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 Jonathan Corbett, Civil Rights Attorney

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Lawsuit Against TSA Mandatory Body Scanner Policy Dismissed: No “Standing” Because It “Probably” Won’t Happen to You

The TSA’s body scanner program had always been put forth as an “optional” way for passengers to be screened: there was always the “pat-down option,” as unpleasant as that option may also be.  But, towards the end of 2015, the TSA announced that for “some” passengers, body scanners screening would be mandatory.  I immediately filed suit.

Fast-forward nearly 4 years, and the Court on Friday finally made a ruling on the matter: my case is dismissed for failure to demonstrate “standing.”

What is “standing?”  The U.S. Constitution allows the federal courts to hear only real, live “cases or controversies.”  All that means is you have to actually have a specific legal “injury” to complain of.  A violation of your rights, or your pocketbook, is an injury (with the exception of “I pay taxes to support this,” which is generally not considered a legal injury for standing purposes).  No standing = no lawsuit.

After thorough briefing, the TSA clarified that “some” passengers means “only selectees” — those on a TSA watch list but who have not made it to the no-fly list. And since I’m not on the selectee list, I’m not injured, and therefore the court should show me the door.

Two problems with this: 1) the rule issued by the TSA in 2015 doesn’t specify that it applies only to “selectees,” meaning they are free to change their mind at any time, and more importantly, 2) the TSA also treats regular passengers as selectees on a random basis! On any day you go to the airport, you too could be “selectee for a day!”  What are the odds?  Redacted:

What are the odds? Redacted!

So to be clear, we won’t tell you the odds, we can change the odds at any time, we can get rid of the odds completely at any time, but don’t worry, your legal rights have not been affected.

“But Jon, what’s the big deal? Why not just wait until it happens and then sue?”

Because challenges to the TSA’s policies, that they call “orders” so long as they are written down and “final,” are made under a statute that requires you to file within 60 days of the date of the order.  In other words, by the time you figure out if a policy will actually be applied to you, it may be too late to challenge it.  (There may be other ways to get a court to hear the issue, such as suing for the cost of your missed flight if you are selected and then refuse a mandatory body scan, but there are challenges there too.)

I will be considering an appeal on the issue of whether a member of a group who will be randomly affected by a law has standing to challenge it, even if the random selection is rare.  This would either be trying to distinguish, or to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to partially overrule, the leading case on the matter, Los Angeles v. Lyons.  [Update: I’ve decided I will be petitioning the full Eleventh Circuit to reconsider the case en banc.  Stay tuned for an update next month…]

Corbett v. TSA VI – Dismissed on Standing (.pdf)

Early Documents — Petitioner’s, Respondent’s, and Reply Briefing

Fully Briefed: Can TSA Refuse Body Scanner Opt-Outs?

This blog began in 2010 to document my lawsuit against the beginning of the TSA’s body scanner program.  From that time until 2015, the body scanner was “optional” for all passengers — so long as you didn’t mind being molested by a blue-gloved screener during their “full-body pat-downs.”  This was part of the reason that no court has struck down these body scanners as unconstitutional: because, they say, passengers are consenting to use them (even though that “consent” is coerced by offering the alternatives of “let us touch your junk” or “don’t fly”).  But, at the end of 2015, the TSA announced that they would reserve the right to refuse to allow these body scanner “opt-outs” at their discretion, and I immediately filed suit.

There are two really interesting issues in this case that I hope may cause a wrinkle for the TSA:

  1. The original body scanner rule in 2010 was issued without “notice-and-comment rulemaking,” a procedure required by Congress whereby agencies that make rules first have to ask the public for input.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit ruled that the TSA violated this procedure and, although normally that would require them to stop enforcing the rule (i.e., stop using the body scanners), the Court, fearful that the body scanners actually protect us, simply ordered the TSA to take comment after the fact.  The new body scanner rule limiting opt-outs was also issued without public comment, and I’ve asked the court to, this time, put some teeth into forcing the TSA to actually follow procedure before issuing a rule.
  2. The TSA is arguing that it needs to be able to force some passengers through the body scanner because, they allege, it is more secure than a full-body pat-down.  But, this is objectively untrue.  Besides the fact that I proved the scanners to be beatable in 2012, think about this: if one alerts a body scanner, the result is… a pat-down of the area of the body that generated the alert!  How could this possibly be more secure than a full-body pat-down that would have touched that area of the body and more?  The function of the body scanners is to narrow down those people who do not need to be patted down to save time, not to make a pat-down more secure.  Body scanners don’t find weapons — pat-downs do.

