselves, both VERBAL and physical.”

    “The security of TSOs and the flying public at checkpoints is a real concern,” AFGE tweeted Monday. “We can’t just keep repeating the same incident over & over.”

    We’re sickened by the never-ending war on… wait for it… TERROR! It’s just more B.S. our mass media is feeding the public. Arming TSA agents are you F***ing kidding me?

    Ask yourselves who’s more dangerous a ‘terrorist’ pilot or an armed TSA agent?


  6. The TSA/DHS police state expands to biometric iris and fingerprint scans at airports:

    New York-based CLEAR, has iris and fingerprint scanning kiosks at TWELVE airports with more to follow! They verify travelers’ identities through fingerprint and iris scans which are integrated into the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) existing Pre-Check system

    What do you not want for Valentines day or any other day? A GODDAMN CLEAR gift card for $49.00! It’s come to this, biometric companies have the audacity to offer gift cards to your loved ones! Send them to everyone in congress, see if they’ll scan their iris and fingerprints.


  7. TSA: You’re a potential terrorist if you yawn, whistle, have sweaty palms, complain and more!

    Next time you go through airport security, do your best to avoid yawning, whistling, or complaining too much: Any of those behaviors could make you look like a terrorist in the eyes of a Transportation Security Administration screening agent, according to newly disclosed government documents.

    A secret 92-point checklist, obtained and published Friday by The Intercept, reveals for the first time what kind of passenger behavior can merit a red flag for TSA agents responsible for pulling possible terrorists and criminals out of airport security lines.

    “Next time you travel, be careful not to complain about airport security.”

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