You have to hand it to the TSA screeners at Philadelphia International Airport. Not only will they look through your stuff to make sure you’re not going to go all explosiony on the plane, they’ll also bring in the cops to call your husband to double check you haven’t embezzled money from him.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has the story of a 43-year-old woman who feels the TSA crossed a line when they went from checking her luggage to investigating her personal life and finances.
After being pulled out of the screening line for a closer inspection, the woman’s carry-ons got an in-depth look from the TSA employee:
Everything in my purse was out, including my wallet and my checkbook. I had two prescriptions in there. One was diet pills. This was embarrassing. A TSA officer said, ‘Hey, I’ve always been curious about these. Do they work?’
I was just so taken aback, I said, ‘Yeah.’
Then the screener started reading her receipts.
“I understand that TSA is tasked with strengthening national security but [it] surely does not need to know what I purchased at Kohl’s or Wal-Mart,” she tells the Inquirer.
During the inspection of her bag, the screener came across a deposit slip and seven checks made out to her and her husband, worth about $8,000.
That’s when the police got involved, as the TSA screener was joined by to city cops and at least four TSA officers. The woman was eventually told the police had been notified because the checks were numbered sequentially, a claim she denies.
She was told that the numbering was “an indication you’ve embezzled these checks,” and that she now appeared nervous.
When she told the officer “That’s my money,” she says he replied by saying, “It’s not your money.”
She explained that the checks had piled up while she and her husband were on vacation and that she was going to deposit them at the bank’s headquarters during the business trip they were preventing her from going on.
The officers attempted to contact her husband via cellphone but he missed the call.
Eventually, after determining that her checks, however sequentially numbered they might have been, weren’t going to blow up a plane or take it hostage, she was allowed to continue onto her flight.
But the police continued to attempt to make contact with her husband. When they finally did, they told him they’d suspected “a divorce situation” and that she was trying to empty their bank account. She wasn’t.
A rep for the police dept. defends the TSA, saying they were right to contact the officers because the check numbers were “almost sequential… [They were] just checking to make sure there was nothing fraudulent.”
A TSA rep says the woman was singled out because she exhibited a “fear of discovery”:
We need to ascertain whether fear of discovery is due to the fact a person is concealing a threatening item, be it a dangerous weapon or some kind of explosive… If the search is complete, and shows individuals not to be a threat to the aircraft or fellow passengers, they are free to go.
The TSA rep also said the woman’s behavior “escalated” as the investigation went on.
The traveler disagrees:
When they decided to search me, there was nothing wrong with my behavior… I was trying to keep a positive demeanor about everything. My behavior didn’t escalate. I did ask questions.
The Legal Director for the Pennsylvania ACLU thinks the TSA “clearly crossed the line” in this situation, given the lack of probable cause to examine her checks.
“None of this makes any sense except as a fishing expedition, which under the U.S. Constitution is not allowed,” he says. “They can’t rummage through her personal life. I’m not surprised this woman is outraged. She should be.”
Daniel Rubin: An infuriating search at Philadelphia International Airport [Philadelphia Inquirer]