The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is testing out a new program in which all books would need to be removed from carry-on baggage and subject to closer inspection. Is this 1984?
With proliferating fees for checked and larger cabin baggage, travelers are densely packing their carry-on bags. The TSA claims this has made screening more difficult. As a result, a new pilot program requiring all books, paper materials, and food to be removed from carry-on baggage aims to better search for explosives and other dangerous contraband. The expanded screening is being tested at a couple (undisclosed) small airports in Missouri and California.
Last month, the TSA rolled out a program in Kansas City (MCI) that required passengers to remove all paper from their carry-on bags. It did not go well and was stopped after a few days. Now the agency is trying again. Based upon the results of the pilot program, the TSA may roll out screening changes nationwide.
It’s one thing to remove a closed laptop from your bag. It’s quite another to remove a book. Jay Stanley, a Senior Policy Analyst at the ACLU, is concerned.
[B]ooks 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.
And we know that in the airline screening environment in particular, there have been multiple cases where passengers have been singled out because of their First Amendment-protected expressions. For example, in 2010 the ACLU sued on behalf of a man who was abusively interrogated, handcuffed, and detained for nearly five hours because he was carrying a set of Arabic-language flash cards and a book critical of U.S. foreign policy. We also know that the DHS database known as the “Automated Targeting System,” which tracks information on international travelers, has included notations in travelers’ permanent files about controversial books in their possession.
I tend to echo those concerns. At the same time, if densely packed bags and books in particular represent a genuine security concern, then I am not 100% opposed to this measure. I just hope it does not apply to PreCheck…
Will the TSA soon be reading your books? We should soon know.