The Transportation Security Administration has moved beyond just checking for weapons and explosives. It’s now training airport screeners to spot anything suspicious, and then honoring them when searches lead to arrests for crimes like drug possession and credit-card fraud.
But two court cases in the past month question whether TSA searches—which the agency says have broadened to allow screeners to use more judgment—have been going too far.
A federal judge in June threw out seizure of three fake passports from a traveler, saying that TSA screeners violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Congress authorizes TSA to search travelers for weapons and explosives; beyond that, the agency is overstepping its bounds, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley said.
“The extent of the search went beyond the permissible purpose of detecting weapons and explosives and was instead motivated by a desire to uncover contraband evidencing ordinary criminal wrongdoing,” Judge Marbley wrote.
In the second case, Steven Bierfeldt, treasurer for the Campaign for Liberty, a political organization launched from Ron Paul’s presidential run, was detained at the St. Louis airport because he was carrying $4,700 in a lock box from the sale of tickets, T-shirts, bumper stickers and campaign paraphernalia. TSA screeners quizzed him about the cash, his employment and the purpose of his trip to St. Louis, then summoned local police and threatened him with arrest because he responded to their questions with a question of his own: What were his rights and could TSA legally require him to answer?