TSA wants to know what you're reading

  • 28 June 2017
  • NormanL
TSA wants to know what you're reading

The Transportation Security Administration has long been a thorn in the side of airline passengers, and those of us who resent having our Fourth Amendment rights routinely violated. Not content to stand on its already bad reputation, the agency is now considering having passengers remove their reading material from carry on bags for screening.

...the TSA began testing the new security requirement for books and other paper products at airports in Missouri and California earlier this month. The new screening process requires passengers to remove all reading material and food from their carry-ons and place them in a bin.

Travelers already have to remove laptops from carry-on bags and place them in a separate bin. The new policy would let TSA employees flip through books to see if anything is hidden in their pages.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” in late May that the department would “likely” expand the new carry-on policy nationwide.
“What we’re doing now is working out the tactics, techniques, and procedures, if you will, in a few airports, to find out exactly how to do that with the least amount of inconvenience to the traveler,” Kelly said at the time.

The ACLU, which every now and then remembers that its mission is to protect civil liberties, is not happy:

The rationale for the policy change given by Kelly and the TSA is that the imposition of growing fees for checked baggage by the airlines has prompted passengers to more densely pack their carry-ons, and that this has made it harder for screeners to identify particular items amid the jumble of images appearing on their screens. Laptops must already be pulled out separately because they are regarded as a heightened threat and can be better examined if they are not scanned in a bag with many other objects. It is not clear to me whether books are also regarded as a special threat or whether they are hard for the TSA to distinguish from explosives. I do know from a tour I was given of the TSA’s testing facility a few years ago that the scanners highlight items that are especially dense, and items that are organic (since explosives are made of organic, i.e. carbon-based, matter). That’s probably why the agency thinks it would speed things along to pull out food and books.

That said, books raise very special privacy issues. As my colleague Nicole Ozer has discussed, there is a long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one’s reading habits in the United States, not only through numerous Supreme Court and other court decisions, but also through state laws that criminalize the violation of public library reading privacy or require a warrant to obtain book sales, rental, or lending records.

Safe to say the TSA isn't interested in good literature. But should the TSA extend its snooping to book bags nationwide, we do have book suggestions for air travellers looking to make a statement.

Such as this treatise on the Fourth Amendment -- "The Fourth Amendment: Its History and Interpretation."

Or a classic, like Hayek's "The Constitution of Liberty."

And there's always "The Federalist Papers."

And, of course, the Constitution of the United States.


Primary Image
Image of The Fourth Amendment: Its History and Interpretation
Manufacturer: Carolina Academic Press
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Price: $90.00
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Image of The Constitution of Liberty
Manufacturer: The University of Chicago Press
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Price: $26.00
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Image of The Constitution of the United States
Manufacturer: National Center for Constitutional Studies
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Price: $1.50
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Image of The Federalist Papers (Signet Classics)
Manufacturer: Signet
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Price: $7.95