Racial profiling by TSA

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)

  • Jason

    Does anyone know if this is a problem only in certain airports or nationwide? I haven’t noticed it myself, but I mostly fly in/out of California and Washington so maybe it hasn’t ‘spread’ yet.

    • RB

      TSA is a nationwide problem.

    • Jason, as RB says, the TSA in general is a nationwide problem. As for racial profiling, it’s impossible — for anyone — to know the extent of it. But we can extrapolate based on logic. What kind of society do we live in?

    • Drontil

      If it’s happened as two airports, EWR and BOS, then you can be certain that it is happening at others, as Lisa says.

    • cjr001

      I agree with Lisa and Drontil.

      We know TSA profiles. But as often as not, it’s not even about terrorism, but who they think is an easy mark, or who they can steal cash and valuables from, or whether they want to simply be little racist d-bags.

      But we know that it’s not about terrorism, nor has it been for some time.

  • RB

    Seems TSA has given up on searching for Weapons, Incendiaries, and Explosives, the only items they are authorized to search for. A search for any other item by a TSA screener is an illegal search.

    Time for TSA screeners to meet the justice system if they cannot conduct themselves within the boundaries of current regulations and law. I for one am more than willing to fund more prisons to hold Pistole and his band of Perverts.

    • anc1entmar1ner

      TSA searches are done without a warrant, without probable cause, with no oath or affirmation, and without specificity. They all violate the Fourth Amendment and they are all illegal.

  • Guest

    Have we not heard that screeners at checkpoints are also under a quota for pat downs?