Thursday 3 March 2011

My Reply to Scott Brown Re TSA

Here's the letter I sent to US Senator Scott Brown today following up on his reply of earlier in the week. I have no doubt he will treat it with the seriousness it deserves. Will update whenever I hear anything. To his credit, I note that Senator Brown is the only official to respond to me so far out of the five I sent letters to.
Dear Senator Brown:
Thank you for your response by email which I received on the 28th of February to a website correspondence I gave to you on the 18th of February. I appreciate that you are a very busy man with many correspondences to answer. My original letter and your response are attached to this letter. By way of reintroduction, I am an American citizen living abroad in the United Kingdom and my voter registration is with the town of Framingham, MA. This letter finds you by post and by fax.

I have found your response to be unsatisfactory as it seemed to miss the point of my query. The response offers assurances about the safety and necessity of several security procedures employed by the TSA, the merits of which I have not disputed. I brought to your attention a case whereby TSA agents, supported by local police, invoked arbitrary and assumed powers to interfere with the legal activities of an air traveller who insisted upon asserting his rights. There is evidence suggesting that this exercise of arbitrary powers by agents of the Department of Homeland Security in general and the TSA in particular is commonplace. Phil Mocek of Seattle, Washington was arrested at an airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico and charged with four separate offences for using a video recording device during a TSA screening and for failing to desist and provide identification when ordered to. The case went to court. The jury found him Not Guilty on all charges solely on the weakness of the prosecution's case. Despite this, there is little reason to believe that the TSA will correct this type of behaviour. There has been no disciplinary action against any of the officials involved, nor has there been any indication of corrective action on the part of the TSA.

To make matters worse, the TSA do not publish their standard operating procedures and have refused a Freedom of Information Act request by a group called the Identity Project for the disclosure of these, creating an impossible situation for an air traveller wishing to assert his or her rights. Here is more information on the Identity Project in relation to this case: . Here is the (very late) response they received after a Freedom of Information Request. This has been appealed:

I hope you will agree with me that any law enforcement or security agency must publish its regulations and codes of conduct and practice in relation to the manner in which it interfaces with the public that it serves. Accountability demands this. TSA agents are human beings with varying levels of training, of varying qualities of judgement and with imperfect understanding of the law and their roles. As such, they cannot be relied upon at all times to carry out their duties in accordance with applicable laws. When a TSA agent (or any security or law enforcement official) abuses the power he is given or misapplies it, there should at the very least be retraining specified. There is a strong public interest in the publication of these crucial procedures; indeed the public has a right to scrutinize them. How else can members of the public understand how they are required to comply? This refusal is utterly unacceptable especially in light of the fact that private security firms may obtain access to these procedures in order to become TSA compliant. In the event that you have not fully familiarized yourself with the case I have outlined and the concerns I have voiced, please do so now by rereading my initial letter and following any of the supporting web links you might find useful for clarification. Thank you for your continued attention to this matter.

Matthew Flaherty

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