News & Politics

Man Detained by TSA for Having 4th Amendment Written on Naked Chest Wins Case

In 2010, Aaron Tobey engaged in a silent protest over airport security procedures by writing the 4th Amendment on his chest.

A passenger is scanned by a TSA agent at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on February 05, 2009.
Photo Credit: Carolina K. Smith MD /

In 2010, Aaron Tobey was handcuffed and detained by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for 90 minutes after engaging in a silent protest. But now it’s Tobey who could get the last laugh.

Last week, Tobey won the right to go to trial over his lawsuit seeking $250,000 in damages after being detained by the TSA over alleged “disorderly conduct.” Tobey was handcuffed and detained after he “wrote an abbreviated version of the Fourth Amendment on his body and stripped to his shorts at an airport security screening area,” according to Wired magazine. The words were written on his chest in black magic marker.

The federal lawsuit claims violations of the First and Fourth Amendments.

“Tobey didn’t want to go through the advanced imaging technology X-ray machines, or so-called nude body scanners, that were cropping up at airports nationwide,” notes Wired. “Instead, when it was his turn to be screened, he was going to opt for an intrusive pat-down, and removed most of his clothing in the process.”

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to allow Tobey to go to trial reverses a lower court judge’s decision. Judge Roger Gregory defended Tobey’s protest in the decision: “Mr. Tobey engaged in a silent, peaceful protest using the text of our Constitution—he was well within the ambit of First Amendment protections. And while it is tempting to hold that First Amendment rights should acquiesce to national security in this instance, our Forefather Benjamin Franklin warned against such a temptation...We take heed of his warning and are therefore unwilling to relinquish our First Amendment protections—even in an airport.”

While Tobey was being detained by the TSA, they asked him about “his affiliation with, or knowledge of, any terrorist organizations, if he had been asked to do what he did by any third party, and what his intentions and goals were.”

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018