Federal drug agents may be racially profiling and unjustly seizing cash from travelers in the nation’s airports, bus stations and train stations. A new report released by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice examined the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s controversial use of “cold consent.”

In a cold consent encounter, a person is stopped if an agent thinks that person’s behavior fits a drug courier profile. Or an agent can stop a person cold “based on no particular behavior,” according to the Inspector General report. The agent then asks people they have stopped for consent to question them and sometimes to search their possessions as well. By gaining consent, law enforcement officers can bypass the need for a warrant.

But after reviewing the DEA’s policies, the Inspector General concluded, “cold consent encounters and searches can raise civil rights concerns.” In one incident, DEA agents cold-stopped an African-American woman at an airport and allegedly subjected her to “aggressive and humiliating questioning”; the woman was a Pentagon lawyer and travelling on government business.

Little wonder research by the U.S. Department of Justice found that cold consent encounters are “more often associated with racial profiling than contacts based on previously acquired information.” Cold consent has even been compared to stop-and-frisk.

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