The ACLU is suing the Transportation Security Administration for illegally searching and detaining Steve Bierfeldt, a US citizen who was detained, cursed at, and threatened by TSA agents for carrying $4700 in cash (which is legal and doesn't require disclosure in advance) at an airport in April.
The TSA agents surely would have gotten away with violating the Bierfeldt's Constitutional rights had Bierfeldt not recorded the half-hour interrogation on his cell phone.
"I do not believe I should give up my constitutional rights each time I choose to travel by plane. I was doing nothing illegal or suspicious, yet I was treated like a potential criminal and harassed for no reason," said Bierfeldt. "Most Americans would be surprised to learn that TSA considers simply carrying cash to be a basis for detention and questioning. I hope the court makes clear that my detention by TSA agents was unconstitutional and stops TSA from engaging in these unlawful searches and arrests. I do not want another innocent American to have to endure what I went through."
"Mr. Bierfeldt's experience represents a troubling pattern of TSA attempting to transform its valid but limited search authority into a license to invade people's privacy in a manner that would never be accepted outside the airport context," said Larry Schwartztol, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "Just as the Constitution prevents the police on the street from conducting freewheeling searches in the hopes of uncovering wrongdoing, it protects travelers from the kind of treatment Mr. Bierfeldt suffered."
TSA officials have the authority to conduct safety-related searches for weapons and explosives. According to the ACLU's lawsuit, TSA agents are using heightened security measures after 9/11 as an excuse to exceed their search authority and engage in unlawful searches that violate the privacy rights of passengers. The lawsuit also charges that unconstitutional searches and detention by TSA agents have become the norm.