tsa_is_absurd

This case lives in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the procedure for cases there is a written brief filed by the person filing the case, an opposing brief filed by the other side, and then a reply brief again by the filer, after which the court may rule on the case.  Yesterday I submitted my reply brief after nearly a year and a half of delay, and so, the case is now “fully briefed,” meaning the judges can decide it at any point (or can ask for the parties to argue in-person, or can ask for more evidence, or, basically, whatever they want).  Realistically, I expect it more likely that they will decide without in-person arguments, probably towards the end of the summer.  I’m not holding my breath — the game is rigged, and the TSA gets almost complete control over what evidence the court sees, some of which I don’t even get to see (wouldn’t want the public to see things like how often their testing shows the body scanners miss a weapon, because that would be, well, embarrassing).

Corbett v. TSA IV – Reply Brief (.pdf)

Corbett v. TSA IV – Appellee Brief (Redacted) (.pdf)

Corbett v. TSA IV – Opening Brief (article)

What Are My Rights At The TSA Checkpoint?

tsacheckpointGoing through airport security manned by the TSA is an unpleasant at best, panic-inducing at worst experience, and it definitely helps to know what to expect and what you can do to ensure that you are harassed as little as possible.  The TSA is absolutely horrible at informing travelers as to the procedures they will face (often times declaring that they are “sensitive security information” and therefore cannot be published) and those working the checkpoints often misrepresent the rights and responsibilities of travelers (sometimes to be intentionally difficult, but generally because they were poorly trained).

So, here’s what every traveler should know before they collect their boarding pass at a U.S. airport:

