ACLU sues TSA for illegally detaining and searching man carrying $4,700 in cash

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42 Responses to “ACLU sues TSA for illegally detaining and searching man carrying $4,700 in cash”

  1. xopl says:

    It’s nice and all that we’re just beginning to be able to rationally discuss things like the TSA. It wasn’t that long ago that if you brought these issues up you would be met with a wall of “911″ responses and accusations that you want the terrorists to win.

    However, as soon as the next terror attack happens, which is inevitable, you can kiss your debate and rational discourse goodbye.

    We aren’t talking about the lessons and mistakes of 911. Even more critically, we aren’t talking about what we WILL and WILL NOT do after the next attack.

    That scares the shit out of me. *Our response* scares the shit out of me, not the threat of another attack.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Professor Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School (who, interestingly, is also frequently mentioned as a potential nominee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the court that hears appeals concerning patent cases)has written some interesting things about the ACLU in his book “Divided by God.” The fact of the matter is that when a law enforcement agency stops someone without cause, that is a violation of their rights as protected under Fourth Amendment prohibition on illegal search and seizure.

  3. Anonymous says:

    There is a difference between good secuirty and SS tactics seen by the germans during War II. I wonder who got threw security while they were wasting time on a person over travel cash….

  4. Agies says:

    I agree with the suit but I think it is slightly disengenuous for Bierfeldt to claim that he was simply carrying cash.

  5. Vaulden says:

    @4

    Missouri requires that only one person involved in the conversation be aware of the recording.

    This is the case in 39 or so of the states and it saddens me that it is not the case in every state.

  6. bardfinn says:

    #24/28 Anonymous:

    None of what you mentioned matters. Yes, he was arrested – by definition, once the police or any other law enforcement detains you beyond ascertaining your identity and that you are or are not a suspect in an ongoing criminal investigation, you’ve been arrested. For them to ascertain whether you are, or are not, a suspect in an ongoing criminal investigation requires probable cause. This man was arrested wrongfully, and for the incumbent government forces to physically interfere with campaign finance – wittingly or unwittingly – while breaking the law smacks of Nixon’s tactics. This young man could just as easily have been a Democrat, Green, Libertarian, or any other party’s functionary — had he been so, there would be lawsuits filed by the party he was a functionary for.

    If the people who are employed to perform specific functions which hold a clear and present capacity for illegally violating the rights of others do not know when and where they’ve violated those rights and can’t answer the questions about what an individual – or they – may be doing wrong with a high rate of confidence, then they have absolutely zero reason to be working that job.

    disclaimer: IANAL, IANYL, ATINLA.

  7. Takuan says:

    @32: when you have no personal rights, you are no longer safe at all.

  8. Primitive says:

    It doesn’t matter why he was carrying that much cash. That’s his own business, not the glorified security guards at the airport.

  9. Anonymous says:

    @agies

    Why?

  10. Cpt. Tim says:

    #4, I agree. He wasn’t just simply carrying cash. There’s something beautiful about the way he goes about it. The precise amount of pressure the fingertips apply to the deposit box. The suppleness in the wrists as they swing by his side. The bounce in his step.

    To say simply carrying cash is to be blind to this mans art.

  11. elk says:

    AGIES:
    What was he doing if not that?

  12. Anonymous says:

    The audio of the interrogation is amazing. Ignorant TSA personnel vs. Bierfeldt. I’ve been harassed by the TSA more than once. And I had to correct the erroneous information they were giving me, e.g., about contact lens solution and how much I could have with me. They’ve got nothing to brag about except that they’ve “saved” the American traveling public from perfume, lipstick, and bottled water. It is unlikely that these TSA bullies would have been able to prevent 911, and they do not have the right to make up reasons for treating people they way they do.

  13. JoeKickass says:

    @2
    This argument has made the rounds for years now; “oh what do you expect from minimum wage employees?”

    But this simplifies the problem and almost exonerates the TSA and I disagree with it entirely. You can hire almost anyone to do any job (highly technical skills notwithstanding), provided an average person is provided with training, guidelines and an understanding of repercussions if they fail. If your average “Hamburger Flipper” was given a job at the TSA and told EXACTLY what they are looking for, and EXACTLY what they can do if they are suspicious of someone and what will happen if they falsely accuse someone (Eg: 3 strikes and you’re fired), they would do just fine.

    The trouble is, the TSA won’t do this because when it comes right down to it, their goal is not to catch terrorists, their goal is to make it look like they’re trying REALLY HARD to catch terrorists. That way when the next inevitable 9-11 happens they can say, “Hey we tried, but you all bitched and complained about us taking away your toothpaste.”

    The TSA frontliners are not the problem, they’re average people of average intelligence doing exactly the job they’re hired for. The only way things will change is if the TSA is somehow punished for harassing innocent people and this lawsuit is a good start.

  14. jphilby says:

    #32 “Safety trumps personal rights.”

    A nice, exculpating little nostrum – except that it, like all glittering generality, fails apart from slightest heat of reason.

    Perhaps you’re suggesting that he was going to use the bundle of bills to beat someone on the plane to death? Probably not.

