Airport Security and Individual Liberty

The European Court of Human Rights, for the first time earlier this month, decided on an issue surrounding the deprivation of liberty in regards to airport security checks. The Court in Gahramanov v. Azerbaijan dismissed the airline passenger’s case, where he alleged his detention, at a security check at Baku Airport, was unlawful. The Court determined that the time he was held was not excessive and did not deprive him of his liberty.

Gahramanov, who was convicted of criminal offenses in 2002, was stopped at Baku Airport by passport control officials who determined he was on a list of Azerbaijan citizens that were considered suspect. He was held in a room without permission to leave, but was not handcuffed or confined, during which the State Border Services (SBS) attempted to clear up the situation. After the SBS discovered that his name erroneously remained on the suspect list, they allowed him to leave. The time in which Gahramanov was held is not clear: Gahramanov alleged it was for 4 hours while the SBS claimed it was only two. The Court did not resolve this issue.

Gahramanov relies on Article 5 § 1 to contend that he was detained for no legally legitimate reason. The Article states:

“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure preschribed by law:”

The Court determined that their examination of Article 5 § 1 involved assessing the specific situation of the case and evaluated certain factors such as time, effects, manner and type of the operations used. It determined that the means surrounding the detainment was important to ensure public safety and that the time Gahramanov was detained did not exceed the anticipated time for SBS to go through a background check.

Do you agree with the Court’s decision? Do you think the ECHR should have investigated the true timing Gahramanov was held instead of simply stating “it could not have exceeded a few hours”? Do you agree that the interest of public safety should trump one’s liberty rights?

Source: [ECHR]Image: [Airports International]




  1. If detentions like this are going to become the norm, there needs to be some accountability from those who are exercising their power. Investigations should have been done to ensure that this power is not abused and that redress can be given if necessary. Within that two to four hour timespan a lot could have happened that could have inconvenienced Gahramanov; such as missing his flight, extra payments for a transfer and just a bad feeling all around for being forced to be somewhere you don’t want to be. While it all turned out to be a mistake, it still is very troublesome for someone to be subject to unjust treatment and for there to be no concessions or remediation.

    Public safety should trump one’s liberty rights under the correct circumstances. The times we live in are not safe and danger is ever present, which forces security to be ever vigilant. However, just because we live in a dangerous time does not give anyone license to abuse their position of power. If their actions are seen as reasonable under the circumstances, after a proper investigation and all the facts are brought to light, then they should not be held liable. But, any abuses should be dealt with harshly because it delegitimizes the entire system and makes security forces and airline agents look less credible.

  2. I personally believe that airport security checks are very important to the safety of everyone boarding planes. I agree with Isaias that public safety should trump over one’s liberty when other lives on a plane might be at stake. The court should have done more extensive investigations regarding Gahramanov’s detention. Like Isaias said, we do not know exactly what was done during those three hours while Gahramanov was detained and this was crucial to know the extent of the deprivation of his liberty. Even though this detention turned out to be a mistake, I still believe that strict airport security checks are necessary in today’s day and age with all the violence and terrorism surrounding us. The method of conducting such security checks may need to be improved to avoid future conflicts such as this one.

  3. Public safety should trump over one’s liberty in certain specific situations. I agree with both Jonathan and Isaias that airports are one of those situations where public safety should trump over one’s liberties. Today’s world requires a high level of security procedures at airports. There are many potential lives at stake when it comes to airports and planes. However, the court here should have done a more thorough and proper investigation into Gahramanov’s detention. The circumstances regarding his detention are vague and unclear. Fortunately, his detention turned out to be a mistake. However, that does not change the fact that he had to stay in detention for two to four hours. He was undoubtedly inconvenienced by this detention. Therefore, while I do believe airport security checks are necessary in today’s day and age. This case makes the argument that these procedures do need to be improved.

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