  1. You have the right to opt-out of the body scanners and request a pat-down.  Unless your boarding pass indicates that you are subject to heightened security, which will be denoted by four S’s in big bold letters, you may simply tell the person running the body scanner that you “opt out.”  Try to keep a close eye on your belongings while they find someone to pat you down.
  2. You have the right to take pictures, video, and audio recording.  It can be comforting to many to know that they may document their interaction, especially if it looks like there’s going to be a problem.  You can take pictures, video, and audio recordings of the entire screening process with the following two exceptions: a) you can’t take pictures or videos of the x-ray monitors, and b) you can’t hold your belongings (including a camera) while you’re walking through the body scanner or metal detector, or while receiving a pat-down, but you can have a travel companion who has already been cleared do so on your behalf.  If the TSA ever denies you the ability to record your interaction other than for those two exceptions, please contact me.
  3. You have the right to request the TSA’s video of your experience!  Video from security cameras is almost always a public record covered by the federal Freedom of Information Act or similar state laws.  Generally, the video is in the possession of the local airport authority, so your request should be made to them, but I highly suggest sending simultaneous requests to both the TSA and the airport.  How?  Read about submitting FOIA requests to the TSA.
  4. You have the right to carry medicinal liquids as a carry-on, even if they are over 3 ounces.  Any liquid that you need for a medical purpose must be permitted through the checkpoint.  It does not have to be a prescription, and you do not need a doctor’s note.  If you have diabetes, you can easily justify a bottle of Gatorade.  If you have a baby, you may bring breast milk.  You also need not detail your condition for the TSA; simply take the items out of your bag to be separately screened and let the screener know that the items are medical liquids.
  5. You have the right to fly without ID.  If you forget, or lose, your ID, you may still travel.  They will simply verify your identity by calling in your information.  Leave extra time for the process, but fear not.  Note that if you can, but simply refuse to, show ID, the TSA’s policy is to refuse to screen you, although that policy does not exactly square with court rulings.
  6. You have the right to speak to a supervisor.  Blue-shirted TSA screeners come in 4 varieties, represented by 0 through 3 stripes on their shoulders.  0 = trainee, 1 = Transportation Security Officer (TSO), 2 = Lead TSO, 3 = Supervisory TSO.  If you have a problem and the person with whom you are speaking has less than 3 stripes, ask for an STSO.  If the STSO still gives you trouble, ask for a Transportation Security Manager (TSM), who will be wearing a suit.  A TSM is required to be on duty in the airport; do not believe any assertions that one is not available — they are.  Finally, if the interaction with the TSM is still unsatisfactory, you may ask to contact the Federal Security Director (FSD), who is a regional airport director and may not be on-site but generally has staffers who are.  Another resource is the TSA’s national “TSA Cares” hotline.  While the name is a misnomer, as the TSA certainly does not care, they may be of assistance at (855) 787-2227.
  7. You have the right to make a complaint.  Ask for a comment card on your way out, and the name of anyone who made your TSA experience more unpleasant than usual.  You can also file your TSA complaints online, but it makes them more nervous when you ask for a paper copy.
  8. You have the right to request a police officer supervise.  Did the TSA just ask to conduct an invasive search on your person?  Feel free to request that airport police supervise the situation.  Most, but not all, airport cops understand that the TSA is a disaster and that 0% of the times the TSA has demanded absurd levels of screening has the target actually been a terrorist.  As the saying goes, “‘I just caught a terrorist!’ said no TSA employee ever.”
  9. You have the right to refuse to take off anything but outer garments.  This includes, obviously, your clothes, but also includes any medical devices, prostheses, etc.  The TSA is not permitted to conduct strip searches.  If you are asked to do anything to the contrary, contact a supervisor and airport police.
  10. You have the right to refuse screening.  I cannot stress this enough: if the TSA demands that you continue screening in a private room, you should refuse.  You may miss your flight, but think about it: if the TSA does what you see at the checkpoint in full view of the world, you can only imagine what they will do if they determine you need “private screening.”  And, if you can’t imagine, let me fill you in: they will be touching your genitals with the front of their hands.  Know also that the TSA has not successfully leveled a fine or any other penalty against anyone for refusing screening, and their current policy is to simply escort the traveler out of the checkpoint.  Your airline will almost certainly re-book you at no cost.  It is your body, and your choice — do not let the TSA persuade you otherwise.  Just remain calm and firm.

Finally, if you have a negative experience, please don’t keep your story to yourself.  I would love to hear your story and may be able to help you to find resources to help.  Be in touch.  And, please share, print, and distribute to help others avoid TSA assholery.


“Jon Corbett is a civil rights advocate known for filing the first lawsuit against the deployment of TSA nude body scanners, as well as defeating the body scanners live in “How to Get ANYTHING Through TSA Nude Body Scanners.  Presently a law student, he continues to advocate for travel and privacy rights.  Twitter: @_JonCorbett, Web: https://professional-troublemaker.com/

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TSA: We May Force You to Go Through Body Scanners Because… Well… We Can’t Tell You

tsagropeAt the end of 2015, the TSA snuck in a pre-holiday amendment to their body scanner opt-out policy: that passengers may “generally” opt for a pat-down instead of the body scanner, but the TSA reserves the right to require the body scanner.  I immediately filed suit, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse this arbitrary change made in the face of 94.0% public opposition to the body scanners and the fact that I made readily apparent in 2012: that the body scanners simply don’t work.

A year later, we finally have the government’s position on the matter.  First, I’m reminded that I’m complaining for no reason:

“AIT screening presents no greater intrusion upon passenger privacy than the walk-through metal detectors previously deployed at airport checkpoints”

…which is why 94% oppose them.

Next, I’m told that I shouldn’t concern myself with the matter, because only “selectees” will lose their right to opt-out:

“[T]he challenged AIT screening policy applies only to individuals who have been issued a boarding pass with an “SSSS” notation indicating that they have been selected for enhanced screening.  This notation generally means that the passenger in question is a ‘selectee.’  Selectees are individuals who are ‘[k]nown or suspected [t]errorists’ or who have been ‘identified as [posing a] higher risk’ to airline security ‘based on intelligence [redacted].’  Additionally, as of July 2016, TSA has instituted a policy under which [redacted] airline passengers are randomly designated as selectees for the purpose of a particular trip.”

…but that last sentence is, of course, the problem and, frankly, is what we all already know: that you can be Mother Theresa and still end up with a blue glove between your legs because because the TSA has randomly made you a “selectee.”

But, let’s ignore that for a moment.  There’s a more pressing question: Why does the TSA feel that someone with a higher “risk” level (whether because they are a suspected terrorist, or were randomly selected to be treated like one) should be screened by body scanner rather than a pat-down?

“[Redacted].  Covert tests also suggested selectees could [redacted] opting out of AIT screening in favor of a pat-down.”

Ah, that clears it up.  The TSA, allegedly, found some scenario where it’s easier to beat the pat-down than the body scanners, but doesn’t want to tell us what that is.  But, what about the very real scenarios where the body scanners are easier to beat than the pat-down?  That, of course, isn’t discussed at all.  Once again, the TSA blindly chooses these high-tech, high-price, highly-invasive gadgets when very effective alternatives exist.

The case continues as I get an opportunity to file a reply brief.  I’ll also be asking the court to appoint counsel with a security clearance to review the redacted brief and represent my interests, because hiding the rationale for a policy that is being challenged for arbitrariness from the person challenging it doesn’t exactly lend itself to a fair day in court.

Corbett v. TSA – Appellee Brief (Redacted) (.pdf)

 

Briefed: Can the TSA Eliminate the Pat-Down “Opt-Out?”

petSince the nude body scanners were introduced by the TSA as primary screening in Fall 2010, they have always maintained that use of the technology is optional: that if you wanted, they would instead simply molest you using their new “pat-down” rather than use radiation to image your nude body.  Not exactly a pretty choice, but it was some choice nevertheless.

Five years later, after all the dust had settled over the lawsuits by passengers who felt that the TSA’s new screening techniques were unconstitutionally invasive (and down-right stupid considering that despite being the most intrusive search they had ever implemented, they were blatantly ineffective), the TSA doubled-down on their scanners and announced to passengers that they reserve the right not to honor “opt-out” requests in the future.  This new announcement flew in the face of the 94% of the public who formally told the TSA to ditch the scanners, and me being one of that 94%, I immediately filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.  Two other lawsuits were filed by EPIC and CEI, alleging that the TSA improperly disregarded that 94%.

It’s amazing how long these things take to progress.  It’s 7 months into the lawsuit and I just filed my principal argument, the appellant’s brief — a written statement of the entire case.  Those 7 months were filled largely with the TSA bickering about how much information they had to release to me, which resulted in the end with several thousand pages landing on my doorstep.  I’ll be posting those pages, known as the “administrative record,” shortly (scanning thousands of pages is an effort!), along with a few highlights (including, “How Any Terrorist Can Get Pre-Check,” an exposé on why the Pre-Check system is bullshit), but what was most interesting about them is they showed zero basis for their decision to eliminate the opt-out.  As I explain in my brief:

The Administrative Record is illuminative on the reasons for adopting the body scanner and pat-down program as primary screening in 2010 [Ed – Not that they were good reasons, but they were reasons.]. There are many documents that address the effectiveness of the body scanners and provide some evidence of cost/benefit thought process and procedures by which the program is tested. See, e.g., Admin. Rec., Vol. 4, p. 3893 (results of body scanner field testing). However, the elephant in the room is that there is no discussion on the effectiveness of the pat-down component of the program, nor a comparison between how likely a body scanner is to find a dangerous item on a passenger as compared to a pat-down.

Full brief below…

Corbett v. TSA IV – Appellant’s Brief (.pdf)


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