Government Pays Up To Settle With Traveler Who Was Detained By TSA For Trying To Learn Arabic

from the you-can't-put-a-price-on-freedom,-but-$25,000-is-a-nice-start dept

In 2009, Nick George was arrested in the Philadelphia airport because the TSA seems to equate certain First Amendment activity with terrorism. George, who was flying out to California to start his senior year at Pomona College, was carrying with him two items that caught the screeners' attention: Arabic-language flash cards and a book critical of the US government. It was as ridiculous as it sounds.
After a half-hour delay at the security line, the supervisor showed up, and things turned from annoying to surreal. After looking at the book and flashcards, the supervisor asked me: "Do you know who did 9/11?" Taken totally aback, I answered: "Osama Bin Laden." Then she asked me if I knew what language Osama Bin Laden spoke. "Arabic," I replied. "So do you see why these cards are suspicious?" she finished.
The other "suspicious" item, a book critical of US foreign policy, was written by a former Secretary of Commerce who served under President Reagan -- hardly "The Anarchist's Cookbook." But it isn't the TSA's job to deploy logic or critical thinking. It's here to pretend the skies are safer with it around. Instead, the TSA brought in the Philly police, who cuffed him in the airport for carrying Osama Bin Laden flashcards and subversive literature.

The police left George cuffed for hours and refused to inform him of its reasons for detaining him. The only police officer to respond to George's question ("Why am I being held?") shrugged and flipped his query into a presumption of guilt: "I don't know. What'd you do?" Between the TSA's presumption that Arabic = terrorism and the PD's willingness to continue the ignorant farce, George was stuck in a rights-less limbo. As he points out, there's an ugliness inherent to the government's long-running security theater, one that crosses over to the law enforcement agencies who are asked to detain travelers.
It's that attitude that is so problematic. Even after searching my luggage without probable cause of a crime and finding nothing out of the ordinary, TSA agents and the police felt they had the authority to detain and then arrest me, purely on ignorant assumptions about a language spoken by 295 million people worldwide.
You can't fix stupid. You can't even get it to talk to you.

Fortunately, George now has some closure on the 2009 incident. The government has settled George's lawsuit (filed with the assistance of the ACLU), paying him $25,000 for stripping him of his rights over some foreign language flashcards and a book on US foreign policy. In addition, the settlement [pdf link] includes instructions to be delivered to the Philadelphia Police in hopes of preventing a repeat of this debacle.
The City shall communicate to Philadelphia Police Department officers assigned to the Airport the following:

Investigative detentions may be made only on reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct and any arrest must be based on probable cause. A referral by TSA agents is not grounds for arrest unless an officer makes a judgment of probable cause; similarly, referral by TSA agents is not grounds for detention unless an officer makes a judgment that there is reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. Any detentions or arrests should be documented on appropriate police paperwork consistent with PPD Directives.
The underlying message is that the US government's airport security force isn't a very good judge of threats or illegal behavior. Rather than just take the TSA's word that a traveler is a potential threat, the police will need to assess the situation on their own and actually come up with something resembling "probable cause" before effecting an arrest.

And, of course, as is the case with nearly every government settlement, the defendants are shelling out tax dollars while taking no responsibility for their actions.
This Stipulation is not, is in no way intended to be, and should not be construed as an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States, OHS, TSA, DOJ, FBI, the City, or their principals, agents, servants, or employees, including William Rehiel and Edward Richards, Jr., and it is specifically denied that they are liable to Plaintiff.
Oh, but it will be "construed" as an "admission of liability." If these entities had done no wrong, they certainly had the (nearly limitless) means to continue fighting George in court.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit hasn't resulted in any mandated guidance directed at the TSA. In fact, it includes a declaration from Sarah Tauber, a deputy in the TSA's "Threat Assessment Division," that basically states, "Hey, the police don't need to arrest everyone we refer to them. This is all on the Philly PD." Between this declaration and the boilerplate "NO WRONGDOING HERE" paragraph, the government allows itself room to further abuse travelers' rights and hand over other people's money to make it all go away.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 7:14am

    'Do what we say, not what we do'

    Keep in mind, this is the very same TSA that was mentioned in a previous article, and said the following with regards to those looking to sign on and help them with their 'PreCheck' screening system:

    'Risk assessments may not be based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, financial status (e.g., credit ratings/scores, liens, bankruptcies, foreclosures, annual income), health records, constitutionally protected activity, or other records reflecting an individual’s socio-economic status.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      AnonyBabs, 26 Jan 2015 @ 11:27am

      Re: 'Do what we say, not what we do'

      No problem there. Risk assessments may not be based on those things, but they probably will. I love a dictionary-based defense.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:10am

    Insult to injury

    $25k is not going to pay the bills for a five-year lawsuit.

