Constitutional Law

ACLU Airport Suit Says Feds Detained Student Over Study Aid for Arabic Class

A federal lawsuit filed today by a Pomona College student says he was detained, handcuffed and interrogated at the Philadelphia International Airport over a five-hour period last year simply because he was carrying English-Arabic flash cards he used for a college language class.

Nicholas George, 22, alleges that his treatment by the Transportation Security Administration, FBI and Philadelphia police violated his constitutional rights to free speech and to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure, reports the Washington Post. He also alleges excessive use of force in the suit, which was filed in federal district court in Philadelphia by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Officials of the law enforcement agencies and the Department of Justice either declined to comment or did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the newspaper. However, an unidentified “U.S. government official familiar with the matter” said George’s unspecified “anomalous” behavior as he approached the checkpoint and escalating “erratic” conduct as he was screened prompted the interrogation, the Post reports.

An ACLU press release gives further details about George’s perspective of the situation and links to the complaint (PDF) in the case.

“Arresting and restraining passengers who pose no threat to flight safety and are not breaking any law not only violates people’s rights, but it won’t make us any safer. It may actually make us less safe, by diverting vital resources and attention away from true security threats,” says ACLU staff attorney Ben Wizner in the release.

Additional coverage:

L.A. Now (Los Angeles Times): “Lawsuit claims Pomona College student was detained by TSA over Arabic flashcards”

Updated at 3:45 p.m. to link to L.A. Now blog post.

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