The TSA Really Does Abuse Rights and Take Away Freedom

We can have plenty of debates in the comments, and often do, about the effectiveness of what’s often referred to as security theatre.

My own view is that the “tradeoff between liberty and security” is, in this context, a canard — because the TSA contributes little that’s meaningful to security. They focus on silly things which distract resources from real threats. And real security comes not from that agency but from reinforced cockpit doors, and from passengers unwilling to stand by anymore in the face of an inflight threat. And because hijacking a plane is actually hard and there aren’t that many people who actually want to go on suicide missions.

In that context, the liberties given up aren’t weighed against “making us safer” they’re weighed against almost nothing.

For those who would argue, though, that the intrusions are minimal I’d counter with what’s truly an agency run amok in the case of the Oregon man who stripped naked at the checkpoint.

Maybe it was juvenile, maybe it was silly, and I doubt it did much to bring attention to the abuses of the TSA as much as it brought attention to the guy who stripped naked.

But he was arrested and charged, and sent to trial. And John E. Brennan actions were found to be a form of protest, an exercise of his first amendment rights.

Though the courts threw out the charges, the TSA has decided to fine him themselves.

Agency fines and charges place citizens into a system that is heavily weighted in favor of the agency and denies basic due process protections found in courts. After the judge threw out the charge against Brennan, 50, the TSA got one of its administrative judges to fine him $1,000 for violating a federal rule stating passengers may not “interfere with, assault, threaten, or intimidate” TSA screeners. You may ask how stripping is an act of interference or assault or threat or intimidation. It does not matter. Once in the administrative process, the agency gets a huge degree of deference in determining violations with judges who are dependent on the agency for the very jurisdiction of their “court.”

A court already found there was no criminal activity. But that court has no jurisdiction over the TSA’s decision after the court ruled.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Agreed with you WHOLEHEARTEDLY. The things the TSA chooses to focus on are almost always reactive, responding to the last threat instead of the next one.

    Like it or not, the ONLY thing that has been proven to work is profiling. That’s a dirty word in the USA, but let’s be honest, the 4 year old and the 89 year old aren’t likely to be hijacking any planes. Israel has done extremely well using behavioral profiling to identify and stop threats. We’d be wise to adopt a similar system and stop this farce called the TSA.

  2. @Ryan

    “responding to the last threat instead of the next one.”

    Please predict how the next attack will be, then you have an argument.

    And, no, profiling isn’t a dirty word. If the profiling is linked to particular race–not behaviors of an individual, it’s dirty.

  3. MrWho – those who make this their livelihood should have ideas of where we are vulnerable and where we are not. I don’t pretend to be able to tell you “how the next attack will be” but for the billions we’re spending, someone should be able to have a pretty good idea.

    You get the point – what we’re protecting is the last thing we saw – they’ll come up with something new, so why aren’t we trying to be a step ahead instead of behind?

    Profiling gets a lots of peoples’ collective panties in a bunch. I’d argue we should use all the profiling we can to determine WHO needs more screening – race, dress, behavior, etc. etc. etc. That is, if we’re serious about stopping an attack vs. just putting on a good security “show.”

  4. So the author of the linked article doesn’t see how a man stripping naked at a checkpoint could interfere with the security process? I’m guessing that if a man stripped naked at his place of work he’d get the picture.

  5. “someone should be able to have a pretty good idea.”

    But, we can not. If not, there shall not be a crime of any kind in the today’s world.

    “I’d argue we should use all the profiling we can to determine WHO needs more screening”

    Then, you are supportive of the IRS checking up on people who do churns then, how do you feel about that?

  6. @Kevin oh, I dunno, I’d guess that the author – the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Washington University Law School — does understand the legal issue involved.

  7. What many may not realize is that the incident occurred in Oregon. In Oregon, nudity as a form of protest is perfectly legal. The gentleman was acting well within his legal rights in that state.

    As for the rest of this nonsense, as I have postulated many times before, the TSA security theater is pointless. If I were going to set off some kind of a bomb, I would get a van, mark “Al Qaeda Catering” on the side, and drive through the back employee/service entrance. The checks back there are less than minimal in most airports.

    So we are spending tons of money on a pointless exercise. Well, pointless unless you look at who benefits. How much money did the security machine suppliers and the private security corporations contribute to various political campaigns? That is truly the answer. As always, the answer is really: Cui bono?

  8. Agree with a lot here…

    I hate conspiracy theories as much as the next reasonable guy, but if the TSA aren’t training people to have their freedoms violated, I’m not really sure what they’re doing???

