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Airline Passenger Sues TSA for False Imprisonment

Since the Transportation Security Administration began screening airline passengers with body scans and pat-downs, people have chosen various ways to express their distaste for the measures. One such person is Aaron Tobey, who, when going through security at Richmond International Airport on Dec. 30, 2010, opted for a pat-down rather than an X-ray screening. At that point, the 21-year-old college student voluntarily removed his T-shirt and sweatpants (leaving on his socks and running shorts), revealing that he had written on his chest with marker as follows: "Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated."

Although Tobey was ultimately released in time to make his flight (now, there's a guy who follows guidelines about showing up at airports early!), he was initially detained for questioning for about 90 minutes -- at least part of that time with his hands cuffed behind his back, according to his attorney. Prosecutors dropped a disorderly conduct charge against Tobey two weeks later, Wired reports.

Now, Tobey is turning the tables and has sued the government (pdf), including Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole, for violating his First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights and for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. Tobey has requested a declaratory judgment, an injunction prohibiting the TSA from treating anyone else as he was treated, and $250,000 in compensatory damages and attorney fees.

Due to the considerable leeway granted to the TSA regarding air travel safety, Techdirt does not expect a judge to be sympathetic to Tobey's plight. (However, Tobey has a feisty advocate on his side; the Rutherford Institute, which filed the lawsuit on Tobey's behalf, shot to fame after financing Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton.)

Whatever the ultimate outcome of Tobey's lawsuit, the TSA's handling of his security-line actions certainly seems to have given his demonstration significantly more attention than it would have otherwise received. The next time an airline passenger decides to put on a public but well-mannered strip-tease, TSA agents might be wise to simply roll their eyes and let him go on with the show.

Guest blogger Ruth Carter is a law student in her final semester at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Posted by Laurel Newby on March 17, 2011 at 04:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

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