Steve Bierfeldt works for the Campaign for Liberty, libertarian congressman Ron Paul’s popular political advocacy group. After a meeting of the organization in St. Louis, Missouri, Bierfeldt was detained and harassed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the federal government agency responsible for airport security – because they wanted to know why he was carrying a box with $4700 cash in it.

When they demanded to know where he got the cash, who it belonged to and why he was carrying it onto a plane, Bierfeldt asked, “Am I legally required to answer the question?” After hearing this answer several times, the TSA guys got into a tailspin: they became belligerent, threatened to take him to the police station and told him he’d have to answer to the DEA and the FBI. (Hear the audio here.)

I have these thoughts about this incident:

1) It confirms the feelings of many who travel by air in America today that their rights and experiences are not held to be particularly important by those in authority at U.S. airports. The words of Benjamin Franklin spring to mind: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Transportation security probably isn’t what he had in mind, but the concept fits (see below).

2) Of course this isn’t about some government agents finding out what the money was for; it isn’t about the government knowing how many guns you own or what you had for breakfast today. It is about the principle determining the role of government and its ever-increasing dominance over individuals, its infringing on rights which exist regardless of the many purposes they are exercised. What the money was for is irrelevant; that the individual possessing it has discretion – that it’s none of the government’s business, that it is not within the remit of our government to deny freedom of movement to someone who is carrying their money around – is paramount.

3) I don’t think the TSA guys wished to trample on Bierfeldt’s rights. Rather, I think they’re simply not very well trained or informed about the rights of individuals in the United States, such as the right to ask for clarification of the law as it pertains to the interview. It is not a crime to carry cash of which you have legal possession, a fact which the TSA seems particularly reluctant to affirm. It seems the TSA is so focused on ‘security’ that it has become blind to ‘liberty’. Perhaps a little refresher on what exactly they’re supposed to be securing would be in order? “You want to be a smartass, and I’m not going to play your fucking game…” is not the correct law enforcement answer to a question asking what the law is.

4) The TSA officials couldn’t seem to grasp that there would be any legitimate reason to withhold information from them, ever. Government has simply gotten so big, so demanding, so big for its boots, that it is utterly perplexed when private, law-abiding individuals wish to exercise their rights to privacy. In other words, government has become so completely used to the idea that government is ‘in charge’ that its agents find it almost unfathomable that a private citizen should be able to carry on any business whatsoever that doesn’t concern the government!

That is the main story here. That’s what’s got to change.

5) Finally: A continual source of interest for me is the relationship that technology has to freedom, and vice versa. While most technology is freedom-enhancing in the hands of individuals and corporations, some of it can be used to infringe on liberty instead. On this occasion, Bierfeldt’s Apple iPhone preserved a crystal clear recording of this incident for our scrutiny. Perhaps Bierfeldt can tell me which app he used to bug the room he was in – I use an app called SpeakEasy to record audio on my iPhone – clearly it has some very important uses I didn’t quite consider before today!

(Another liberty-enhancing app, Skype for iPhone, just became available and allows well-encrypted conversations to take place in complete privacy for free. The U.S. government, angry that they can’t wiretap Skype calls in the manner they can ordinary phone calls, has demanded that Skype allow them to do so. This is, essentially, the same syndrome of the above: the government does not like the idea that citizens can have private conversations that it is not able to listen to. Thus far, Skype has stated it is unwilling to comply with the government’s pompous demands.)

Warning to all government agencies who may infringe on the rights of individual free citizens: we’re on to you, computers in our pockets at the ready.