Can the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) pull you out of line without any rational reason, quiz you on where you are going and why? And if you choose not to answer, does that make you “hostile?” One newspaper writer from the Midwest found out the answers to those questions on Monday when he experienced the TSA’s new “chat-down” while waiting in line at airport security.

Is TSA Chat Down Program Unreasonable Search?: Interview with Steve Gunn

Photo credit: AP

Muskeegon Chronical writer Steve Gunn was returning home after a few days at a music festival in Colorado. Steve’s travel agent had him flying from Denver to Detroit and then connecting to a flight from Detroit to Grand Rapids. This is a common pattern in air travel. Customers fly from one big city to another and then catch a short flight to their regional airport. It happens hundreds of times each day in Detroit alone.

As Gunn was standing in security line at the Detroit airport when a young woman in a uniform approached him. Gunn reports:

(Big Brother) actually presented himself in the deceptive form of a young, attractive female officer, working for the Transportation Security Administration at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

At first she simply seemed chatty and friendly. She looked at my airline boarding pass and noted that I was coming from Denver. Then she mentioned that I was headed from Detroit to Grand Rapids.

After explaining that he was just returning home, the TSA agent’s question started getting a bit more invasive. She wanted to know “where home was” — and that’s when Gunn realized that something was not right about this questioning and he asked why the agent needed to know all of this. Her response was that this was part of a new security “pilot program.”

That answer was not good enough for Mr. Gunn. He made it quite clear to the woman performing the TSA “Chat-Down.”

  • He was an American citizen
  • He was traveling within his own country
  • He was not breaking any laws
  • That was all the government needed to know and he was not going to share any information

And that’s when the agent loudly announced to her superiors (and everyone else standing in line): “We have another refusal here!”

By shouting that line, the woman triggered a response from supervisors and other agents in the area.

Another TSA staffer detained Mr. Gunn and took his carry-on bag. When he asked why he was being “detained,” the TSA rep denied detaining Gunn. In an interview with TheBlaze, Steve Gunn did say that his detention lasted all of two minutes, but it was a detention. He was stopped, held against his will and checked quite differently than all of the other passengers in line.

The manner in which he was treated by TSA agents bothered Mr. Gunn and he told TheBlaze that he felt like a suspect and decided to speak loudly so the people in line could hear him. As his bag was being examined and his hands swabbed by the agent, Gun said, “This is America, not Russia… we shouldn’t have to answer these questions!”

Gunn said that another TSA agent stopped his work and replied: “It’s no different than customs.”

Gunn told the interjecting TSA agent that his Customs comparison is wrong. People coming into the country should be screened in a more serious manner than citizens moving about inside our borders.

After he landed in Grand Rapids and arrived at his home (I did not ask him exactly where he lived), Gunn researched the TSA’s “pilot program” that involves quizzing passengers as they stand in line. He discovered a USA Today opinion piece that details the program. It’s not exactly a new thing and the results are also less than spectacular. Gunn’s article recapped the USA Today story:

TSA officials interviewed about 725,000 travelers at Logan International Airport in Boston over the course of one year, and none of them turned out to be terrorists. A small percentage were arrested on outstanding warrants for other crimes.

Steve Gunn believes that he may have been singled out for the questioning because he suffers from a partial and temporary facial paralysis due to a recent bought with Bell’s palsy. Gunn wonders if all stroke victims and people with facial tics will be pulled aside and quizzed.

During our interview, Gunn stressed that he understands the need to make certain air travel is safe. However, his objection was raised over the curious and invasive search tactics used in this new “chat-down” program.

“They can make us all take off our shoes and our belts and treat us as suspects,” he said. “But at least in that case, they treat everyone equally.”

Read Steve Gunn’s full account of this event.

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