On November 15, 2009, Phil Mocek stepped into the main>"/>
On November 15, 2009, Phil Mocek stepped into the main terminal at the Albuquerque International Sunport planning to board a Southwest Airlines flight bound for SeaTac. He carried with him two pieces of luggage, a boarding pass, and a cell phone capable of recording audio and video. What he didn't have was a valid form of identification--no driver's license, no passport, nothing. So when Mocek reached the front of the line at the airport security checkpoint, the TSA worker asked him to step aside for further questioning. A few hours later, Mocek's flight touched down in Washington. He wasn't on board. Instead, the 37-year-old software developer was stuck inside a cell at the Albuquerque jail.
When Mocek attempted to record his conversation with the TSA checkpoint workers, they summoned both the Albuquerque police and the FBI. Mocek was eventually arrested and charged with four misdemeanors: trespassing, disorderly conduct, refusing to obey an officer, and concealing his identity.
Tomorrow, after more than a year of legal wrangling, Mocek goes on trial in Albuquerque for the charges. Civil-liberties advocates are paying close attention to the proceedings.
Edward Hasbrouck, founder of the Identity Project, a nonprofit organization that "builds public awareness about the effects of ID requirements on fundamental rights," says Mocek's case marks the first time anyone has ever challenged the TSA's authority to question and detain travelers.
"[TSA] wants people to show ID and submit to a search and groping, but there's no legal basis for most of this," Hasbrouck says. "The TSA relies fundamentally on intimidation. The ultimate threat is 'We'll call the local police.' And when they're called in, they don't say 'We don't see a crime here.' They get that person out of there."
Mocek is being represented in court by Nancy Hollander, a New Mexico defense attorney renowned for representing two Guantanamo Bay detainees. Both Hollander and Mocek declined to comment on the case pending the outcome of the trial, which is expected to take two to three days.
Mocek, in addition to his work as a software developer, is a local activist involved with Seattle's Cannabis Defense Coalition. He's also affiliated with a movement called "Freedom Flyers," which challenges the government's authority to enact restrictions on air travel, such as ID requirements at TSA checkpoints.
According to the TSA's website it's possible to pass through security without showing a photo ID. Passengers, the website says, "will have to provide information" that verifies their identity and then they "may be subject to additional screening."
When Mocek was pulled aside by TSA workers and questioned about his identity, police reports say he started, "causing a disturbance and yelling." They say he shouted, "'I know my rights!'" with a voice that was loud enough to cause other passengers "to hesitate before continuing through the checkpoint."
When police were summoned, Mocek refused to give his name and other personal information, and as a result he is referred to as "John Doe" in places in the reports. He was ordered to leave the airport and refused, after which he was arrested.
Mocek filed a public records request for the police reports, as well as the audio from police radio conversations during the incident and the video from airport security cameras. He posted the information on his personal website. The pdfs of the police reports are embedded below.
Although TSA workers and police claimed Mocek was not allowed to record at the airport, he actually had received written permission in advance from the New Mexico TSA to do just that. He posted the e-mail exchange on the website FlyerTalk.
Hasbrouck says the audio and video directly contradict the police's assertion that he was acting belligerently. "He was doing nothing wrong," Hasbrouck says. "He was not causing any kind of disturbance, if you look at the audio and video it's quite clear. Instead, they trumped up a rather bizarre collection of charges. How can he be trespassing if he was in an airport with a valid ticket?"
Mocek, who traveled to New Mexico for his court date via train, has received more than $3,000 in donations for his legal defense via supporters at FlyerTalk and the Cannabis Defense Coalition.
Hasbrouck, who publishes the travel book series The Practical Nomad, says he's not surprised Mocek has support in the frequent-flyer community--even though his checkpoint antics would likely cause serious delays for anyone passing through security.
"We get calls all the time [at the Identity Project] saying, 'This outrageous thing happened to me,'" Hasbrouck says. "A lot more people would do something about it if they weren't intimidated. This is an important precedent to see if people see TSA's threats as increasingly hollow or if they'll be able to continue threatening people."