On Wednesday a federal appeals court revealed that the TSA can grope away and there’s just about nothin’ you can do about it.
The court said that TSA screeners are immune from claims under a federal law pertaining to assaults, false arrests, and other police abuses.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said that TSA screeners are not legally “investigative or law enforcement officers,” and therefore they can’t be held liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
So, in other words, if a cop breaks your arm in a rough tackle, you can sue him and win big big money. But if a TSA agent violently ruptures your colostomy bag or probes your zones a little too vigorously, you’re out of luck.
This is, of course, bullshit. The Transportation Security Administration’s employees are officers of the Department of Homeland Security, charged with enforcing the laws of our nation. Under any sane definition of “law enforcement officer”, they should be liable under the FTCA.
But of course the TSA claims that its screeners aren’t “law enforcement officers”, and that the only actual law enforcement officers in the TSA are the Air Marshalls. And, indeed, TSA screeners do not have arrest powers, though they look, think, and act like law enforcement officers anyway.
And although TSA screeners may not have arrest powers, those who object to violent or inappropriate treatment by them may still end up imprisoned, as was the case for Nadine Pellegrino in 2006.
Pellegrino objected to the way she was treated by a screener, and as a result she was jailed for about 18 hours and criminally charged. (She was eventually acquitted at a trial in March of 2008, but sued the TSA. That lawsuit has apparently reached its conclusion with this decision by the 3rd Circuit Court, though it may eventually go all the way to the Supreme Court.)
If it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, and it wears a badge, probes your ass, and tosses you in jail like a duck… Is it a duck or not?
The 3rd Circuit Court rendered this decision despite acknowledging that it leaves passengers with “very limited legal redress” for alleged mistreatment by TSA screeners.
Last year, the same court threw out a First Amendment claim by an architect who was arrested after he asked to file a complaint against an angry TSA supervisor.
At the point which the TSA is unaccountable to Congress, operates without any constitutional mandate, accomplishes very little when it comes to making flights safer, and now is apparently above the law completely, you have to wonder how anybody could dispute the idea that, within our airports at least, we seem to be living in a 1984-style dystopia.