The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has revised its airline traveler screening policies after it was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of an aide of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).
According to an ACLU press release, its lawsuit stems from an incident from March:
The ACLU filed its lawsuit in June on behalf of Steven Bierfeldt, who was detained on March 29, 2009 in a small room at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and interrogated by TSA officials for nearly half an hour after he passed a metal box containing cash through a security checkpoint X-ray machine. Bierfeldt was carrying the cash in connection with his duties as the Director of Development for the Campaign for Liberty, a political organization that grew out of Congressman Ron Paul's presidential campaign. Bierfeldt repeatedly asked the agents to explain the scope of their authority to detain and interrogate him and received no explanation. Instead, the agents escalated the threatening tone of their questions and ultimately told Bierfeldt that he was being placed under arrest. Bierfeldt recorded audio of the incident with his iPhone.
As a result of the lawsuit, TSA screeners can now only conduct searches aimed at keeping firearms and explosives off of airplanes and cannot search for crimes unrelated to transportation security. The agency also told screeners that passengers carrying large sums of cash have not broken the law. The policy change came in two separate TSA policy directives, according to the ACLU. The first issued in September said that "screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security." The second directive, issued in October, said that carrying large amounts of cash is not illegal.
A TSA spokeswoman confirmed to The Washington Times that the policy changes did indeed occur but said the paper would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the two documents explaining the policy revisions.
Due to TSA's screening policy revisions, the ACLU and Bierfeldt have moved to drop its lawsuit on Bierfeldt's behalf.
As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch put it, "Transportation Security Administration screeners at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport probably wish that the fellow they chose to grill last March about a box of cash wasn't a Ron Paul devotee who runs a committee devoted to individual rights and constitutional government."
♦ Photo of passenger screening by Charisse Still/TSA.gov