Dynamist Blog

Mission Creep Leads TSA to Racially Profile in Pursuit of Non-Terrorists to Arrest

The front page of today's NYT carries this investigative piece about racial profiling by TSA officers at Boston's Logan Airport. Since two of the 9/11 flights originated there, you might think local officers were just jumpy about terrorism. But no. They're allegedly targeting blacks and Hispanics, especially those bound for Miami, because of pressures to find people who can be arrested for reasons having nothing to do with terrorism or any other violent threat to the safety of air travel. From the story by Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Lichtblau, which you should read in full:

At a meeting last month with T.S.A. officials, officers at Logan provided written complaints about profiling from 32 officers, some of whom wrote anonymously. Officers said managers' demands for high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems.

The practice has become so prevalent, some officers said, that Massachusetts State Police officials have asked why minority members appear to make up an overwhelming number of the cases that the airport refers to them.

"The behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program," one officer wrote in an anonymous complaint obtained by The Times.

The TSA has no business looking for drugs, outstanding arrest warrants, or immigration problems unless it has serious reason to believe that the person involved poses a serious threat to air safety. If it is going to serve as an extension of every other sort of law enforcement, then its searches should be subject to the same requirements for probable cause, which would allow almost everyone to travel without submitting to TSA examination.

This mission creep recalls InstaPundit's prescient post at 1:49 p.m. on September 11, 2001:

It's Not Just Terrorists Who Take Advantage: Someone will propose new "Antiterrorism" legislation. It will be full of things off of bureaucrats' wish lists. They will be things that wouldn't have prevented these attacks even if they had been in place yesterday. Many of them will be civil-liberties disasters. Some of them will actually promote the kind of ill-feeling that breeds terrorism. That's what happened in 1996. Let's not let it happen again.

And that's exactly what happened.

(The headline is not technically accurate, since the TSA does not arrest people. It refers them to other law enforcement agencies.)

[Airport security inspection in underwear photo courtesy of BigStock.com]

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