Criminal Law

Terrorism, Crimes and Security

Terrorism is the use of violence and threats of violence against civilian targets, especially for political, religious or ideological purposes. The goal is intimidation or coercion.

While not a specific crime, terrorism involves a constellation of crimes that lead to the loss of life and/or damage to property - like the use of explosives, biological weapons and poisonous substances, trespass, and the hijacking of aircraft, trains, boats or other vehicles.

Since 9/11, an increased awareness of terrorist threats within the United States has led to the adoption of a wide range of security measures, some of which conflict with individual rights. Backpacks, briefcases, and purses are searched before entry to public buildings. People taking photographs of bridges, highway interchanges, buildings and monuments are stopped and questioned.

The most controversial security measures are those established at airports. These involve the mechanical screening of persons or possessions, plus the physical searches of possessions or physical pat-downs. The Transportation Security Administration is the federal agency responsible for all airport security. Violating TSA rules can result in criminal prosecution.

TSA Secure Flight Program

The TSA pre-screens all passengers using the Secured Flight Program, which requires passengers to provide the airlines with their name, date of birth, and gender. The airline transmits the information to Secure Flight which checks the information against two watch lists. Passengers on the No Fly List cannot board a plane. Passengers on the Selectee List are subject to enhanced security screening. Various civil rights groups have criticized the program for its security problems and as violating passenger privacy and travel rights.

Behavior Detection Officers

TSA airport security measures also include a program called Screening Passengers by Observation Technique, or SPOT. The TSA employs behavior detection officers who identify high-risk passengers by analyzing their behavior. A BDO who observes a passenger exhibiting certain behaviors can refer the passenger for additional screening, physical pat down or inspection of carry-on baggage.

BDOs will look closely at people who arrogantly complain about the screening process. Critics state that expressing a negative opinion of airport security procedures should be considered a First Amendment-protected right rather than a reason to single out a passenger for further search.

A Wide Range of Criminals

Although originally designed to catch terrorists, the SPOT program has been expanded to detect other kinds of criminal activity as well. A BDO can refer a suspicious passenger to law enforcement for further investigation. They have uncovered passengers transporting illegal substances and illegal immigrants.

Criminal Prosecution for Breach of Airport Security

Breaching an airport's secured area is grounds for criminal prosecution, even though no additional criminal activity occurred. In a well-publicized case, a man ducked under a rope to enter a secured area in order to kiss his girlfriend good-bye. The man subsequently pleaded guilty to a charge of defiant trespass He was fined $500, ordered to pay court fees and costs of $158 and perform 100 hours of community service.

A Criminal Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding terrorism, related crimes, and violations of enhanced security measures can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.

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