At the airport?

You may encounter any of the full range of law enforcement officers listed in Section I under “Related Information” at the bottom of this dropdown. In particular, at airports and at the border, you are likely to encounter Customs and Border Protection officers (CBP) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers. Generally, customs officers may stop, detain, and search any person or item at the border. This is true even if there is nothing suspicious about you or your luggage. The government believes this authority to search without individualized suspicion extends to searches of electronic devices such as laptops and cell phones, but that is a contested legal issue. Officers, however, may not select you for a personal search or secondary inspection based on your religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.

Be aware that Transportation Security Agency (TSA) agents — which are part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — are permitted to search you and your belongings without probable cause or a search warrant anytime you pass through a TSA security zone. For what it’s worth, TSA has a webpage, which includes information on filing a complaint if you believe your rights are violated. The TSA also maintains a blog, so feel free to post comments. Many individuals are concerned about the TSA’s requirement that passengers show a photo identification before passing through security. Of particular concern, is TSA’s persistent refusal to release the text of the law that it uses to justify that requirement.

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