Search at airport is ruled legal
A passenger objected to a screening being continued after he decided not to fly
Airline passengers lose their right to object to a search when they place their belongings on an X-ray tray or walk through the metal detector, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday in a case involving a Hawaii man.
Citing concerns over terrorism, the court found that "the constitutionality of an airport screening search ... does not depend on consent" once passengers attempt to enter an airport's secure area, which is defined by the Transportation Security Administration as the screening checkpoint.
It was the appeals court's second decision in the case of Daniel Kuualoha Aukai because it wanted to clarify an earlier decision on the issue of consent.
Aukai was arrested for crystal methamphetamine possession before boarding a scheduled flight to Kona from Honolulu on Feb. 1, 2003.
Last year, the court ruled that Aukai, after having gone through the initial screening, could not back out of additional searches even though he said he no longer wanted to board a flight.
Officials told Aukai to remove an object from his pocket, which turned out to be a glass pipe. Authorities later found several bags of crystal meth, and Aukai was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison.
In yesterday's 15-page opinion, Judge Carlos Bea wrote that requiring authorization from passengers during ongoing searches "makes little sense in a post-9/11 world."
"Such a rule would afford terrorists multiple opportunities to attempt to penetrate airport security by 'electing not to fly' on the cusp of detection until a vulnerable portal is found," it said. "This rule would also allow terrorists a low-cost method of detecting systematic vulnerabilities in airport security, knowledge that could be extremely valuable in planning future attacks."
Justices, however, noted that the scope of airport searches should be "no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives."