Petition for Rehearing En Banc Filed

Last month, I posted that the Court of Appeals ruled in one of my cases that TSA screeners are free to read through the documents of travelers as they pass through the checkpoint, among a plethora of other rubber-stamping of government thuggery. I’ve asked the court to re-hear the case en banc, which means that all the judges of the 11th Circuit would consider the case, rather than just a 3-judge panel.

In this petition, I called it how it is, no sugar-coating:

Appellant has asked the Court to clearly delineate the boundaries of administrative searches – a warrantless, causeless, consentless mode of search – in the context of aviation security screening. Instead, the panel has given the government carte blanche to do nearly anything it pleases at an airport security checkpoint.

In particular, while every other circuit to address the issue has limited the scope of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s searches to that which is likely to find instrumentalities of destroying an airplane (i.e., weapons and explosives), the panel of this Court has bestowed upon the TSA the ability to search for anything the TSA can reasonably argue is suspicious, from literature that the TSA doesn’t like to credit cards in another person’s name. This novel approach does not comport with the Fourth Amendment and any valid precedent relating thereto.

I also took issue with the fact that the 3-judge panel affirmed the dismissal of two of my claims without any explanation, with merely a footnote that they agreed with the lower court:

The panel, however, dismissed these well-articulated claims in a footnote, stating tersely, “We agree with the district court’s cogent analysis of these claims.” Panel Opinion, p. 31, fn. 11. Respectfully, Appellant paid his filing fee to this Court, took the time to argue these claims, and complied with the Court’s rules throughout the proceedings. These claims are non-frivolous and, having presented what he believes to be at least a colorable argument in support of them, Appellant humbly requests that the Court take the time to address these claims in detail.

Petitions for re-hearing en banc are denied more often than they are heard, so it’s likely that a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is coming soon. But first, let’s give the 11th Circuit a chance to correct itself.

Corbett v. TSA – En Banc Petition (.pdf)

11th Circuit: TSA May Read Your Documents At Checkpoints, Not Responsible for Assault by Its Screeners

Last week, the 11th Circuit heard oral arguments in my case against the nude body scanners and pat-downs, but in the meantime, the judges in my other TSA case, challenging whether officers may:

  1. Read through your personal documents at checkpoints
  2. Threaten travelers with false arrest and forcible search
  3. Conduct retaliatory searches that last for up to an hour
  4. Refuse to identify its screeners at checkpoints
  5. Lie about the existence of checkpoint videos in response to a FOIA request

…ruled that the TSA may indeed do all of the above. In its 32 page opinion, the court ruled that it’s perfectly reasonable for the TSA to read through your documents (maybe even digital documents) because it might prove that you have a fake ID, or it might provide additional suspicion if you have literature that the state doesn’t like. [Update:] I want to be clear that, perhaps most disturbingly of all of this, the court specifically ruled that the TSA may consider what you read as a basis for subjecting you to additional searches. Wrote the court on page 15, “a TSA screener could have reasonably factored the contents of a book possessed by a passenger into the totality of the circumstances relevant in determining whether the passenger presented a security threat.” And, the court left wide open the door for the TSA to now search electronic documents — your laptop, cell phone, iPad, etc.

The court ruled that TSA screeners are not “officers of the United States,” even though they call themselves “Transportation Security Officers,” and this distinction means that the government is not liable (and neither is the screener individually, of course) if they, say, punch you in the face, unlawfully invade your privacy, or cause emotional distress, so long as they are doing so in the course of their official duties. The court ruled that there’s nothing to be done about lying in FOIA responses, other than force them to not lie, which means the government now has every incentive to lie in the first instance. And the court ruled that the TSA can hide the names and faces (for example, from checkpoint security cameras) of its screeners. Quite simply, this opinion was a complete rout, save for a somewhat unusual note at the end that the defendants will have to pay their own costs in fighting the case (hey, at least I don’t have to pay the TSA to be told that they can do whatever they want).

This is an abomination. The court has given the TSA free reign to do, essentially, whatever it wants. I will be petitioning the 11th Circuit to re-hear this case en banc (in front of all the judges of the 11th Circuit instead of a 3-judge panel). If you are a part of a rights organization that would like to file an amicus brief, please contact me.


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Oral Arguments in Court of Appeals: Court Concerned It May Be Too Late To Consider TSA Scope & Grope

Jonathan Corbett Ready for Oral Arguments Oral arguments took place yesterday in front of a 3-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in my case challenging the constitutionality of subjecting all air travelers to machines that image every inch of their body and pat-downs that literally put the TSA’s hands in your pants. The pressing issue on the judges’ minds: Can the court even hear this case?

