January 7, 2003  ·  Lessig

This is a great story of a citizen standing up for his rights against petty fascism. Didn’t hurt that he’s an amazing and famous comedian. Don’t try this without being famous.

  • http://michaeljennings.blogspot.com Michael Jennings

    What I find remarkable about this story is how sympathetic the policeman was.

    I have had similar things happen to me, but not in airports. In Australia, it is fairly common for shops to put a sign up saying “We reserve the right to search the bags of anyone entering this store” and to have a burly guard standing at the door on the way out searching peoples bags. I grew up in Australia and just saw this practice as normal. However, after living in England for a few years, where the practice is clearly illegal and everyone knows this, I returned to Australia and discovered I was outraged by it.

    Of course, even in Australia these guards do not actually have the right to search your bags (and shops probably do not have the right to put up such a misleading sign, but they none the less do). In stores owned by large public companies, this has generally been explained to the guards posted at the door, and if they ask if they can search your bags and you say “no”, that is the end of it. (Stores owned by some particular companies are distincly better than others, though). The trouble generally stems from smaller stores that see this practice taking place in larger stores, and without knowing the law assume that they actually do have a right to search your bags. In such situations I have had bags and other objects I was carrying grabbed from me without my having given any position, I have been chased down the street as I walked away, and in once instance I was physically pushed in the chest to prevent me from walking away. In such circumstances, I would like to ask the shop to call the police, but (sadly) I have no expectation that the police would be sympathetic. (If I was famous though, I might well try it).

    These days, I tend to open my bag and let the guard look inside, and as I do so I carefully explain the law to him. However, when I do this they normally look at me as if I am a Martian.

    What does this prove: well, I guess that if the violation your rights becomes common practice, then it doesn’t really matter what the law says. In that case the right is generally gone.

  • Adam Shostack

    The follow on article, at http://pennandteller.com/sincity/penniphile/roadpennworkingclass.html
    is also worth reading. Penn decides not to sue for very good reasons.

  • http://joshsargent.com SArge

    That’s crazy!