Feb 01 2010

TSA budget: 1000 more strip-search machines

The Obama Administration announced their fiscal year 2010 budget proposal today. Under the administration’s proposal for DHS appropriations, the TSA’s annual budget would increase by more than a billion dollars from 2009 to 2011, with most of that going toward the purchase of “up to 1,000” new virtual strip-search (“Whole Body Imaging” or, in the latest euphemistic language of the budget, “Advanced Imaging Technology”) machines.

Up to a point, it was possible to argue that the TSA was still being operated on auto-pilot by holdovers from the previous administration — as indeed it still is.  But the President has had plenty of time in the year since his inauguration to clean house, to put someone new in charge, or simply to give the legacy administrators new marching orders (for which we gave his transition team an explicit itemized blueprint to bring the TSA within the rule of law).

The President’s budget makes clear his deliberate choice to identify his Administration with, and to perpetuate and expand, the TSA’s culture of disregard for civil liberties, human rights, or judicial accountability.  It also makes clear the need for Americans who oppose that march toward the abyss to let their members of Congress and the Senate know how they feel about being inspected by virtual voyeurs who themselves are protected from public view in a private back room, and then being groped, if they are wearing a sanitary napkin or a padded bra or anything else underneath their clothes, every time they want to exercise their right to move about the country.

Feb 01 2010

Albuquerque police still pressing charges against traveler who tried to exercise his rights

The trial originally scheduled for this Friday of Phil Mocek, who was arrested by local police at a TSA checkpoint in the Albuquerque airport in November, has been postponed at least until early May.  But that only happened after he retained retained private defense counsel, at considerable personal expense. You can help out by making a donation to his defense fund.

Mocek has made no comment, on the advice of his attorney.  But from news reports, it appears that he was arrested in retaliation for trying to exercise his right to travel without showing tangible evidence of his identity, and or for recording and/or photographing the TSA’s response to his assertion of his rights.  Since everything he did was entirely within his rights, and the TSA agents have no authority to make arrests, they followed their de facto standard operating procedures by calling in the local police and getting them to trump up an array of false and/or unconstitutional charges under local and state law: criminal trespass (Albuquerque Code of Ordinances § 12-2-3), resisting, obstructing or refusing to obey a lawful order of an officer (§ 12-2-19), concealing identity with intent to obstruct, intimidate, hinder or interrupt (§ 12-2-16), and disorderly conduct (NMSA § 30-2-1). [Note: It appears that direct links to sections of the Albuquerque Code of Ordinances will work only after you click on the Albuquerque Code of Ordinances link and then on either “frames” or “no frames”, to set the required cookies in your Web browser.] The “trespass” charge seems particularly problematic in light of the fact that the airport is publicly owned and that Mocek was attempting to exercise his right to travel by common carrier, a right not only guaranteed by Federal law but protected by explicit Federal statutory preemption against any local or state interference.

Nothing we’ve learned has suggested that any of these charges are supported by the facts, or are other than retaliation.  So we’re disturbed that the prosecutor hasn’t dropped the charges yet, even though a review of the evidence and the case should have made clear that these charges were unfounded.  We hope the district attorney will come to their senses and drop the charges.

[For the status of the case, go to the county court website, complete the “captcha”, and enter “2573709” in the “criminal case number” field.  Documents obtained by Mr. Mocek in response to his requests under New Mexico’s public records laws, including police reports and audio recordings, have been posted here.  For further updates, see the ongoing discussion in the travel “security” forum at Flyertalk.com.]