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
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