U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers cannot detain domestic flight passengers for suspicionless searches, per a settlement agreement nine Delta passengers reached with CBP, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today. The settlement comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Covington & Burling LLP in October 2017 on behalf of the nine passengers.
The passengers were held by CBP officers and required to show identity documents before they could deplane their flight from San Francisco to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
The Constitution protects passengers deplaning domestic flights just as it protects people on the street or in a car. CBP is bound by those protections, and this settlement helps make sure the agency stays within those bounds.
Under the settlement agreement, CBP will issue a new policy directive to CBP officers nationwide making clear that they must comply with the Fourth Amendment. The directive also establishes that, contrary to previous CBP assertions, the agency “does not have a policy or routine practice of compelling or requesting that passengers deplaning domestic flights submit to suspicionless document checks.” CBP will also pay to compensate for litigation expenses.
If CBP officers seek to conduct ID checks on domestic air passengers, the directive provides clear protocols restricting the searches. CBP officers must communicate to all passengers that the searches are voluntary; ask airline personnel to similarly communicate over the plane’s speaker that the searches are voluntary; maintain an unobstructed path for passengers to get off the plane; and make clear if asked that passengers who choose not to show their IDs will not be punished as a result.