Several news outlets (for instance, PBS here) have reported that Mall of America has taken suspicion a little too far and has created terrorism reports on visitors performing nothing but routine visiting. Some of these visitors have allegedly ended up on counterterrorism lists. Here is my first-hand account, sent to friends a few days after a bizarre incident occurred to me. It’s a first-hand account, unmodified (down to the very lazy all-lowercase spelling):
two very odd things happened on the way back, though: first, i decided to go to the mall of america, the largest mall in the midwest and probably in the united states. i spent a few hours there, checking out the stores (snooze!), taking a few pictures of the salient features (can you imagine they have an amusement park with actual roller coasters inside?), then sitting at a coffee shop with free wi-fi and check email and stuff.
i realized it was time to go and left. picked up my bag, thank goodness they have lockers there, and went to the car. there, a random person approached me and asked me if i wanted to take part in a security questionnaire. his whole demeanor smacked of marketing person trying to get me to buy something, but it turned out he was from mall security. he said he had seen me taking pictures inside (a lie, since he was in the parking lot before me, and there was no way he could have gotten there without me seeing him). he asked if he could see the pictures. i thought: oh, well, they have seen me taking pictures and are worried i might be a terrorist – that’s a worthy cause, let’s just show him the pics.
i showed him the pictures, harmless enough (i am not sure, though, what could have been harmful) and he asked me a bunch of questions about why i was at the mall, what my business was in minneapolis, and where i was heading. i told him i had to leave, since my plane was going to depart. he asked about my flight information and passed it on to someone on a security mic (you know, the ones that have the spiral cord that goes from the ear).
he then said that he wanted to take a picture of my driver’s license. i told him that i refused to hand my license over, and that i found that very intrusive. he asked me why i didn’t want him to have the license, and i told him that as far as i knew, he was a random person in the mall parking lot, and that i didn’t usually hand my personal information to a random person.
he then threatened to call the police. i looked at him blandly and said that was fine by me. he said that it would take longer, implying i might lose my flight. i told him that was fine by me: the mall was going to be more than happy to refund me for any costs incurred for my delay. he was taken aback by my response, but continued to press on. he said i had lost my rights by entering this private property – to which i replied that all the rights the property owner had was to ask for me to leave the property, which i intended to do, anyway. he then said if i left the property, i would be followed by police who would proceed to stop me. i told him that if minneapolis police stopped me for no reason, they would have to contend with my lawyer, and that if the reason was a false accusation from mall security, that the police would be highly unlikely to face the brunt of an inevitable lawsuit. especially if i happened to lose my flight.
i then told him that if he intended to detain me, he should say so. otherwise i was going to leave. he made noises, and i had to ask him several times. he then admitted he had no way to keep me there, whispered something about “not cooperating” into his mic, and let me go. isn’t that bizarre? the more i think about it, the less it seems that guy was, indeed, from mall security. he was totally unprofessional and incredibly obnoxious. i wonder if that’s a new trick they came up with to get people’s ID information for, i presume, credit card fraud or license fraud.
The thing I didn’t mention to my friends in this message is that, when the security person mentioned he was going to call police, I didn’t just say that I was fine with it and intimated that a delay for no reason would be something I would want to be compensated for. I told him that I was perfectly fine with a legitimate law enforcement professional to take my personal information, because I trusted them to do a good job at keeping my information private. I specifically told this guy that I didn’t want him to have my personal information, because I wanted to avoid it getting into the hands of a marketing department.
He said he was not from a marketing department, but I repeated that I had no idea who he was. It didn’t help that he flashed his ID badge for a fraction of a second and then retired it out of sight.
The thing that struck me the most, as I recall, was the utter lack of professionalism that this person displayed. Even when I told him why I objected to unreasonable requests, he continued to press on, piling on threats, not realizing that the ones he came up with were absolutely empty. All he could offer was that police would stop me as soon as I was outside the mall, and I could only wonder what strange person would feel so threatened by a police stop.
He even threatened to find out my license information from the license plate. As I pointed out to him that the car was obviously rented, since I had told him I was visiting from San Francisco, he told me he could find out my information. It was as if this man thought we live in a police state, where anyone can get any information on the pretense of security.
When the reports came out a few days ago, I was surprised. I wasn’t surprised about the reports, since I had undergone pretty much the same things as others reported. I was truly surprised by the fact the whole event wasn’t a hoax of sorts. What truly surprised me was that the person who introduced himself as a security guard at the Mall of America was, indeed, a security guard at the Mall of America. What surprised me was that the Mall of America considered taking pictures of roller coasters, suspicious activity – in November 2008, when this happened, just after the last presidential election.
The reason I found this all so surprising is that this mall carries “America” in its name. And America is a beautiful place made by and for a free people. And the Mall of America should feel shame for besmirching that beautiful name with practices as coercive and ugly as these.
[Note: my favorite story of the ones I heard is of this guy that sat down, waiting for his date to show up. He was writing in a notebook, checking the watch, looking up and around. Somehow mall security thought that very suspicious. I assume they thought he was writing down a secret terrorist plots to destroy the mall, and the part where he checked the watch and looked around was… what? Maybe he was trying to get the timing of security guards written down? Even when mall security interrogated the man and he explained what was going on, the officers wrote a detailed report they sent to the FBI, as a suspicious person report.]