Racial profiling by TSA

by Lisa Simeone on August 13, 2012

After repeated reports about racial and ethnic profiling by the TSA, from the “Mexicutioners” of Honolulu to the “Mexican hunters” of Newark, not to mention countless personal reports by passengers, finally we have a front-page story in the New York Times about this practice. And finally we have TSA employees themselves blowing the whistle. 

In a story titled “Racial Profiling Rife at Airport, U.S. Officers Say,” 30 TSA agents come clean about a program that passengers have been complaining about for years.

The laughable and expensive “behavior detection” or “SPOT” program, which has been repeatedly discredited, purports to detect “micro-expressions” on people’s faces that indicate they could be harboring nefarious intent.

Surprise, surprise, it’s actually being used to single out and harass black, Hispanic, and other swarthy-skinned people. These are the people the TSA finds “suspicious”:

“They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.

And despite the fact that the TSA is prohibited from looking for or questioning anyone about anything other than weapons, explosives, or incendiaries, the TSA uses its power at the airport to go through people’s wallets, cash, credit cards, checkbooks, personal documents, and anything else they feel like searching:

At a meeting last month with T.S.A. officials, officers at Logan provided written complaints about profiling from 32 officers, some of whom wrote anonymously. Officers said managers’ demands for high numbers of stops, searches, and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants, or immigration problems.

. . . That is what happened last month at Logan airport to Kenneth Boatner, 68, a psychologist and educational consultant in Boston who was traveling to Atlanta for a business trip.

In a formal complaint he filed with the agency afterward, he said he was pulled out of line and detained for 29 minutes as agents thumbed through his checkbook and examined his clients’ clinical notes, his cellphone, and other belongings.

. . . The stops were seen as a way of padding the program’s numbers and demonstrating to Washington policy makers that the behavior program was producing results, several officers said.

The TSA’s answer? You guessed it — they’re opening “an investigation.”

(Photo: Rhys Gibson via Bruce Schneier)

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