Last year Steve Bierfeldt, director of development at Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty, sued the Transportation Security Administration after he was detained and grilled at a St. Louis airport because he was carrying about $4,700 in cash (proceeds from one of the organization's conferences). The lawsuit, filed on Bierfeldt's behalf by the ACLU, prompted the TSA to issue a directive saying that "screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security." Apparently not everyone got the memo. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin describes the experience of Kathy Parker of Elkton, Maryland, who recently underwent a purse search at Philadelphia International Airport that ranged far beyond the requirements of airline security:
"Everything in my purse was out, including my wallet and my checkbook. I had two prescriptions in there. One was diet pills. This was embarrassing. A TSA officer said, 'Hey, I've always been curious about these. Do they work?'
"I was just so taken aback, I said, 'Yeah.' "
What happened next, she says, was more than embarrassing. It was infuriating.
That same screener started emptying her wallet. "He was taking out the receipts and looking at them," she said
"I understand that TSA is tasked with strengthening national security but [it] surely does not need to know what I purchased at Kohl's or Wal-Mart," she wrote in her complaint, which she sent me last week.
She says she asked what he was looking for and he replied, "Razor blades." She wondered, "Wouldn't that have shown up on the metal detector?"
In a side pocket she had tucked a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000.
Her thought: "Oh, my God, this is none of his business."
Two Philadelphia police officers joined at least four TSA officers who had gathered around her. After conferring with the TSA screeners, one of the Philadelphia officers told her he was there because her checks were numbered sequentially, which she says they were not.
"It's an indication you've embezzled these checks," she says the police officer told her. He also told her she appeared nervous. She hadn't before that moment, she says.
She protested when the officer started to walk away with the checks. "That's my money," she remembers saying. The officer's reply? "It's not your money."
Eventually Parker was allowed to proceed with her checks, but not until after police called her husband in Maryland to see if maybe they were in the middle of "a divorce situation" and she was trying to abscond with money that was partly his (a scenario rather different from the fake-check embezzlement theory that supposedly justified Parker's detention). As usual in cases like this, the TSA claims police were called because Parker's behavior "escalated," which is TSA code for questioning anything its screeners do.
[Thanks to dbcooper for the tip.]