Questionable Legal Basis for TSA Fines?

I was catching up on the Chris Soghoian saga, and decided to read this letter to the TSA from his crack team of Stanford law-ninjas. Oh boy, is it a doozy!

If you’ve lost track of Chris’ story, it appears that despite the FBI dropping charges, the TSA is trying to fine him $11k. Jennifer Granick’s terrific letter raises the obvious questions, such as, “Why Chris and not Senator Chuck Schumer?” as well as my favorite, “What part of free speech confuses you, exactly?”

Ok I paraphrase, but you get the idea.

But getting to the point, my jaw dropped when I reached the penultimate page where — if I am not mistaken — Granick suggests that the TSA may not actually possess the authority to fine travelers:

… However, sections 44901-44907 only govern the conduct of the Department of Transportation, the aviation industry, and airports. We have seen no legal authority for the proposition that the TSA can create civil liability for individuals where Congress chose not to do so in sections 18 U.S.C. 1036 and 49 U.S.C. 46314. What statutes give TSA authority to penalize those not covered by the statutory authority under which they have been passed?

The TSA collected over $1M in fines during 2004 alone.


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