Reciting Constitutional Rights To The TSA Is Disorderly Conduct

What would happen if, while submitting to a TSA search of some sort, you started reading from the owner's manual?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

If you think "bad things would happen — perhaps very bad," then it appears you may be right. Via Amy Alkon, I encountered this diary at DailyKos about what happened to one woman — who says she is retired from the Air Force — when she decided to recite the Fourth Amendment during her search as a form of protest:

I'm speaking loud and clear so those around me can hear. Before I get to "unreasonable search" a man in an ill-fitting suit and a tie marches up to me. He tells me I was disrupting his operation. I have no idea what his position is. He stands in front of the metal detector–the first place they usually screen me. He tells me I am holding up the line. I drop my voice and tell him to go ahead and screen me. I'll take the pat down. But that's not what he wants. He wants me to shut up. I continue reading the Fourth Amendment.

The story culminates in the writer being arrested (however the TSA would characterize it, it was clearly an arrest) for disorderly conduct, cuffed, and confined in a cell. Eventually she is patted down, and the TSA succeeds in intimidating her into being silent during the procedure, citing a truly offensively preposterous rationale:

I agree to be searched and tell them I will read the Constitution in a normal voice while they do it. This is not good enough for Guy with a Tie. He says if I read the statement, I can't pay attention to what the frisking officer tells me. You know, how she is going to put her hands here and there and use the back of her hand to check my "sensitive areas". They tell me I need to listen to this, I kid you not, for my own safety. I say I will only read while she is not speaking. That won't do either, because I won't be concentrating on her instructions. Seriously, this was their rational explanation to me for continuing to violate my First and Fourth Amendment rights. I have to get home so I finally acquiesce.

Having forced the writer's compliance in a show of subservience to petty authority, the TSA cuts her loose after some confusing jibber-jabber about "taking a misdemeanor" and being contacted by federal agents.

Now, I couldn't confirm the diarist's story from another source. But it's entirely in keeping with the TSA's view of questioning of their authority, dissent in general, and dissent premised on the Fourth Amendment in particular, so I find it entirely credible.

It's interesting that the story is posted at DailyKos — a rather left-leaning site — and picked up by Amy — someone not likely to be described as left-leaning. It demonstrates that resistance to the TSA's unreasonable searches — and resistance to the government's expectation that we tolerate them without question — ought to be an issue that transcends left and right. Unfortunately, stories like these generate dismissive rhetoric equally from left and right: "flying is a privilege, not a right" "the government has the right to border and airport searches" "you are just making a scene for attention" "just shut up and let us get through security."

The mainstream of both political parties are mostly useless on this topic. Vigorous support for the Fourth Amendment and the principles underlying it has been marginalized for forty years. As I said before in discussing Amy Alkon's own case, we ought to make violating our rights an unpleasant and humiliating experience for the people who take money to do it. I applaud people brave enough to do so, in hopes that it will bring more public attention to the subject.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says


    Unfortunately, stories like these generate dismissive rhetoric equally from left and right: “flying is a privilege, not a right” “the government has the right to border and airport searches” “you are just making a scene for attention” “just shut up and let us get through security.”

    Because those people aren't on your side… yet.

    As Sun Tzu said, you need to win before you go to war.

  2. shotgunner says

    What I do not understand about all this is why the government is involved. If this were a totally private matter, solely between me and the airline, then the airline could say "we wish to protect our clients, employees and our equipment. If you wish to fly with us you must consent to –>insert search technique here<–. If you do not consent, we will not allow you on our airplanes.

  3. Rliyen says

    Until this abusive pattern of behavior by the TSA is squashed, I refuse to fly. And every person who does this for of protest, I applaud them.

    Ten years ago, I thought forming the TSA was a good thing. Now, ten years on, with the agency unionizing and declaiming idiotic things being done 'in the name of safety', I thoroughly feel disgusted with myself and the leviathan this shitty agency has become.

  4. says

    Shotgunner – to take your idea one step further, a private airline could likewise just as easily say "we aren't going to search your bags at all besides running them through an explosives sniffer. Brings guns on board. Bring knives on board. Be our guest. Just remember, whoever pulls their gun out first is the terrorist. Whoever pulls their gun out second is everyone else. best of luck to you terrorists out there!"

    I would fly this airline any day over the one with the fake security theater.

  5. TC says

    I had a similar experience a few days ago. I refused to go through the body scanner, so I had to do the pat down. After each statement by the TSA agent, I said "That is fine, but please do not touch my privates." After me saying it 3 times, she told me that if I didn't stop saying "privates," she would call over a supervisor. I said, "I have a right to tell you to not touch my genitals, and I will continue to do so." She proceeded to tell me the next things she was going to touch, and I said, "That's fine, but please do not touch my privates. " She said "THAT'S IT!" and called over the supervisor.

    She told the supervisor that I kept telling her not to touch my privates, and that she was unable to complete my pat down with me saying that. I told the supervisor that I know my rights, and I have a right to say that I don't want my genitals touched by TSA. He said that I did not have to keep repeating it, and I said that I felt it necessary to repeat it so that the agent was clear about my wishes.

    The supervisor stared me down and said "You have a choice. You can submit to the pat down, or you can leave the airport."

    I said, "I have submitted to the patdown. I know my rights, and I am not intimidated. [getting louder] I do not want TSA touching my genitals, and I will keep instructing TSA to not touch my privates. I have a right to instruct TSA to not touch my privates. I know my rights and I am not intimidated."

    He told the agent to complete the pat down. She continued to explain her procedures. I continued to say "That is fine. Please do not touch my privates." She completed the pat down and let me go.

