Lawsuits against TSA are piling up quickly

The Transportation Security Administration’s little body-scanning/pat-down problem isn’t just keeping us media types busy. Lawyers are having a field day with it, too.

The latest lawsuit against the TSA was filed earlier this week by two Harvard Law School students who claim the airport security checks involving full-body scanners and pat-downs are unconstitutional. The suit claims the screenings violate their Fourth Amendment rights prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures.

Here’s a rundown of the most high-profile cases.

“Unconscionable” pat-downs. A Colorado attorney, Gary Fielder, has asked a federal judge to order the TSA to abandon its airport screening procedures for United States citizens. In a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver last week, he claims his two daughters, ages 9 and 15, and a family friend underwent a TSA pat-down in San Diego. He called the pat-downs “disgusting, unconscionable, sexual in nature” and in violation of the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches.

Screening process is detrimental. An Arkansas man, Robert Dean, filed a federal lawsuit against the TSA, claiming that the agency’s new screening rules are detrimental to his “emotional, psychological and mental well-being.” The suit, filed last week in federal court in Little Rock, asks the court to issue an injunction stopping the TSA from conducting full-body pat-down searches and using the full-body imaging scanners.

“Unreasonable search and seizure.” Michael Roberts, a commercial pilot from Memphis, filed a lawsuit earlier last month alleging that the new screening procedures violate his constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure. In response, the TSA has lifted some of its screening requirements for pilots.

Suspend the scanners. One of the oldest suits, filed in July by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), asks a district court to suspend the deployment of body scanners at US airports, pending an independent review. EPIC said that the program is “unlawful, invasive, and ineffective.” It argued that the federal agency has violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the Privacy Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Fourth Amendment. EPIC cited the invasive nature of the devices, the TSA’s disregard of public opinion, and the impact on religious freedom.

Unfortunately, the story — and the suits — are not going away any time soon. As consumer advocate Ralph Nader noted just after the Thanksgiving holiday, “If you thought this week was bad, brace yourself for a tsunami of protests in the days ahead.” He suggests even more lawsuits may be in the works, adding,

Changing this policy, or even backtracking, doesn’t mean we’d suddenly be flying on a wing and a prayer. In fact, better use of available intelligence alone would have stopped last year’s Christmas underwear bomber from flying to the USA. Indiscriminate and inefficient dragnet-type security checks of whole populations, if anything, make us less safe by focusing on the wrong things.

Indeed, this may be just the beginning of a long, drawn-out period of litigation that the TSA can’t possibly win.

(Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • brillz08

    Trust me people need to fly and privacy is a right not a privilege I think you should you take the money that Chertoff has given you to promote these machines and shuv it.

  • brillz08

    The TSA is the problem because in countries were these terrorists live they don’t have such machines at the airports and not a single incident of a terrorist hijacking a plane.

  • DR

     It is people with your mentality that we should be afraid of, as Benjamin Franklin said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  I can’t believe you would allow people to be molested and assaulted for a false feeling of safety.  Your plane is more likely to crash because of pilot or mechanical error than from terrorists. 

  • Johnbrandt11

    UNFORTUNATELY they are not going away?? It’s a lousy American who will sacrifice liberty for security, as Ben Franklin said, those who are willing to do so deserver neither.

  • jim

    Wait until it is your 12yr old daughter having her vagina fondled or your wife . The people who support laws like these are people with difficulties putting themselves in the shoes of those being violated in the airports>You need to look at the specific cases where womens breast surgeries and other very personal matters are made public. Also , did you read about the tsa employee caught masturbating to the scanner screen?

  • Iamjhaskins

    No one needs to fly but under US Code 49 USC 40103 “sovereignty & use of airspace” “A citizen of the United States has a public right of transit through navigable airspace.”

    Also as citizens we have the freedom of movement under US law per the constitution “privileges and immunities clause” “The citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states” “The right of free ingress into other states and egress from them”



  • JoleenBa

     I dont know about the other suits

    The courts won’t change this; since the 68 election to now, Rs have held the WH 70% of the time and have appointed pr-authoritarian judges

    If the WH steps back on airport security, the Rs will scream soft-on-security

    So, politically, the only chance for easing airport security is action by Congressional Rs — and since they’re mainly authoritarian wackos, I don’t see them doing that

  • steve044

    You’re absolutely right! 
    I work in the Freight industry…  While at the airport delivering cargo for transport, a egotistical TSA
    official gave me a hard time, because I was doing my JOB and wouldn’t submit to
    his bullying and  intimidation, like everyone
    else there at the time…  He made a special
    effort to go to my job and got me fired! 
    Like you said, how does TSA interfering in the operation of American industry
    as well as harassing the public making a difference in the “Bullsh#t” war on

  • Fluffy Duffy

    the TSA is out of control because it is allowed to. Stop flying for a week. watch the airlines go broke and end The TSA.