In the case of the TSA v Arabic Flash Cards


Remember the college kid who was detained back in 2009 for carrying flashcards with Arabic-English translations on them? Turns out he is $25,000 richer and the Philadelphia Police Department took a small slap on the wrist. The TSA, however, appears to be getting off scot-free (Full copy of the settlement here).

The short version of the story is that when Mr. George was going through the TSA screening checkpoint the TSA screeners started perusing the flashcards, pieces of paper which presented no threat to aviation safety. Eventually they decided to refer Mr. George to the Philadelphia Police Department as a potential threat. And the police held him for several hours before eventually the FBI told everyone to leave him alone.

sudoku-security-checkpoint-tsa-police-officer
Not at Philadelphia, but this photo is one I simply couldn’t resist. Sudoku is always a solid way to pass the work day.

As part of the settlement the TSA issued an affidavit essentially passing the buck, reminding the world that the LEOs are responsible to use “independent judgment” as to whether the referred subject should be arrested, detained or released. Then again, the settlement also states that the affidavit should not be considered to have “precedential value” so it is not entirely clear the value of including that statement other than to shift the blame. The feds remain on the hook for the $25,000 fine.

The City of Philadelphia will include additional training for its police officers assigned to the airport, including a quarterly verbal update for the next 18 months (and written thereafter):

Investigative detentions may be made only on a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct and any arrest must be based on probable cause. A referral by TSA agents is not grounds for arrest unless an officer makes a judgment of probable cause; similarly, referral by TSA agents is not grounds for detention unless an officer makes a judgment that there is reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. Any detentions or arrests should be documented on appropriate police paperwork consistent with PPD Directives.

And the TSA gets to continue making up rules as it sees fit, without recourse or liability.

More from the ACLU post about the settlement.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

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