That’s the question every court has given me so far. First I filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, my home district, where typically a civil action challenging constitutionality of government assholery would start. But, the TSA argued that I’m challenging a written TSA policy (an “order”), not an individual instance of a search, and Congress made a special law that sends those challenges to the Court of Appeals. But that law also says that challenges must be made within 60 days of the policy’s issuance unless “reasonable grounds” exist.

If the Court doesn’t find “reasonable grounds,” it will mean that if I get searched tomorrow and want to challenge the constitutionality of that search, it will already be too late to challenge it, because the time limit to challenge it starts not on the date you were abused, but on the date the government declared it would abuse you. This would be a disgusting abrogation of the Bill of Rights, essentially allowing the government to put us on notice that they want to take away any one of our constitutional rights and, should we not speak up within 60 days (what if the law said 3 days? or 24 hours?), those rights are permanently gone. I do hope the panel doesn’t go in that direction.

While I worry that the judges may rule that constitutional rights can be time limited, they did ask some tough questions of the government. Many times throughout the government’s arguments did a judge ask a question and the government’s attorney attempted to evade the question — but the judges would have none of it. I appreciate the firmness of the court in requiring the government to directly answer questions about the consequences of accepting its perverse arguments.

Audio from the oral arguments is a public record and I’m sending my request for it today — will post it here once I receive it.

Corbett v. TSA: One Month Until Oral Arguments

The first filed and last remaining challenge to the constitutionality of the TSA’s goes to oral arguments on June 4th, 2014 at 10:00 AM in Miami, FL. On that day, I will need to persuade 3 federal judges that using a machine that can see every inch of our bodies without any suspicion whatsoever and when effective alternatives exist is a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights.

There is no doubt: this is an uphill battle. Just a couple weeks ago, U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia said in an interview that it is “foolish” to have the courts strike down the executive’s decisions on anti-terrorism measures because the courts don’t have enough information to decide if that’s safe. We live in a world where those in government, I think, truly believe that if we don’t give the executive free reign to fight the war on terror, civil rights be damned, we are all going to die. A world where critical thinking is prohibited because the government must know better, and us mere mortals (“civilians”) are not equipped to scrutinize the means by which the government “keeps us safe.”

I will attempt to persuade the courts that they must complete their constitutional duty of making sure that the laws of Congress and acts of the executive do not trample the limitations clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. That they must look deeper into what the government is doing rather than giving infinite deference, and if the courts feel they don’t have enough information, they must seek out the truth. For if we have a court system that will forego seeking the truth because it would be difficult, inconvenient, or time-consuming, we are entirely lost.

I invite you to join me in Miami on the 4th. It is possible that the court will close the courtroom for some of the proceedings (wouldn’t want secrets like the fact that the body scanners don’t actually work leaking out to the public!), but I will advocate for keeping as much of the proceedings open to the public as possible.

The Full Case Against TSA Scope & Grope: Why The Nude Body Scanners and Pat-Downs Are Unconstitutional

My case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, challenging the constitutionality of the TSA’s nude body scanner program and invasive pat-downs, is now fully briefed, redacted as required by the court, and ready for sharing with you all. This includes over a hundred pages of briefing, over 4,000 pages of the “administrative record” (a collection of internal TSA documents allegedly that formed the basis of their decision to molest the public), exhibits, declarations, and more. The administrative record I had to scan by hand, all 4,000 pages, as the TSA refused to provide an electronic copy. Perhaps they thought that I wouldn’t bother. ;)

Some pages are redacted, and some are missing. Redacted pages were deemed “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” or “Sensitive Security Information,” and I have access to unredacted versions of neither at this time. The court may later decide that the TSA must give me more information. Missing pages are “For Official Use Only” or classified documents. The government has provided me copies of the FOUO documents that I am barred from releasing (but has been so kind as to give me permission to publicly post the indicies of the documents), but so far has refused to provide an index or a non-classified summary of the classified documents.

The Briefs

  • Appellant’s Brief – This is my argument as to why the programs are unconstitutional. The court accidentally leaked an unredacted copy, which was picked up by the media. This is the copy linked to here — I am under court order not to discuss the leaked contents any further, but I am specifically not barred from linking to it.
  • Appellee’s Brief – This is the TSA’s argument as to why it’s totally acceptable for airport security screeners, to use, without suspicion, virtual strip search machines and manual touching of your genitals with their hands in the name of security. Only lightly redacted.
  • Reply Brief – My rebuttal to the TSA’s brief. The brief had 3 exhibits: Exhibit A is sealed, and Exhibit B and Exhibit C are the work of Jason Harrington, the former TSA screener who is dedicating significant time to exposing TSA assholery, including his popular op-ed, I Saw You Naked. Jason was nice enough to submit a declaration to the court regarding the nude body scanners being absolute failures.

The Administrative Record

This 4,000 pages of government paper is divided into 5 parts (warning – these .pdf files are large… up to 200 MB each!):

  • Part 1 – Unclassified Documents (Index, 1A, 1B, 1C). These are documents that are entirely “public,” as in, you could have requested them from the government under FOIA, but some of them have never before been published on the Internet. If you’ve ever commented on blog.tsa.gov, you may find your name in there!
  • Part 2 – Copyrighted & Proprietary Documents (Index). I’ve been ordered not to release these documents at this time, but note that most of them are research papers that you can find by using the search engine of your choice. Check the titles in the index.
  • Part 3 – For Official Use Only (FOUO) Documents (Index). I’ve been ordered not to release these documents at this time. Part 3 is a pair of threat assessments compiled by the TSA, and while I can’t share them with you, I did write about the juicy parts in the leaked Appellant’s Brief that I linked to above.
  • Supplement to Parts 2 & 3 (Index). I guess they found more. Just like 2 and 3, these docs are sealed, so just the index here.
  • Part 4 – Sensitive Security Information (SSI) Documents (Index, 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D). These documents are redacted (some very heavily), and I’ve not been provided the unredacted version. But, the redacted version is not sealed, so here it is.
  • Part 5 – Classified Documents. I’ve been told nothing about classified documents. I don’t even know how many pages there are. I’ve asked the court to order the TSA to provide redacted versions or to provide non-redacted summaries, and the court has decided to carry that issue with the case. Presumably, if the court orders the release of additional documents, I’ll be allowed an opportunity to submit supplemental briefing.

So what’s next? Oral arguments are scheduled for June 4th, 2014, in Miami. The government has asked the court to change its mind about having oral arguments because it fears the disclosure of sensitive information. The court has given no indication that it plans to change its mind. After June 4th, the court can rule at any time (likely not for months, though), or it may release more documents and request additional briefing before it rules.

Finally, this is what 4,000 pages of TSA nonsense looks like, before and after prepping it to be recycled into something, hopefully, more useful than printouts of excuses to justify large-scale sexual assault:

TSA Trash

TSA Trash


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Is The TSA Finally Starting To Do Something Right?

Bomb-Sniffing Dogs Greetings from SXSW week in Austin, TX, where at the local airport I passed through security without taking my shoes off, removing my laptop from my bag, being groped, or having my nude body imaged using radiation. A sign indicated that bomb-sniffing dogs may be in use. Imagine that!

The first part of that was thanks to the TSA involuntarily giving me Pre-Check status. The result of having Pre-Check is that you’re treated like a normal person — like airport security used to treat people pre-9/11 — instead of like a terrorist. My only criticism is that it shouldn’t take paying money, submitting to background checks, or suing the government into submission in order to be treated like a person rather than a terrorist. The TSA seems to be rapidly expanding who it includes in Pre-Check, and perhaps will eventually include most of us. But, that still will leave, as per usual, foreign tourists, the poor (who fly infrequently and have more limited interaction with the government), and others who have no voice to protest the government in a situation where they are subject to the peak of TSA assholery circa 2011.

The last part of my walk through security — that notice about bomb-sniffing dogs — is much more promising than the government keeping a naughty-or-nice list of who gets groped and who doesn’t. I have been advocating for the TSA to use alternative (to scope & grope) technologies for the detection of non-metallic explosives for years now, and it seems that, perhaps, they are finally catching on to the fact that these alternatives are more effective, less invasive, and less intrusive — meaning there’s no reason not to use them. The TSA has continuously stonewalled in courts of law and the court of public opinion as to why they persist on using the scanners, stating that they know best and their considered national security decisions shouldn’t be second-guessed by the plebs, but providing zero evidence to back that up. I am thoroughly convinced that the evidence supporting the body scanners over the alternatives is not some sort of secret, but rather is entirely non-existent.

When the TSA does something right, it should be recognized, and so a rare thank you from me to the TSA for slowly taking small steps in the right direction. Please continue to expand Pre-Check to everyone who participates in the Secure Flight program (if you give your gender and date of birth when making a reservation, that’s you) unless there is a specific concern about an individual, and allow redress for those denied access to “normal person” screening. Most importantly, continue with the K-9 crews, as they provide meaningful, unobtrusive protection against explosives on airplanes.

Two Years Later: Scanners Still Broken

Two years ago marks the publication of my infamous video devastating the TSA’s arguments that the nude body scanners keep us safer. I demonstrated, on camera, one of many flaws in the technology that allowed me to take anything through the checkpoint undetected.

That flaw still exists today. So why are we still using these expensive, invasive scanners if any terrorist with half a brain could beat them? That’s a good question. Is it the questionable ties between the manufacturers and the government? Is it that the TSA likes shiny new toys and maxing out their budget? Is it that the government wants us to become accustomed to submitting to electronic body searches? Is it that the TSA is simply too embarrassed to admit that they wasted over a billion dollars?