    The man is the victim of Cro-magnons bearing stereotypes. But then … aren’t we all, Bartleby?

  15. zuzu says:

    Safety trumps personal rights. You have to think about the safety of everyone on the plane.

    I think this was the joke from the first time this story broke on BoingBoing:

    What’s he going to do, bribe the pilot into crashing the plane?

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to see the TSA search everyone before they drive or ride in a motor vehicle. Plenty of terrorist acts happen because of suicide drivers, and probably more than from those who hijack planes. If the TSA would simply pat down and check the bags of every single person who either drives or is a passenger in a motor vehicle I would feel much safer. Also, if they would detain and harass anyone who drives with cash, that would be even better.
    PS this wouldn’t bother me ONE BIT because I didn’t do ANYTHING WRONG!

  17. atomix says:

    Some commenters on the previous related story said he was suspicious for not answering questions. What if they asked him his sexual preference? What if they asked him his Social Security number, bank account number, mothers maiden name?

    He’s not legally required to tell them those things, why should it be any more suspicious when he refuses to tell them where the cash came from.

    Secret != Criminal.

    I can ask them to fly to my house and mow my lawn, but I don’t think it’s suspicious if they refuse.

  18. an0nymous says:

    There should be a law making it explicitely legal to record law enforcement officers as long as you are not interfering.

    PA – A cell phone voicemail recorded a man shot to death by an off-duty SEPTA police officer.

    Joe McNair and SEPTA police Sgt. Darryl Simmons got into an altercation on a Perkiomen Township road in Montgomery County on September 17, 2008. McNair had made a call on his cell phone.

    The person McNair called didn’t pick up so the call went to voicemail, recording the rest of the incident.

    McNair’s family later learned of the voicemail recording and believe it sheds new light on the incident. They took it to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office and now to the NBC10 Investigators.

    Simmons’ attorney insists the recording doesn’t change a thing and in fact, feels the recording may be illegal and in violation of Pennsylvania’s wiretap law. Montco D.A. Risa Ferman says, “One difficult issue with which we are grappling is that our research suggests this recording may violate the wiretap act.” If it does break the wiretap law, the recording would not be admissible as evidence. (more)

  19. zimbr says:

    The INS has been randomly searching US citizens walking into Tijuana for years now. They make everyone stop and line up while a dog sniffs you. If you are carrying a bag, they will make you open it, even if the dog didn’t react to you. I wonder if that is also illegal?

    A little off of the TSA thread but still another example of random searches by US officials on US citizens without provocation other than traveling.

    The US feels less like a free country every year.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Fight the good fight. It is, however, legal for them to do this. Welcome to the world of Legal Criminality. We gave away any remnants of civil rights some time ago.

  21. JoshuaTerrell says:

    This is good. Carrying around a pocket recorder is never a bad thing I guess.

    Put TSA back in the play pen, nuke Homeland Security and ICE and get a government funded civilian law enforcement oversight bureau, and we’ll be on track to a better country.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Hey they’re just trying to prevent him from boarding a plane with one of those dreaded wad-of-cash bombs.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I find the $10K limit on cash pretty suspect. When someone wants to spend $100M on political ads, money is speech, and protected by the First Amendment. When a campaign worker wants to carry more than $10K, money is a controlled substance.

  24. Antinous / Moderator says:

    If the wad was thick enough, he was almost certainly carrying an illegal amount of cocaine embedded in the bills.

  25. EH says:

    #18: Well the ink is magnetic.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I was illegally detained in detroit by TSA for several hours and they would not allow me to ask why (still do not know why). I just returned from the philippines from a medical missionary trip. When I asked why, they would tell me to sit and be quiet or I would be fingerprinted which would add an additional two hours to my stay while they waited for the results. I do not know why I was detained, I was not allowed to talk, and was frequently threatened with more timely security checks. I was treated like this by three different agents which indicates that this is their culture. I missed my flight home and had nothing but apathy from these people. Thank God we do not have a charge of Aggravate Ignorance because several of these people would go to the ‘chair’…

  27. Anonymous says:

    Note that the TSA blog says that only one voice is a TSO and the rest were cops.

    Apparently, TSO asked him about the money and then brought him in the room, and then called the cops. He washed his hands early on.

    The TSO was surely wrong, but then the cops should have just let him go.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I can’t believe that I’m defending the TSA, but I actually read the whole complaint by the ACLU. The TSA agents were in the wrong (they stopped someone without authority, needlessly threatened). At the same time, Bierfeldt undeniably helped to gum up the works by repeatedly questioning them about their legal grounds. As soon as they found out it was political contributions, they sent him on his way.

    If he had said some variation on “There’s nothing illegal about this money, and there’s nothing illegal about carrying this sum of money,” I believe it would have been resolved faster. By focusing on their right to even ask him questions, he just triggered their authoritarian response. Which is wrong — but again, as soon as they got some kind of a reasonable answer, they let him go. Was he beaten? Was he arrested? This was a man looking for a conflict with undereducated airport guards — is it so interesting he found one? There was a brief, uneventful investigation into a non-crime. Was it a secret that he’s the treasurer of a Ron Paul organization? Why not just say that?

