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Thu, Nov 12, 2009

TSA Changes Rules On Airport Searches ... Very Quietly

Searches Must Be Related To Airline Safety

TSA has changed two rules about airport searches after an aide to Congressman Ron Paul recorded an incident on his iPhone. The rules changes have prompted the ACLU to drop legal action against TSA on behalf of Steve Bierfeldt.

Bierfeldt was detained in March while attempting to board a plane at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport carrying $4,700 in cash. TSA agents spent half an hour questioning him about why he was carrying so much cash, and Bierfeldt recorded the exchange on his iPhone.

Bierfeldt is the director of development for 'Campaign for Liberty', a group formed by Congressman Ron Paul's after his failed presidential bid. Bierfeldt attempted to send a metal box with the cash and checks through a metal detector at the airport, precipitating the confrontation.

The Washington Times reports that Bierfeldt questioned under what authority TSA detained him for carrying the cash. At one point, a TSA officer asked Bierfeldt "Are you from this planet?" and accused him of acting like a child for questioning his authority.

TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches said the new "internal directives" stipulate that TSA may not question why someone is carrying large amounts of cash through the airport.  The new rules say "screening may not be conducted to detect evidence of crimes unrelated to transportation security" and that large amounts of cash do not comprise a threat to an airliner. The second directive says "traveling with large amounts of cash is not illegal." However, TSA said it would not release copies of the directives without a Freedom of Information request.

The ACLU had filed the suit on behalf of Bierfeldt because "We had been hearing of so many reports of TSA screeners engaging in wide-ranging fishing expeditions for illegal activities," Ben Wizner, a staff lawyer for the ACLU, told the paper. The new rules do not, however affect a situation where a TSA agent might come across illegal drugs, for instance, during the course of a routine screening.

FMI: www.tsa.gov

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