ACLU of Massachusetts Challenges Use of Behavioral Profiling at Logan Airport

November 10, 2004 12:00 am

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Profiling Program May Soon Be Adopted by Airports Nationwide

King Downing

King Downing

BOSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts today filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a so-called “behavioral assessment” program adopted by the Massachusetts Port Authority and the Massachusetts state police to stop and detain people for questioning at Logan Airport.

“This program is another unfortunate example of the extent to which we are being asked to surrender basic freedoms in the name of security,” said John Reinstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “This allows the police to stop anyone, any time, for any reason.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of King Downing, the National Coordinator of the ACLU’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling, who was approached by law enforcement officials after arriving at Logan Airport on October 16, 2003 to attend a meeting on racial profiling in Boston. Upon arriving at the airport, Downing, an African-American who wears a short beard, left the gate area and was making a phone call in the public terminal when he was stopped by a state police trooper who demanded that he produce some identification. When Downing declined to do so without knowing the basis for the request, he was first told that he would have to leave the airport. However, when he attempted to leave the terminal building, Downing was stopped again, surrounded by four troopers and told that he was being placed under arrest for failing to produce identification. When Downing finally agreed to produce his driver’s license, the troopers then demanded to see his airline ticket. Downing was told by the police that he could be barred from the airport if he did not cooperate. After the police inspected Downing’s identification and travel documents, he was allowed to leave. No charges were ever filed against him.

“This is a dangerous extension of police power,” said Downing. “I was stopped and held for no legal reason by armed State Police troopers. I was told I could not leave unless I proved who I was and why I was at the airport, and that if I did not cooperate, I would be arrested or banned from the airport. This is racial profiling, and not the action of a government that stands for freedom and the rights of all its people.”

Behavioral profiling has been used as the basis for stopping passengers since 2002 when Massport announced that State Police troopers at Logan Airport were being trained by an outside security consultant. The procedures were subsequently incorporated into the state police “Behavior Assessment Screening System” used at Logan and other locations. It was recently reported that B.A.S.S. is being used as a model by the Transportation Security Administration, which will soon launch a similar program nationwide, entitled SPOT (“Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques”).

Current law permits the police to stop and question someone when they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is committing, had committed, or was about to commit a crime. In contrast, the “behavioral profiling” program instructs officers to detain anyone who they believe is exhibiting “unusual” or “anxious” behavior. What constitutes “unusual” or “anxious” behavior presumably is left to individual officer discretion.

“This case illustrates the danger of giving law enforcement officers unfettered discretion to detain people,” said ACLU Cooperating Attorney Peter Krupp. “It is a clear case of unconstitutional racial profiling. Mr. Downing did nothing suspicious – unless you consider having dark skin and a beard evidence of suspicious behavior.”

The case was filed in Suffolk Superior Court.

You can read the complaint here: /node/35476

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