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.