Monday, January 24, 2011

Just how weak was the TSA's case?

In 2009, Phil Mocek didn't like what the TSA was trying to do to him at the Albuquerque airport.  He took out his phone and started video recording the incident.  The police told him to stop, and he refused.  They demanded ID, and he refused.  They arrested him.

The jury just acquitted him on all four counts: concealing his identity, refusing to obey a lawful order, trespassing, and disorderly conduct.  So just how weak was their case?

It wasn't just that the State lost.  And it wasn't that the jury found for the defendant after only an hour of deliberation.

It's that the Defense didn't call any witnesses, or present any evidence:

Mr. Mocek did not testify, and the defense rested on Friday without calling any witnesses or presenting any evidence. the jury found that even without rebuttal, the TSA and Albuquerque police had failed to satisfy their burden of proving any of the four charges: concealing his identity, refusing to obey a lawful order (it was never entirely clear whether this was supposed to have been an order to turn off his camera, an order to leave the airport despite having a valid ticket, or an order to show ID, none of which would have been lawful orders), trespassing, and disorderly conduct.

The best evidence in the case was the video from Mr. Mocek’s digital camera that both the TSA and the police had tried to stop Mr. Mocek from filming, and which ended when they seized his camera out of his hands and shut it off. In her closing argument, defense counsel Molly Schmidt-Nowara argued that the police and TSA witnesses were not credible, that their testimony was contradicted by the video and by common sense, that what they really objected to was having Mr. Mocek legally take pictures, and that any disorderly conduct was on the part of the police and TSA.
The DA who brought the case should be brought up on professional misconduct grounds.  The Police and TSA officials who hassled Mocek should be prosecuted.  If the situation is so blatant that the jury doesn't even have to think about it, even after the Defense doesn't bother to argue the case, then these people are incompetent.

And there's some very interesting information at the link, including this:

Uncontested TSA and police testimony at the trial established, among other things, three important points:
  1. Despite calling themselves “officers”, TSA checkpoint staff are not law enforcement officers and have no police powers — and both TSA and police are fully aware of this. When the TSA calls for the police, they are just like any other civilians who call the police, and the police have no obligation to do what they ask.  Police should not and have no right to act, in such a case, unless the police have a reasonable basis for believing that a crime has actually been committed or is being committed.
  2. You have the right, recognized by the TSA, to fly without showing ID. “It happens all the time. We have a procedure for that,” according to the lead TSA “Travel Document Checker” at the Albuquerque airport. Signs and announcements in airports saying that all passengers must present ID are false.
  3. You have the right, recognized by the TSA, to photograph or film anywhere in publicly accessible areas of airports including TSA checkpoints, as long as you don’t violate any local laws, photograph the images on the screening monitors, interfere with the screening process, or slow down the line. (Whether those limitations to your First Amendment rights claimed by the TSA are legal or Constitutional was not decided in this case, since Mr. Mocek wasn’t filming the images on the screening monitors, interfering with the screening process, or slowing down the line.) Signs or statements that photography is prohibited at Federal checkpoints are, in general, false.
Annoying the TSA is not a crime.

Note: I was a little skeptical about the "flying without ID" part.  It seems that it's true.

UPDATE 25 January 10:42: Welcome everyone here via Facebook.  New, breaking TSA idiocy news here.

UPDATE 25 January 11:59: People who want to contribute to Mr. Mocek's legal defense fund can do so here.


Josh Kruschke said...

TSA = Joke


I hope he was awarded damages or had his court and lawer fees payed but I want hold my breath on that.


Dave said...

Link to source in article is a bogus link, may want to fix that.

Borepatch said...

Dave, thanks. Fixed now.

Divemedic said...

That is odd, last time I flew, the TSA demanded to see my identification and asked me all sorts of questions about where I was going and what I would be doing there. I was under the impression that I had to answer in order to fly.

Although to be fair, since he didn't show ID or stop filming, he didn't get to fly. Like the cops say, "you may be able to beat the charges, but you can't beat the ride to jail."

TinCan Assassin said...

It's ok. Sooner or later, the TSA will be curbed by the airline industry. Either that, or the airline industry collapses into a black hole. WCS, the airlines become, a la Aeroflot or Lufthansa.

Phil Mocek said...

Thanks for your interest. There's a nice FAQ about my trial and surrounding issues maintained by the Identity Project at and I've compiled and published what I know about TSA's airline passenger identification policies at --Phil

Suzanne said...

Good for Mr. Mocek. It sounds like a case of "jury nullification" to me. They were not going to buy TSA's case no matter what, because it's common knowledge what TSA is. Just a bunch of lawless government bullies, whose agency is short lived.

Wanna really annoy TSA? Check out my web site. heh heh heh

Skeptic said...

Jury nullification is when the jury returns a verdict that is contrary to the "letter of the law" but in conformity to the interests of justice.
This verdict was fully in conformity to the letter of the law, according to the evidence provided by the witnesses. (It was also in conformity to the interests of justice, thank goodness)

Dave Saunders said...

I still think Phil "Don't touch my junk" Mocek is a dope for creating such a mess for himself but kudos for slapping the TSA down and their facade of "authority."

NotClauswitz said...

Way to go Mr. Mocek!

eddie said...

Note that there is a difference between "not showing ID" and "not identifying yourself".

Both your link to Tim Grey's Blog and the link Phil Mocek posted to his post on Flyertalk make it clear that even if you do not provide ID to the TSA, you must still identify yourself and prove your identify to the TSA's satisfaction by providing personal information which they then verify by phone.

It appears that the TSA will not allow you to travel anonymously.

Anonymous said...

I hope everyone who travels reads this post. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I don't know, in all honesty, without all of the facts, this story sounds a bit odd... Legal or not, WHY was he filming the TSA screening process in the airport? It does seem suspicious even if he had no ill intentions. To me it sounds like he read a bunch of the rules to see what he could get away with and was just trying to piss TSA off because he knew he could legally do so. Also, as Eddie pointed out, you may not have to show identification, but you sure as hell have to identify yourself and the link in the article to Tim Grey's Blog implies that if you DON'T show ID then you DO have to go through an extra screening process.

In any event, having fun pissing off TSA may be legal, but is it worth the price of your flight, your vacation, and Court costs... seems like a waste of time - don't get me wrong, I actually think many of them are total assholes through my various encounters, I just think that people who purposely try to cause a problem just to egg others on may be no better...