11th Circuit: TSA May Read Your Documents At Checkpoints, Not Responsible for Assault by Its Screeners
June 10, 2014 35 Comments
- Read through your personal documents at checkpoints
- Threaten travelers with false arrest and forcible search
- Conduct retaliatory searches that last for up to an hour
- Refuse to identify its screeners at checkpoints
- 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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