November 15, 2009
An angry aide to Rep. Ron Paul, an iPhone and $4,700 in cash have forced the Transportation Security Administration to quietly issue two new rules telling its airport screeners they can only conduct searches related to airplane safety.
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The new rules, issued in September and October, tell officers "screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security" and that large amounts of cash don't qualify as suspicious for purposes of safety.
"We had been hearing of so many reports of TSA screeners engaging in wide-ranging fishing expeditions for illegal activities," said Ben Wizner, a staff lawyer for the ACLU, pointing to reports of officers scanning pill-bottle labels to see whether the passenger was the person who obtained the prescription as one example.
He said screeners get a narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches, strictly to keep weapons and explosives off planes, not to help police enforce other laws.
Steve Bierfeldt, the Ron Paul aide in question, was transporting a metal strong box with cash as a part of his duties as head of a Paul-affiliated political group. No illegal activity was alleged, and the only basis for suspicion was that he was carrying the cash. Clearly nothing untoward was going on, but Bierfeldt was still detained and subjected to threats of arrest because he would not explain why he was engaging in the legal activity of carrying the cash.
Frankly, this is in keeping with the experience that I detailed a last spring when my wife and I traveled to visit her dying mother. My mother-in-law gave my wife some old coins, jewelry, and other keepsakes she had accumulated over the years during the visit. While passing through security, my wife and I were extensively quizzed as to why we were carrying the collector coins. In addition, the screener (who had already assaulted my wife in her wheelchair) demanded to know the diagnoses for which my wife had been prescribed certain medications by her neurologist. Im glad to see these petty goose-steppers reigned in by the government so as to ensure that they do not exceed their lawful mandate.
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