ACLU Sues TSA for Unlawful Detention of Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty Treasurer

Today, we filed a new lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over unlawful TSA search and detention practices. The case was filed on behalf of a traveler who was illegally detained and harassed by TSA Agents at the airport for carrying approximately $4,700 in cash.

On March 29, 2009, the plaintiff in the case, Steven Bierfeldt was detained in a small room at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport and interrogated by TSA officials for nearly half an hour after he passed a metal box containing cash through a security checkpoint X-ray machine. He was carrying the cash in connection to his duties as Treasurer of Ron Paul's Campaign For Liberty. Steven's experience is part of a troubling pattern of the TSA transforming its valid but limited search authority into a license to invade people's constitutional right to privacy.

Steven was detained and questioned as he returned home from a Campaign for Liberty event transporting proceeds from the sale of tickets, t-shirts, stickers and campaign material. He repeatedly asked the agents to explain the scope of their authority to detain and interrogate him and received no explanation. Instead, the agents escalated the threatening tone of their questions and ultimately told him that he was being placed under arrest. Steven recorded audio of the entire incident with his iPhone, which you can listen to here.


In a press release we issued about the case today, Steven states:

I do not believe I should give up my constitutional rights each time I choose to travel by plane. I was doing nothing illegal or suspicious, yet I was treated like a potential criminal and harassed for no reason. Most Americans would be surprised to learn that TSA considers simply carrying cash to be a basis for detention and questioning. I hope the court makes clear that my detention by TSA agents was unconstitutional and stops TSA from engaging in these unlawful searches and arrests. I do not want another innocent American to have to endure what I went through.

ACLU attorney Ben Wizner who is counsel in the case, explains:

Airport searches are the most common encounters between Americans and law enforcement agents. That's why it is so important for TSA agents to do the job they were trained to do and not engage in fishing expeditions that do nothing to promote flight safety. It is, of course, very important to ensure the safety of flights and keep illegal weapons and explosives off planes. But allowing TSA screeners to conduct general purpose law enforcement searches violates the Constitution while diverting limited resources from TSA's core mission of protecting safety.

TSA officials have the authority to conduct safety-related searches for weapons and explosives. Since 9/11, TSA agents have been using heightened security measures as an excuse to exceed their search authority and engage in unlawful searches that violate the privacy rights of passengers. Our lawsuit charges that unconstitutional searches and detention by TSA agents have become the norm. For the sake of public safety and constitutional values, these unlawful searches should stop.

You can learn more about the case and hear the audio recording of Steven's detention and interrogation here.

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What happened to Steven Bierfeldt is shameful and an outrage.

And it goes beyond way beyond the TSA... Similar abuses are taking place on a wide scale, but those in power are, to date, getting away with their intimidation tactics which include the following: kafkaesque surveillance and harassment, surreptitious home-entries, defamation, and probable warrantless surveillance within the homes of certain individuals. Vandalism and thefts of personal property are taking place, clearly violations of the law.

The criminal and morally bankrupt practices of our secretive government agencies need to be revealed for exactly what they are.

Let's connect all the dots -- the final picture isn't one that most are going to want to see.


I fly through the STL airport on a regular basis and the TSA people there are particularly difficult to work with -- they need to be checked.


Down with TSA intimidation. Give someone with low self-esteem a badge and uniform and they develop a God complex. How much government-counterfeited unbacked fiat currency one carries is no business of any gov't agency. Down with the TSA and UP with Ron Paul's Campaign For Liberty!


TSA doesn't just search for things that are dangerous to aircraft.

During a bag check, I was chatting with the operator, and asked him how often they found explosives. He said that they found them once or twice a day.

Then he went on to say that much more often than that, they found drugs.

The mass spectrometer won't find things it is not programmed to find.

Obviously, someone set it up to find all kinds of things not prohibited on aircraft.

Gavin Baker

It's like listening to the Keystone Kops shred the Constitution.


I see no where that he declared that he was carrying a large sum of money nor that he had receipts to prove that he ligitimately was carrying it because he was a treasurer of an organization. People who complain are most likely looking to have TSA's ability to search so they can carry on illegal purposes on their own intent.


Guess what, Roger? We are allowed to carry money in this country without receipts or proving that we have a "legitimate" purpose for doing so.

If you wish to surrender that right, please call the police now and report what is in you wallet and why.

Richard Mercer

The ACLU should remember the first letter means "AMERICAN" and not the world civil liberties. The constitution and bill of rights was written and established under circumstances not envisioned in todays society and they were not written to exclude common sense which has to be adjusted to accomodate the changes in our America.


Tony, I believe he was carrying a metal box. Common sense tells you that a metal box would be questioned. I would have thought that he would have had some kind of receipt. But that would have been to easy.

I believe that Mr. Bierfeldt knew exactly what he was doing; that it was for political gain.


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