TSA's Ideal Laptop Bag

This seems not to be a joke.

The Transportation Security Administration is interested in evaluating -- and eventually approving –- the design of certain laptop bags, so travelers would be permitted to pass through security checkpoints without having to remove their laptops.

[...]

To accomplish this, the TSA RFI pointed out that the laptop bag would need to meet the following requirements:

  • The carrying bag cannot exceed any one of the proposed dimensions – 16 inches in height, 24 inches wide and 36 inches long.

  • The materials that make up the bag cannot degrade the quality of the X-ray image of the laptop.

  • No straps, pockets, zippers, handles or closures of the bag can interfere with the image of the laptop.

  • No electronics, chargers, batteries, wires, paper products, pens or other contents of the bag can shield the image of the laptop.

TSA is inviting bag designers and manufacturers to come up with creative ways to meet these design requirements, but it has also suggested three concepts of its own:

  • A bag that would open completely, and lie horizontally on the X-ray belt, such that one side with hold only the laptop.

  • A bag that would open completely, leaving the laptop standing vertically, supported by clips.

  • A bag that would pull apart in separate compartments, with one compartment containing only the laptop.

Doesn't sound like a particularly useful laptop bag.

Posted on March 7, 2008 at 10:42 AM • 72 Comments

Comments

AngusMarch 7, 2008 11:14 AM

The second option sounds bizarre; do the X-ray machines take multiple angles of views through the luggage? I'd always assumed they took plan view only. Leaving the laptop vertical would get a very busy, very small image in that case.

Clive RobinsonMarch 7, 2008 11:19 AM

Sounds like a solution looking for a problem.

And a very bad solution to start of with.

Somthing tells me that as an Exec's time is considered valuble then these bags will not only happen but fairly quickly.

The question then is how long will it be before the IT support bods start getting upset.

My real concern however is how long before the TSA can't be botherd to XRay them at all... Then we realy will be (potentialy) in trouble.

TamasMarch 7, 2008 11:31 AM

Yes! I have always thought that the sole purpose of my laptop bag should be to satisfy the TSA. Protection of the laptop is of secondary interest.

Eventually, they should also help in the development of shoes (eg with easily detachable soles, you get the idea) and clothing designed for easier screening. The TSA could then sponsor fashion shows featuring these items.

Petréa MitchellMarch 7, 2008 11:32 AM

Sure it's useful-- to the TSA. The nearest analagous thing that springs to mind is the recurring theme on Web Pages That Suck of companies that design their Web sites to meet their own needs, rather than those of their customers.

Since I couldn't get parenthesized link to Web Pages That Suck to work: http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/

(Boy, I wish we could use anchor tags here.)

@jammit:

Here's an opening for the XO (the "one laptop per child" laptop) and its imitators-- they're supposed to be rugged and functional enough that you can carry them around and use them with no bag and no accessories. But then that raises the issue of convincing the TSA people that this hideous green thing with the weird-looking GUI is a real laptop.

ashMarch 7, 2008 11:34 AM

Some company's gonna make overpriced "TSA Approved" bags and there's gonna be lots of buyers. Quite surely. "TSA Approved" certainly sounds like an excellent marketing tool too. This is so funny...

ashMarch 7, 2008 11:37 AM

I also hope people will get out of the notion that their life and purchases *doesn't* revolve around them making life "easier" for TSA.

david t-gMarch 7, 2008 11:43 AM

Maybe I'm missing something here, but I don't think it's a terrible idea. I don't know what materials will "interfere with the image of the laptop" but I would kill to have a bag that zipped all the way around and opened flat -- preferably for *every* pocket -- whether or not I'm a frequent flyer.

The important question is what materials., I admit If cushy padding interferes with the image, then pretty much nothing will do -- but if some airy little padding obscures then I don't see how anyone could get away without an entire disassembly since lots of things in the laptop are denser than padding.

Once the One True Approved Bag come out there will be knock-offs for everyone and they'll still even work at the theaters. Sounds good to me.

Michael AshMarch 7, 2008 11:44 AM

Can the TSA detect all bag-related interference with the laptop image? It seems like it would be possible to take an Official Bag and modify it internally with some pieces which block the ability to see the bomb while giving the appearance of being a normal laptop. As Bruce has pointed out many times before, by creating a preferred security path you just invite adversaries to take advantage of it.

BobMarch 7, 2008 11:52 AM

Having just completed a business trip to Boston, I think TSA should be more worried that laptops are not removed from their bags for incoming visitors any more.

I think Heathrow upgraded their scanners, perhaps that would be smarter than trying to issue TSA-approved bags.

alanMarch 7, 2008 11:58 AM

The TSA bag will also have a slot for how new and fast the laptop is so they can determine if they want to take it for further "examination" on eBay.

Stephen WaitsMarch 7, 2008 12:00 PM

TSA's gone completely commercial. What other point is there to this than to make money by licensing "TSA Approved" tags to bag manufactureres?

I don't know about your airport, but at mine all of the goofy plastic bins now have advertisments pasted in the bottom. WTF?

Now.. TSA, as a whole, probably isn't making a ton of money off of this.. But I guarantee that someone, somewhere, is making out in these deals. After all, money makes the world go 'round.