    The same dynamic was true with that priest who wanted to scoot past the border guards while arguing about the fourth amendment and refusing access to his car. Right or wrong, if you trigger the authoritarian reflex, you’re probably going to be the one to suffer.

    It’s established law you can be searched, at the airport and at the border. Give them the information they’re looking for and get on with your life. Don’t surrender everything, but the episode was needlessly confrontational and pointless.

    To put this another way, there was suspicious behavior seen, and the TSA asked a few questions, bringing in the local police. They said things that went too far, but so what?

    If you think I’m being needlessly subservient to authority, please tell me what should the TSA have done with some vials of crack, a “How I’ll Kill Obama” folder, or a crying 12 year old asserting “you’re NOT my father?” Are they allowed to stop a rape in progress? (It wouldn’t harm any planes.) They investigated something that could have been a crime — briefly and uneventfully. BFD.

  29. Kieran O'Neill says:

    Is there a good quick guide to what your rights are when passing through a TSA checkpoint, including how those rights differ if you are not a U.S. citizen?

    One with references to relevant sections of relevant legislation?

  30. qw1 says:

    when you hire the stupidest of people that too Americans to guard your country, be prepared for this.

  31. Cpt. Tim says:

    #24 yeah. its like when cops just want to have a quick look around the vehicle.

    politely asking for clarification on your rights is so annoying.

  32. jimsing59 says:

    Safety trumps personal rights. You have to think about the safety of everyone on the plane.

  33. Mark Gordon says:

    #24 Crack? Crack is illegal. Rape? Rape is illegal. Hold them until real cops arrive, and don’t bother asking them any questions.

    Cash? They haven’t outlawed cash. Maybe it’s a bit fishy, but in the absence of evidence of a crime, they should stick to security theater. They don’t have a mandate to investigate possible crimes unrelated to transportation safety.

    Apples and oranges.

  34. Antinous / Moderator says:

    In way, way, way creepier news…

    13 year-old girl strip-searched at school to look for ibuprofen!

  35. Mark Gordon says:

    While the suit is a new development, Cory first posted this in back in April.

  36. Anonymous says:

    (I posted as #24)

    #26 – Yes, just like it’s so annoying and disruptive to say “I’m the treasurer of a national political organization; these are contributions from the rally I’m coming from.” That would have been the most inconvenient, intrusive thing, ever. Instead of his saying that single sentence that would have stopped everything — because it did stop everything later, even when they were agitated — he instead stood on a principle, then they’re bringing in two cops, a supervisor, then later he call in the ACLU and try to have this litigated. It all seems utterly, utterly pointless to me.

    Of course there’s nothing wrong with having clarification of your civil rights. If you focus on that to the exclusion of anything else, you look like a crank, which just attracts more attention.

    Watch the ACLU videos on police stops. They don’t instruct you to act like a dick, hammering on the blue collar folks with questions about rights and amendments. You’re best off being polite and cooperative with the inquiry, while sticking to your actual rights. That’s different from what Bierfeldt did.

  37. EricT says:

    It must be a human nature thing. the type of people that are drawn to the job are exactly the type who would have no problem overstepping their authority. Wannabe cops. And still we hire these types.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Maybe $4700 seems like an awful lot of money to airport mall security goons.

  39. Anonymous says:

    I would like to see a federal law explicitly making it legal to record Law Enforcement Officers of any stripe in the performance of their duty (with or without their knowledge and consent) provided the person recording is not interfering with their activities.
    In some jurisdictions actions such as Steve’s would have resulted in wiretapping charges.
    Citations:
    http://www.citmedialaw.org/legal-guide/pennsylvania/pennsylvania-recording-law
    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P3-169730441.html

    Take for instance Pennsylvania that forbids recording conversations without knowledge and consent unless you are a police officer.
    Got that? It’s only legal for the police to record you, not the other way around.

  40. deckard68 says:

    I think Boston is another city where it is illegal to record police. Again, this is just to make sure that criminal activity by cops is not admissible in court.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Pennsylvania’s Strange Wiretap Law Strikes Again
    PA – A cell phone voicemail recorded a man shot to death by an off-duty SEPTA police officer.

    Joe McNair and SEPTA police Sgt. Darryl Simmons got into an altercation on a Perkiomen Township road in Montgomery County on September 17, 2008. McNair had made a call on his cell phone.

    The person McNair called didn’t pick up so the call went to voicemail, recording the rest of the incident.

    McNair’s family later learned of the voicemail recording and believe it sheds new light on the incident. They took it to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office and now to the NBC10 Investigators.

    Simmons’ attorney insists the recording doesn’t change a thing and in fact, feels the recording may be illegal and in violation of Pennsylvania’s wiretap law. Montco D.A. Risa Ferman says, “One difficult issue with which we are grappling is that our research suggests this recording may violate the wiretap act.” If it does break the wiretap law, the recording would not be admissible as evidence.

  42. DanC says:

    @16
    “Secret != Criminal.”
    Whoops, I briefly interpreted that as “an exciting secret means you’re a criminal.”

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