Search by TSA Screeners, Did They Go too Far?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on August 20, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

We have all been there. Standing line, taking off your clothes, being touched by people you don't know. Of course we are speaking of airport security. But in the delicate balance of privacy rights and security, when is it just too much? Maybe this incident is the answer.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 43 year-old Kathy Parker was flying from Philly to North Carolina on August 8. She may have thought she was minding her own business, but the TSA screeners decided otherwise and pulled her from line for one of those delightful, "extra" screenings. Ms. Parker was patted down and joined the rest of the TSA crew going carefully through her bags. The contents of her purse were splayed everywhere, including her prescription bottle for a diet drug, which she found embarrassing.

Next, screeners started riffling through her wallet and the receipts inside. When Parker asked what the screener was doing, he replied he was searching for razor blades, which Parker reasonably wondered if they wouldn't have been found by the metal detector. Then the Philly police arrived.

The Inquirer reports the police had been notified that some of the checks Parker was carrying (made out her and to her husband) were "almost" sequential. Evidently, sequential checks are indicative of embezzlement. No clarification on what "almost sequential" checks are indicative of. When Parker asked the officer where he was going with her money, he replied, "It's not your money."

After a call by police to her husband of 20 years to ascertain they were not getting a divorce, again, something not entirely linked to airport security, a humiliated Parker was allowed to board the plane.

It is at this point that most freedom loving Americans (even ones who fly a great deal) are going to look around for their copy of the Fourth Amendment -- surely you all have one lying around? If not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, at least, according to the Inquirer report, the incident smells like a violation of the TSA directive passed as the result of a lawsuit by an aide to Ron Paul. According to the directive, TSA screeners can now only conduct searches aimed at keeping firearms and explosives off of airplanes and cannot search for crimes unrelated to transportation security.

Clearly the search into Parker's money and marital status had stretched just a bit beyond "transportation security." The TSA proceeded to notify authorities as permitted, but not based on evidence of a crime; but because they thought they might have found something that might have been evidence based on facts that may or may not have existed. Its a weak little daisy chain of supposition that seems to come nowhere near a reasonable suspicion.

What the final chapter for Kathy Parker and the eager-beaver TSA screeners will be is not known. But here is one possibility, given to the Inquirer by legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, Vic Walczak. "I think they clearly crossed the line," he said. "None of this makes any sense except as a fishing expedition, which under the U.S. Constitution is not allowed. They can't rummage through her personal life. I'm not surprised this woman is outraged. She should be."

Next destination, a non-stop to the federal courts?

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