    On the other hand, we cannot really dissolve the TSA. Where are people going to find work who don't know which end of a hole is down?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      kog999, 26 Jan 2015 @ 1:12pm

      Re: Insult to injury

      "Where are people going to find work who don't know which end of a hole is down?"

      Who cares, employee them to hold down chairs with their butts in case gravity suddenly turns off, At least they wont be violating peoples rights. I would rather waste tax dollars then was tax dollars and trample peoples rights.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:28am

    $25k seems very lite to me. There needs to be another zero there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:42am

      Re:

      Oh $25k would have been more than enough to get the message across... if it was taken out of the pay of the TSA agents and police involved. Twenty-five grand, split three or four ways? Oh yeah, that would have gotten their attention.

      As it is it really doesn't matter what the amount is, none of those involved are the ones having to pay out, so why should they care? Hell, the settlement even makes it clear that even despite the fact that they're paying out to the guy, they still aren't admitting to having done anything wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 2:19pm

        Re: Re:

        ...they still aren't admitting to having done anything wrong...


        This has been a problem with the US justice system for years, even a decade or two. Lawsuits settled WITHOUT anybody admitting wrongdoing. If there really is no wrongdoing why is the lawsuit allowed to proceed?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:36am

    The settlement really needed at least 3 more 0's and an actual apology.

    In our breathless rush to stop terror, we revealed that we are xenophobic racists. That we willingly hand control over to people who can wrap themselves in the flag and never be held accountable for violating citizens rights because terrorism.

    We've already seen the comeback of McCarthyism, but no one wants to call it that. If you are critical of the government, that is a reason for them to open a file on you and dig through your entire life for daring to question the powers that be. Not accepting the narrative of the fatherland is working against the state and needs to be investigated & stopped by any means... even violating your rights so they can send a chilling message of submit or else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:50am

    It's been writen before...

    "He put it this way and that, and when they failed to comprehend, he once was careless enough to telegraph: “Cut the plutonium down to size”—as if fitting a sole. But here the King took fright, for plutonium is most closely related to uranium, and uranium—to thorium, and Archithorius after all was his own name. So he sent out an armored guard, which seized Pyron and hurled him on the leaden floor before the face of the King. Pyron admitted to nothing, but the King imprisoned him in his palladium tower."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ed, 26 Jan 2015 @ 9:56am

    The TSA is so worried about terrorists in the air, they become terrorists on the ground.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:20am

    Meanwhile in Cairo...

    The supervisor asked me: "Do you know who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building?" Taken totally aback, I answered: "Timothy McVeigh?" Then she asked me if I knew what language Timothy McVeigh spoke. "English," I replied. "So do you see why these cards are suspicious?" she finished.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 7:47pm

      Re: Meanwhile in Cairo...

      Taking it a step further...
      "the supervisor asked me: "Do you know who did 9/11?" Taken totally aback, I answered: "Osama Bin Laden." Then she asked me if I knew what did Osama Bin Laden drink 24 hours before the attack. "Water" I replied. "So do you see why these bottles are suspicious?" she finished."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:22am

    Punishments should be a deterrent

    Punishments should be a deterrent so people won't continue the behavior. A $25,000 settlement is most definitely not "punishment".

    First, the government isn't really paying this out of their own pockets- it'll be the tax payers who actually pay it.
    Second, what's the TSA's budget: $5 billion? $10 billion? Okay, I'm exaggerating, but this amount is nothing compared to their total budget. It's like you or me getting fined $5- we'll pay it and move on.

