TSA Racial Profiling May Hide Larger Constitutional Problem
from the oops dept
Furthermore, two years ago, Bruce Schneier reasonably pointed out that behavioral profiling did not seem very good at finding terrorists, but did uncover criminal behavior unrelated to airplane security:
It seems pretty clear that the program only catches criminals, and no terrorists. You'd think there would be more important things to spend $200 million a year on.Again, that seems to be what's happening in Boston, as the efforts have turned up some criminal behavior. And, apparently, that's by design. Because buried deep within the NY Times article was this tidbit:
Officers said managers’ demands for high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems.In other words, TSA managers -- apparently in an effort to make the program look good to superiors -- are putting pressure on TSA line agents to turn up exactly what Schneier suggested: some form of criminal behavior just to make the program look good. That's leading lazy TSA agents to just focus on doing searches of minorities, as they believe that they're more likely to find some sort of criminal activity completely unrelated to airplane security.
[....] The officers identified nearly two dozen co-workers who they said consistently focused on stopping minority members in response to pressure from managers to meet certain threshold numbers for referrals to the State Police, federal immigration officials or other agencies.
The stops were seen as a way of padding the program’s numbers and demonstrating to Washington policy makers that the behavior program was producing results, several officers said.
Beyond the blatant problems of racial profiling, some of the news here highlights a potentially larger problem with airport searches. As Julian Sanchez points out, the comments above suggest not just that the focus is on criminal behavior rather than security, but also that there's a quota system in place.
That could present a serious legal problem for the basis of TSA searches. After all, a series of lawsuits that established the legality of TSA airport searches focused on the fact that they were specifically designed to keep airplanes (and those on board them) safe rather than to uncover criminal activity. An excellent summary article on BoardingArea.com explains the cases that made such searches legal. Here's a snippet that covers some of the key points:
Except... as the case in Boston shows, the searches are going well beyond that "essential administrative purpose," and are now being used for general law enforcement. It's at that point that they clearly violate the 4th Amendment, as they're creating general law enforcement searches without proper cause or warrants. It seems that someone who was searched in Boston under these conditions could now make a pretty reasonable constitutional case that the search didn't just violate their private rights, but that the entire TSA setup -- when designed to search for criminal behavior -- has gone beyond the limits established by the courts, and now violates the 4th Amendment.
In 1973 the 9th Circuit Court rules on U.S. vs Davis, 482 F.2d 893, 908, there are key pieces of wording that give the TSA its power to search essentially any way they choose to. The key wording in this ruling includes “noting that airport screenings are considered to be administrative searches because they are conducted as part of a general regulatory scheme, where the essential administrative purpose is to prevent the carrying of weapons or explosives aboard aircraft.”
U.S. vs Davis goes onto to state “[an administrative search is allowed if] no more intrusive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect weapons or explosives, confined in good faith to that purpose, and passengers may avoid the search by electing not to fly.”
U.S. vs Davis was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court in 1986 in U.S. vs Pulido-Baquerizo, 800 F.2d 899, 901 with this ruling “To judge reasonableness, it is necessary to balance the right to be free of intrusion with society’s interest in safe air travel.”