There really is no good explanation as to why the TSA continues to use this technology. After having read through ten thousand pages of their documents and third party documents, it seems to simply be stubbornness absent a good reason at this point.

TSA Gives Me PreCheck Access… Without Asking

You can imagine my surprise when I received this boarding pass yesterday…

That’s right — the guy who sues, publicly humiliates, and fights before Congress the TSA now has TSA PreCheck, meaning that I’ll personally almost never encounter a body scanner or pat-down again.

I never asked for it, never opted-in, and had no notice that I was included. I intentionally avoided it because I don’t think it’s fair that one should have to do anything to avoid being abused by their government. Their inclusion of me in this program is further ironic since in 2010, when I filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would require the TSA not to scan or molest me, the TSA argued that such an “ad hoc” exclusion would devistate the TSA’s inpenetrable fortress. But here we are in 2014, and the TSA has done just that.

How and Why

There are many ways that people can get PreCheck status, according to the TSA, the most common being allowed to opt-in as a result of frequent flyer status. I do have that status, but I’ve never opted in, so I assume this not to be the reason.

More likely is the TSA’s new “risk assessment” program, where the TSA somehow decides, based on information like your name, address, and travel history, that you must not be a terrorist. Perhaps this is how I’ve made it through.

Or perhaps the TSA simply thinks that if it keeps me away from the body scanners, I’ll shut up. Nope — what the TSA is doing is wrong, and it’s wrong whether they decide to give me special treatment or not. “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

U.S. Court of Appeals Orders Me to Take Down Blog Posts

You may recall that back in October of last year, I filed a brief that discussed secret information provided to me by the TSA under court order not to release, and the clerk of the court mistakenly published that brief for the world to see. It contained information that was quite embarassing to the TSA and undermined their assertions that abusing us at airport checkpoints is necessary and was picked up (and mirrored) by major news and social media sites across the world.

The attorneys at the Department of Justice proceeded to flip out on me for discussing this “secret information” that was no longer actually secret, through no fault of my own, and demanded that I refrain from talking about something that anyone can read in the news, effectively making me the only person in the world who is barred from speaking on the subject. The court today temporarily granted their request and ordered me to delete the contents of any blog post that contains the not-so-secret information, pending the outcome of the case, at which point they will decide whether to make their gag order permanent.

I’d say that the court’s order was obnoxious censorship, but thinking about it, it seems more likely that they just want the government to stop bothering them about this nonsense. I say this for two reasons. First, the court entirely ignored the issue for about 2 months, allowing my Web site to remain as-is, before finally addressing the issue, which suggests to me that they really don’t care. Second, the court specifically granted me permission to link to the news sites that discuss (and host a copy of) my leaked brief, meaning they acknowledge that the information is still going to be around.

So, if you’d like to read the information that the court has ordered me not to discuss, click here to read the news article about it, which includes a link to the full, unredacted leaked brief. I can’t discuss what you might find at the link above, I can only provide the link.

Censorship is stupid. Paritally because it’s wrong, and partially because it’s ineffective.

Federal Judge: No-Fly List Violates Due Process (Updated)

Today is a good day in the courts: a federal judge in California has ruled in favor of Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim, the college professor who once left the country to go to a conference and, when she tried to come back, found out her visa was revoked and she was on the no-fly list.

For those not yet familiar, the no-fly list has, until now, been a tool to deprive the people of their rights without due process under the law. To get on the no-fly list, one is “nominated” by a fed in one of a handful of agencies, that nomination is processed by the FBI, and you’re on the list. Once you’re on the list, they won’t tell you you’re on the list — you just can’t get a boarding pass, ever. You’re (obviously) never told why you’re on the list, and never given a chance to challenge it. The government offers a form to fill out to request a review if you think you’re on the list, but there’s no process by which it is reviewed (that is, your form is basically memory-holed).

No judge is ever involved, and even for Dr. Ibrahim, the government fought every step of the way to avoid having a court even consider the matter (much like how my case against the TSA’s nude body scanners was delayed for 2 years while the government argued that a federal district court could not touch the issue). The government argued that questioning the no-fly list would reveal “state secrets” — information so sensitive that the executive branch has the right to withhold it even from closed-door review by a federal judge. So much for “the most transparent administration ever,” eh?

Nothing underscores the absurdity more than the fact that U.S. District Judge William Alsup’s ruling, save for the fact that it was in Dr. Ibrahim’s favor, has been sealed pending appeal. That is, the government argued that a ruling that the no-fly list is illegal would release classified information.

Thanks to Judge Alsup’s refusal to be bullied, this absurd practice comes to an end — pending review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Update: Judge Alsup has released a public summary of his ruling, explaining that the government made a mistake by adding Dr. Ibrahim to the list and must correct that mistake.

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