    Perhaps the head in the sand mentality is just an unwillingness to acknowledge incompetence, but at some point you’d think someone along the line would say OK how can we actually make this better?

  9. “So we are spending tons of money on a pointless exercise. Well, pointless unless you look at who benefits. How much money did the security machine suppliers and the private security corporations contribute to various political campaigns? That is truly the answer. As always, the answer is really: Cui bono?”

    It’s not pointless for the countless people *employed* by the TSA (much like the DEA). The vast bureaucracy and corresponding machinery now has a life of its own and will perpetuate itself while aggressively counterattacking any attempt to curtail funding as “unpatriotic” or “compromising national security”. With the “War on Drugs” tapering down, the “War on Terror”. Ironically, this is an issue that could straddle either side of the political spectrum.

  10. To complete my own sentence, the “War on Terror” is simply a new spin on the “War on Drugs”, which saw substantial spending to pad employment numbers and mitigate a risk that was/is artificially spun.

  11. If the TSA is worthless and does nothing for security, just theatre, I suppose you would fire them all and have no security at all right? Remember which side fought like hell to unionize, and make them all permanent government drones so it makes it damn near impossible to get rid of the worst of them.

  12. What kind of kangaroo court is TSA running?
    If I were fined by such court, I wouldn’t pay a single penny anyway.

  13. Used to be innocent until proven guilty. Now it’s proven innocent but guilty regardless and nevertheless!
    Benghazi, IRS targeting, Fast and Furious, TSA bureaucracy, etc. will be Obama’s legacy of cover-ups and diluting our Constitution and its freedoms and rights ——

  14. Apparently TSA isn’t satisfied to infringe on his 4th Amendment rights, they now want to infringe on his 1st Amendment rights as well. TSA may be able to get away with molesting children under a false premise of an administrative search but a judge has already ruled that his actions are protected by the 1st Amendment.

    If this fine is upheld, this means that any government agency, whether local police or Federal agency can deny citizens their rights under a claim of an administrative procedure. They can enter your home without a warrant, arrest you for criticizing government and seize your property without due process, and deem it administrative policy.

    He should sue TSA for trying to deny him his right to free speech and TSA management prosecuted for this blatant attempt to intimidate anyone who objects to their invasive searches into remaining silent.

  15. @RichA- Just in case you forgot, the TSA was born under Georgie Jr. Not to mention the Patriot Act and nationwide “security alerts”. Ooops, I just did.

  16. @Bill – Just think of all the houses in MA they barged into and marched homeowners out at gunpoint without warrants. I can’t believe no one has thrown a fit of the warrantless searches and detaining at gunpoint by all the SWAT teams. Police state here we come!

  17. what the founding fathers laid out is being dismantled at an alarming rate. for those of us who travel abroad, unless you’re visiting (other) police states, it’s glaringly obvious that ‘the land of the free’ is no such thing any more. i feel much more free and less hassled/monitored in pretty much every country i visit outside the US.

    yesterday i was boarding my connecting flight and the gate agent told me i’d have to check my bag. i told her i had just gotten off the exact same aircraft with it. she had me put it in the measuring thing. went in fine, but, because the thing was light and not bolted down, it caught on the way out. she said i had to check it. i said, ‘you’ve got to be kidding’. she replied that ‘if i didn’t button it, i would not be on the flight’! i hadn’t raised my voice or anything. this was clearly a less than veiled ‘you’re in an airport, ergo i can escalate this really quick and paint you as a threat and have the TSA on you like flys on ____ – i dare you to say another word.

    it’s a darn good thing i didn’t start singing ‘i will always love you’!!!!!

  18. Bravo. Wish more people would call these clowns to account. We’ve been turned into a society of sheep, who are easily cowed by the “terrorism” bogeyman that is an excuse for incredible invasion of privacy and loss of basic freedoms.

  19. I’m with you 100%, but the only people with the authority to do anything about it are members of the U.S. Congress and 1) They can’t agree on anything; and 2) They are too spineless. I’m afraid we’re stuck with it, but keep raising the issues.

  20. In this story it seems like TSA are the ones on a witchhunt, fining a passenger for something a court ruled to be protected conduct

  21. I agree with Paul. I wonder if Americans really understand the diminishing statistical returns of absolute safety. In a country of 300 mil there has to be a level of acceptable risk. I wish they still made kids read 1984…

Comments are closed.