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McCarthyism Watch: Airline Passenger Finds Nasty Note in His Suitcase
By MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive.
The Progressive, Mar. 20, 2003
"On Mar. 2, Seth Goldberg of New Jersey was flying from Seattle to San Diego. At the Seattle airport, he says he was picked out for additional screening and sent over to the Transportation Security Administration (T.S.A.). There, T.S.A. agents x-rayed his check-through bags and then said they wanted to go through them, so he left them with the T.S.A. personnel and picked them up when he arrived in San Diego."
"As is customary, the T.S.A. put in Goldberg's suitcase a 'Notification of Baggage Inspection.' "
"But there was something unusual on the sheet: a handwritten note that said, 'Don't appreciate your anti-American attitude.' "
"While he was in Seattle, Goldberg had picked up two 'No Iraq War' signs, and they were at the top of his bag. He also had 'a little bit of anti-war literature' inside, he says."
" 'I was stunned and angered by this message,' he told the T.S.A. in a letter dated Mar. 10. He wrote that he hoped the agency would agree that 'it is an abuse of a T.S.A. employee's authority to insult, or to intimidate, or to harass, or to treat differently, any passenger based solely on the legal, nonprohibited contents of a passenger's luggage. . . . It is an abuse of a T.S.A. employee's authority to take any action against a passenger solely for possessing written materials that an individual T.S.A. employee may find objection to his or her own political views.' "
"Andrea Seifer, a public affairs specialist for the T.S.A., says, 'Right now, the T.S.A. is investigating this matter. We do take these types of incidents very seriously.' Goldberg is pursuing the case. 'I am talking with the Washington State chapter of the A.C.L.U.,' he says. 'It's both a privacy issue and a First Amendment issue. I don't want my political views recorded or commented on by the government.' "
"Aaron H. Caplan, staff attorney of the A.C.L.U. chapter, wrote a letter to the T.S.A. on Mar. 18. 'It is not the place of government employees to criticize citizens for their thoughts,' he wrote. 'The injury is even greater here because the airline passenger has no choice but to allow T.S.A. to search through selected baggage. The resulting loss of privacy is made even worse when a T.S.A. screener treats a passenger differently solely because of the passenger's political views.' "
"Caplan also raised a general policy concern about the T.S.A. passing along private information to other agencies of the government. 'Unless the baggage contains unlawful weapons or contraband posing a security risk, the information that T.S.A. screeners incidentally learn about passengers' lives and opinions during the course of luggage inspection should not be transmitted to other agencies or entered into any purported risk database,' he wrote."
"Goldberg sees what happened to him as part of a pattern. 'It's a bit chilling,' he says. 'It's just one more example to me of what feels like encroaching fascism in this country. It's a minor case, but indicative of a much larger problem.' "