Two recent decisions — one an administrative decision by the TSA, and the other a judicial decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals — have dealt with, but failed to resolve, the question of whether, in the face of unpredictable demands for more intrusive searches, an airline passenger can “opt out” if they decide they would rather abandon their attempt to board a flight than submit to whatever search TSA or contractor checkpoint staff demand.
The TSA has withdrawn its proposed administrative fine against Jonathan Cobb, a passenger who, when selected for a pat-down (manual groping of his body, including his genitals, by which he had previously been traumatized), chose to abandon his attempt to fly and left the airport. That’s good, but sets no legally binding precedent.
Meanwhile, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed a petition filed by Jonathan Corbett seeking judicial review of the TSA’s policy of requiring selected passengers to submit to imaging of their bodies by virtual strip-search machines. That’s bad, but at least the decision was based solely on whether Mr. Corbett could expect to be selected for this sort of search, and left undecided whether these searches are Constitutional.
These decisions leave the law unclear in practice — even if the Constitution seems clear — as to whether or when an airline passenger can opt out of which sorts of searches.
How far can the TSA and its contractors legally go? How can tell if they are going too far? And when, if ever, can you “opt out” or say no to an escalated search?