Oct 4, 2007

Kwangju Mayor’s Case Not Planned

Kwangju Mayor’s Case Not Planned

Korea Times 11-14-2005 by
Sean Hayes

Dear Attorney Hayes: Why did a San Francisco Airport search for over an hour a mayor of a major Korean city? Is this just the U.S. trying to punish Koreans for not permissively following America? If the mayor is treated like this how will an average citizen be treated? From Worried and Angry in Yosu.

Dear Worried: According to Kwangju Mayor Park Gwang-tae, on Wednesday morning, the mayor and 18 members of his entourage were delayed in a San Francisco Airport for over an hour and a half. All members’ bags and personnel belongings were thoroughly searched. The group was visiting the U.S. to pitch investment opportunities in the Kwangju area.

The mayor, after and during the screening process, was furious and called for the U.S. to withdraw patriot missiles from the Kwangju area, for the U.S. government to apologize, and for the Korean government to do more ``thorough security inspections of Americans.’’ The mayor has vowed to take a more anti-American stance and claims that this problem has occurred because of the ``submissive’’ attitude of the Korean government towards issues related to the United States. He also noted that he saw many Americans and Japanese that were only subjected to a 10-minute search.

Worried, we must understand that this has nothing to do with the mayor being Korean and may have to do with his conviction by a Korean trial court of bribery.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies maintain lists of individuals that may pose a risk to airline security. Those placed on the list may receive exacting scrutiny before being allowed to board a domestic or international flight.

The two major lists are the ``no fly’’ and the ``selectee’’ lists. If a prospective passenger is on the ``no fly’’ list the airline is required to deny boarding and notify a security officer. The security officer may detain and question the individual. If a prospective passenger is on the ``selectee’’ list screening personnel are required to perform an enhanced screening of passengers. Also, some individuals are selected at random for enhanced screening. The lists have caused a great deal of embarrassment to innocent passengers that have been mistakenly placed on a list and accordingly subjected to heightened scrutiny by security personnel.

For example, the lists have erroneously included individuals that seem to pose little risk. Included on the lists were U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy and also the famous singer Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens). Also, many other average citizens have been subjected to enhanced screening including, an army sergeant, a retired reverend, a government attorney and even a mother flying with two young children.

A new pilot program entitled Secure Flight seems to address many of the problems associated with being improperly placed on a list, but still problems will occur and yes some innocent individuals will be subjected to more exacting security screening.

The Kwangju mayor undoubtedly was subjected to an embarrassing and frustrating situation, but the situation had little to do with the mayor being Korean. He may have been placed on the ``selectee’’ list or another list, since he was convicted of bribery and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail by a trial court (high court acquitted) or he more likely was randomly selected. The search, however, has nothing to do with the Korean government’s policies or the fact that he is Korean. Additionally, according to my Korean colleagues that have recently flown to the U.S., few have encountered serious delays.

So Worried, we all should question if these lists and random searches are really needed and whether they are constitutional, but we all should also understand that the chance of being subjected to a long search is rare and the chance of being on one of these lists is even rarer.

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SeanHayes@ipglegal.com