Civil Liberties

What Happens If You Decline a Chat With the TSA? Get Ready for a Search


As a companion piece to yesterday's story of an ACLU attorney who was peppered with nosy questions at Burlington International Airport comes the tale of a Michigan journalist who took offense at this new approach to "security" and declined to play along. So, if you've been wondering just what would happen if you told TSA officers to take their 20 questions about your summer vacation and shove them where the sun doesn't shine, read on.

Steve Gunn, a former Muskegon Chronicle staff writer who now works for the Education Action Group, writes in the pages of his old paper:

At that point she asked me what my business would be in Grand Rapids.

"I'm headed home," I replied.

Then she wanted to know where home was. That's when the mental alarms went off and I realized I was being interrogated by Big Brother in drag.

I asked her why the federal government needed to know where I was going and what I would be doing. She explained that the questions were part of a new security "pilot program."

I then told her I am an American citizen, traveling within my own country, and I wasn't breaking any laws. That's all the federal government needed to know, and I wasn't going to share any more.

Not because I had anything to hide. It was because we live in a free country where innocent people are supposedly protected from unwarranted government intrusion and harassment.

At that point the agent yelled out, "We have another refusal." One of my bags was seized and I was momentarily detained and given a hand-swab, which I believe was to test for residue from bomb-making materials.

I passed the bomb test and was told I could move on, but I hung around a moment and told everyone within listening range what I thought about this terrifying experience.

Note the yelled "we have another refusal" which has also become characteristic of TSA reaction to anybody who declines a turn in the hey-it's-perfectly-safe-we-promise body scanners. It's a pretty obvious attampt to draw attention to the dissidents and use embarrassment as a weapon to induce cooperation.

Gunn, who I've never come across before but I like just from the content of this piece, thinks he might have been targeted for his "chat down" because he has Bell's Palsy, which prevents him from smiling and gives him a grumpy expression. There's no proof of that, but it makes as much sense as anything else, given that racial characteristics were used as reasons for chatting down travelers in Boston.

"I'm starting to wonder what separates us from Russia or Cuba," asks Gunn in his piece.

Well, our plumbing is still better.