    So how is this going to deter the TSA agents from doing it again? It may be unfair to fine someone $25,000 for "just doing their job" but how about firing them? How about creating an environment where it's unacceptable to detain people just because they want to learn another language.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Derek Kerton (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:27am

      Re: Punishments should be a deterrent

      Hah. Funny. I just wrote a comment saying the opposite. I hate the massive payouts our country sees. I like $25k, although I'd prefer $100k as more appropriate for wasting 3 years of this guy's time.

      So in response to your point that this money is paid by the taxpayers anyways, how would any higher amount deter them any more?

      I'm with you, firing, demotions, and other such job action should also be part of the punishment. But the dollar amount is unrelated to this.

      And I think this judgement precisely contributes to "creating an environment where it's unacceptable to detain people just because they want to learn another language".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:58am

      Re: Punishments should be a deterrent

      Second, what's the TSA's budget: $5 billion? $10 billion? Okay, I'm exaggerating,
      No, you are not. They have a budget of over $7 billion.

      http://budget.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=364049

      2nd paragraph, middle:
      "In recent years, TSA has received around $5.7 billion in mandatory and discretionary appropriations, which—together with spending authority from offsetting collections—gives the agency an annual budget of more than $7 billion"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:23am

    Finally, A Good Settlement

    I love this closure. It is about a learning moment for the TSA and the Philly Police, and a nominal payment for the victim.

    Our country has too many multi-million dollar court-ordered payments. Like the xxAA cases, and hot coffee, and thousands more. If fines were equal to lost time + suffering x 2, our insurance rates would be better, and we would sue less, and we would seem fewer restrictions for fear of lawsuit, and greater freedom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      teka, 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:16pm

      Re: Finally, A Good Settlement

      They "learned", as if it wasn't already known, that any abridgement of a citizen's rights can easily be resolved for a taxpayer-sponsored payout of a relative pittance and a binding agreement that they don't admit to anything ever at all.

      What kind of learning moment is that?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 10:49am

    Clearly he gave the wrong answer to the supervisor

    The supervisor was obviously expecting him to give the 9/11 truther answer: "9/11 was an inside job orchestrated by a shadow government with the help of highly placed individuals in the public government, for the purpose of drumming up public support for an unprecedented growth of the military industrial complex."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 11:13am

    Drama for the theater

    They took one look at the flashcards and that book and said, "Goodie! Time for drama!"

    After all, when what you do is theater, drama is a good thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 11:15am

    Settlement

    I really hope someone just says no to a settlement and goes all the way through the court(s). At least then we would see if an agency can do whatever it wants and gets away with it or if they are guilty and it was a violation against basic rights.
    But if the current settlement trend continues I don't see a bright future because something like this reminds me of the stuff I read about past times when the aristocracy just threw some coins at people to calm them(aka settle).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mark B (profile), 26 Jan 2015 @ 11:49am

    TSA

    Do they ask every English speaking person if they know who blew up the Oklahoma federal building and that he spoke English, so you must be a home grown terrorist if you speak English?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 1:40pm

      Re: TSA

      "Do they ask every English speaking person if they know who blew up the Oklahoma federal building and that he spoke English, so you must be a home grown terrorist if you speak English?"

      Only if they're carrying flash cards. Four-year olds are especially likely suspects even when they don't know the answer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Martin, 26 Jan 2015 @ 4:57pm

    Which book?

    Does anyone know the what the book was (author, title)? I could recommend a few but maybe the book he was reading was one that I missed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2015 @ 7:36pm

    No accountability is how federal, state, and local law enforcement carry out their jobs on a daily basis. Settling a lawsuit using taxpayer dollars doesn't count as accountability.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2015 @ 7:06am

    If I were Nick George

    I would have replied "It's required reading by my handler in the NSA. Ooops sorry! What's your name?" Writes down name. Writes down going to Gitmo underneath the name. "Can I speak to your supervisor?...."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    res (profile), 27 Jan 2015 @ 8:09am

    security

    all the semblance of security without the security.
    kind of like what hollywood puts out - all the semblance of entertainment with the entertainment.

    its all for show.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2015 @ 4:07pm

    United Facists of America, the land of the enslaved since .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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