Tuesday, November 23, 2010

“You don’t need to see his identification.”

On November 21, 2010, I was allowed to enter the U.S. through an airport security checkpoint without being x-rayed or touched by a TSA officer. This post explains how.

Edit: Minor edits for clarity. I have uploaded the audio and it is available here.

This past Sunday, I was returning from a trip to Europe. I flew from Paris to Cincinnati, landing in Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

As I got off my flight, I did all of the things that are normally requested from U.S. citizens returning from abroad. I filled out the customs declarations, confirmed that I hadn’t set foot on any farmland, and answered questions about the chocolates that I had purchased in Switzerland. While I don’t believe that these questions are necessary, I don’t mind answering them if it means some added security. They aren’t particularly intrusive. My passport was stamped, and I moved through customs a happy citizen returning home.

But wait – here was a second line to wait in.

This new line led to a TSA security checkpoint. You see, it is official TSA policy that people (both citizens and non-citizens alike) from international flights are screened as they enter the airport, despite the fact that they have already flown. Even before the new controversial security measures were put in place, I found this practice annoying. But now, as I looked past the 25 people waiting to get into their own country, I saw it: the dreaded Backscatter imaging machine.

Now, I’ve read a fair amount about the controversy surrounding the new TSA policies. I certainly don’t enjoy being treated like a terrorist in my own country, but I’m also not a die-hard constitutional rights advocate. However, for some reason, I was irked. Maybe it was the video of the 3-year old getting molested, maybe it was the sexual assault victim having to cry her way through getting groped, maybe it was the father watching teenage TSA officers joke about his attractive daughter. Whatever it was, this issue didn’t sit right with me. We shouldn’t be required to do this simply to get into our own country.

So, since I had nobody waiting for me at home and no connecting flight to catch, I had some free time. I decided to test my rights.

After putting all my stuff through the x-ray, I was asked to go through the Backscatter. I politely said that I didn’t want to. The technician quipped to his colleague, “We’ve got an opt-out.” They laughed. He turned back and started to explain.

After he finished, I said, “I understand what the pat-down entails, but I wanted to let you know that I do not give you permission to touch my genitals or the surrounding area. If you do, I will consider it assault.”

He called his manager over, who again informed me of the policy. Throughout this event, this happened quite a few times. After raising my concerns regarding the policy to an officer, they often simply quoted back the policy. For the sake of brevity, I will simply say “Policy restatement.”

I said, “I am aware that it is policy, but I disagree with the policy, and I think that it is unconstitutional. As a U.S. citizen, I have the right to move freely within my country as long as I can demonstrate proof of citizenship and have demonstrated no reasonable cause to be detained.”

Policy restatement. “You have two options – the Backscatter or the pat down. It is your choice, but those are the only ways you can go through security.”

I asked if I could speak to his manager.

“I’m the supervisor here.”

“Do you have a manager?”

“Yes, but he’s very far away at the moment. And he’ll say the same thing I am.” Policy restatement.


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