Monday, April 18, 2011

Shocking: Government courts agree with government

I've repeatedly been skeptical about going the legal route on the TSA abuse. There is already precedent for the courts to nullify the Fourth Amendment at airports: decades ago, they justified metal detector sreenings and baggage searches without warrants.

So it does not surprise me much that a court in Florida determined that there is no need for the TSA to stop its aggressions (specifically the use of the naked scanners and so-called "pat-downs") while a case proceeds. The case is Corbett v US, and the court specifically cites the TSA procedures as not violating the Fourth Amendment. Obviously, there are other cases pending, and this case may still move forward, so this is not a final answer. But read excerpts from the court's statement if you want to feel hopeless about the state of constitutional law in this country (emphasis added):

Airport check points advance the public interest inasmuch as “absent a search, there is no effective means of detecting which airline passengers are reasonably likely to hijack an airplane.” Singleton v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, 606 F.2d 50, 52 (3d Cir. 1979). “It is hard to overestimate the need to search air travelers for weapons and explosives before they are allowed to board the aircraft. As illustrated over the last three decades, the potential damage and destruction from air terrorism is horrifically enormous.” United States v. Marquez, 410 F.3d 612, 616 (9th Cir. 2005). However, even with the grave threat posed by airborne terrorist attacks, the vital and hallowed strictures of the Fourth Amendment still apply: these searches must be reasonable to comport with the Constitution. Id.
Balancing the intrusion on plaintiff’s privacy against the government’s interest in the safety of the passengers and the public at large, the undersigned finds that the subject TSA screening procedures are reasonable and not in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Congress tasked TSA with protecting the public from violence and piracy aboard aircrafts. See 49 U.S.C. § 44903(b). It is evident that the security conducted by TSA is in furtherance of a legitimate governmental interest to deter and prevent terrorist attacks against this country’s airline industry.
To that end, TSA subjects plaintiff and other passengers to additional screening in its efforts to protect the public from terrorist attacks. The government has demonstrated that the use of AIT machine and revised pat-down procedures is not more extensive than necessary and not as intrusive as plaintiff suggests in view of the increased threat of non-metallic explosives. Specifically, the AIT machines do not produce photographs. ... Rather, the AIT’s applies a filter that displays body contours and outlines rather than a detailed image of a person’s anatomy. ... Further, the security officer viewing the image does not see the passenger as the images are viewed in separate location. ...
In addition, TSA provides notice to the public of the use of the AIT machines and advises the passenger that they may decline AIT screening and, instead, undergo a pat-down. ... These pat-downs are necessary to detect explosives, chemical weapons or other dangerous items that could be secreted in the body. ... To ensure that pat-downs are minimally invasive, they are conducted by the same gender security officers and passengers have the right to request a private screening with a witness. ...
While plaintiff contends that the challenged procedures are unreasonably invasive, the undersigned finds that they do not violate the Fourth Amendment. Thus, plaintiff has failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits on his constitutional claim.