    It makes me sad that so many people are afraid to speak up to TSA. We still have rights, and unless we take control of them, we will continue to lose those rights and liberties.

  6. PLW says

    The private solution would work perfectly if it were only private costs. If the plane crashes into a building, however, now there are costs borne by people who didn't agree to bear them. That's the rationale for regulation.

  7. says

    If the plane crashes into a building, however, now there are costs borne by people who didn’t agree to bear them.

    We don't need the TSA to stop those. Go back to year-2000 security levels, except secure the cockpit doors like we do now.

    Badabing, we're done.

  8. EH says

    What, you don't remember before there was a TSA when planes were flying into buildings all the time?

  9. perlhaqr says

    TC: They aren't all that happy when you go the other direction, either, and refer to the patdown as a "groping" and look excited about it.

  10. says

    The technique of taking over the cockpit to fly an airliner into the ground was obsolete by noon 9/11/01. Its not a real threat any longer. The TSA truly is security theatre and very expensive theatre at that.

    Screen for firearms and significant bomb material and be done with it. The passengers will take care of the rest.

  11. says

    Stories about the TSA acting like this is only going to serve to make me act in similar fashion.

    My girlfriend needs to hurry up and more to Illinois, lest I never be able to see her due to my being put on a no fly list.

  12. lodermulch says

    seen from a distance (europe ;) )
    it's actually really sad that this discussion is even happening.

  13. C. S. P. Schofield says

    I've gathered, by reading about this in a lot of different places, that my point of view is abnormal; as I see it, TSA was created solely because of calls for 'better security'. There was no pressing need. It was obvious, as has been proven a time or two since, that anybody who tried to take over a plane from then on was going to end up in the overhead luggage compartment, in somewhat used condition. So, the TSA was created to fill a PERCEIVED rather than an actual need. Most of the people involved probably know this. Nobody with anything better to do is supervising the matter. The TSA has grown bloated and arrogant simply because they have never been brought up short.

    Maybe if enough people make a big enough stink, that will change. Certainly nothing will change if nobody complains at all.

  14. VPJ says

    Something I read recently seems appropriate here…just…ah…found it.

    Honestly, sometimes the cops people who write about the TSA on libertarian blogs must feel like they’re clubbing baby seals.

    Shouldn't you be saving the easy ones for the weekend?

  15. NLP says

    TSA is now stopping people on highways? I can't wait for the responses when they start to inspect Massachusetts highway drivers.

    "Where are you headed, Ma'am?"

    "Haven't the foggiest. I just needed to get out of the house."

    "Do you know how many pollutants you're putting in the air? A nice walk around the block might be a better idea if you need to get out of the house."

    "Fine. I'll retract my response. I'm trying to find a place where I'm not given the third degree for existing."

    "That answer is considered disorderly conduct, Ma'am. I'll have to ask you to get out of the car."

    I'd write my representatives in Washington, but they voted for the Patriot Act and I gave up on them then.

  16. says

    Me: "Search my car? Why no. No you can not search my car, officer. You're free, I suppose, to get yourself a warrant, but when you do I would love to see what BS you feed them as Probably Cause."

    Officer: "Well, I don't think you were wearing your seat-belt back there."

    Me: "Well, that's a damned lie, and since you only THINK I wasn't, instead of having some kind of actual proof, I will enjoy fighting whatever BS ticket you write for me in court – I have nothing but time for you, officer."

  17. Bethie says

    Girrrllll !!!!!! You go! We need more US citizens like you who are self aware enough and prepared to stand and not fear for our constitutional rights. There are to many of us who just go along with the changes that we don't even understand how the government is robbing us of our very own constitutional rights. Thank you for your bravery and hope you don't mind if I steal your profoundly wonderful idealism to combat the idiots who know nothing of our government history and constitution.

  18. says

    He says if I read the statement, I can’t pay attention to what the frisking officer tells me. You know, how she is going to put her hands here and there and use the back of her hand to check my “sensitive areas”

    What? They now want to tell you when they are going to molest you? But But.. where's the thrill of the unknown in that.

    Seriously… how can any authority make anyone listen to them, and if you don't listen to them you are arrested for *insert trumped up authoritarian Kafkaesque like charge here*.

    If someone wants me to listen to them they can pay me for the privilege seeing as normally I plead that I am too poor to pay attention.

  19. says


    > Screen for firearms

    How much of a discount do passengers get if they bring their own?

    Do they need to demonstrate proficiency, or is mere possession sufficient?

  20. says

    Aside from the TSA, the Depts of Education, Agriculture, Interior, EPA, Interior, Labor, HUD, HHS, are also not only unnecessary but unconstitutional. The national parks are unconstitutional and should be sold off.

    I would be happy if the fed budget was 20% of what it is, and all went to defense.

  21. Bruce Edwards says

    The terrorists have won, the TSA / Fatherland Security Gestapo are the armed socialist cadre busy telling us were are subjects and not free citizens I will not fly anymore.

  22. says

    The purpose of the TSA is to train Americans to succumb to authority, no matter how capricious. Take the three-ounce rule, for instance: if there were an actual safety basis behind it, it would be "three ounces, period." But no: you can legally carry six ounces of shampoo on the plane, it just has to be decanted into two bottles of three ounces each. Why one way and not the other? Because I said so, now shut up and obey me.

    Does anyone remember the ill-fated bathroom ban from Christmas 2009? For the last hour of a flight, nobody was supposed to leave their seat, and people were supposed to keep their hands visible at all times. That had nothing to do with safety either; that was all about treating ordinary citizens like inmates in a supermax prison.

  23. says

    And I dunno about you folks, but "an hour before landing" is right about where the couple of beers I had before my flight start to make themselves known to my bladder.