GeorgeMarch 7, 2008 12:04 PM

Assume that the TSA and some luggage manufacturer (perhaps one that's a generous Republican donor?) agree on an "approved" laptop bag and everyone goes out and buys one. Knowing the TSA, there are still guaranteed to be a significant number of screeners who aren't aware of it or who choose to ignore it ("I don't care if it's TSA approved. If you want to fly today you'll take it out of the bag NOW!!!). Or else some local TSA managers will arbitrarily decide that laptops still have to come out of the bags at THEIR airport because it makes things easier for their screeners. We have "TSA-approved" locks that still regularly get snipped off because it's easier for baggage screeners to use bolt cutters than to fish for the correct key (and besides, nobody is watching them so the owner will never know who is responsible).

With the TSA, passengers just can't win no matter how carefully they follow what they believe are the rules. But we wouldn't want it any other way-- as Kippie said, unpredictability is what keeps us safe!

HenstromMarch 7, 2008 12:05 PM

.

...that these type of Kafkaesque government pronouncements are so obediently & noncritically relayed through the dominant media is much of the problem.

General searches of the traveling public at airports by federal TSA agents are direct and outrageous violations of the U.S. Constitution (4th Amendment) and all state Constitutions. But once that minor technicality is ignored by the media, they become quite interested in government efforts to improve the scope and efficiency of such illegal mass searches.

There are countless media articles & advice on how people can better cooperate with TSA searchers and ease the burden on these selfless public servants... citizens should carefully prepare themselves and their luggage for warrantless government searches, and dutifully obey all TSA instructions (..no matter how surreal or legally absurd).

Within a few years the TSA will surely require all passengers to don paper hospital-gowns ... to improve TSA body searches in security-screening. The media will welcome such brilliant innovation, and their advertisers will offer entire fashion lines of designer hospital-gowns -- so one can still look good while traveling.

No sense in using standard old laptop bags ... or drab TSA-issued hospital-gowns -- full cooperation and obedience are the hallmarks of modern citizens (?)

Carlo GrazianiMarch 7, 2008 12:06 PM

While I agree that this is an inferior solution to, say, abolishing the TSA or replacing its partially-trained monkey staff with fully-trained monkeys, as work-arounds go the special-purpose laptop bag is not the worst idea I've heard.

A padded pouch that flaps out wouldn't be a terrible thing --- you open the bag flat (two sections), unfold the pouch flap (now there are three sections), and lay the three-sectioned object that results flat on the belt, with the laptop in the third section, the pouch.

On the other end, you fold it up and zip it shut.

I might buy one if the price is right. Reassembling all my scattered crap on the other end of the checkpoint is always such a nuisance, that not having to segregate the laptop out into its own bin is worth something.

HenstromMarch 7, 2008 12:06 PM

.

...that these type of Kafkaesque government pronouncements are so obediently & noncritically relayed through the dominant media is much of the problem.

General searches of the traveling public at airports by federal TSA agents are direct and outrageous violations of the U.S. Constitution (4th Amendment) and all state Constitutions. But once that minor technicality is ignored by the media, they become quite interested in government efforts to improve the scope and efficiency of such illegal mass searches.

There are countless media articles & advice on how people can better cooperate with TSA searchers and ease the burden on these selfless public servants... citizens should carefully prepare themselves and their luggage for warrantless government searches, and dutifully obey all TSA instructions (..no matter how surreal or legally absurd).

Within a few years the TSA will surely require all passengers to don paper hospital-gowns ... to improve TSA body searches in security-screening. The media will welcome such brilliant innovation, and their advertisers will offer entire fashion lines of designer hospital-gowns -- so one can still look good while traveling.

No sense in using standard old laptop bags ... or drab TSA-issued hospital-gowns -- full cooperation and obedience are the hallmarks of modern citizens (?)

Thirsty FlyerMarch 7, 2008 12:10 PM

@Michael Ash

> it would be possible to take an
> Official Bag and modify it internally
> with some pieces which block the
> ability to see the bomb

Interesting. At the very least, I'd really like to be able to smuggle some water on board. A surreptitious Camelbak.

Way cool.

HarryMarch 7, 2008 12:14 PM

This does not strike me as a bad idea at all (I will admit to doubts about option #2). I've seen bags that fit the first and third descriptions. It would be nice to be able to unfold the computer bag without having to remove the computer, and the benefits would accrue to everyone - TSA, other travelers, companions - not just the computer owner.

AFAIK TSA does not benefit financially by creating standards for "TSA approved" or "TSA compliant" items. Such as the locks.

From a security standpoint I consider the locks a bad idea. They use a very simple key and there are a LOT of authorized users out there. IOW, too many masters from which an unscrupulous person could create a dup and - presto! - s/he's in my bag. TSA can break into my lock if they need to see inside, and I carry a spare in case they do.

(Once I deliberately left my bag unlocked as I'd bought a replica cannon made of metal. I thought about leaving a note and asking them to lock up after themselves if they could.)

AnonymousMarch 7, 2008 12:25 PM

@Harry

"From a security standpoint I consider the locks a bad idea."

Indeed.

http://download.security.org/...

"Once I deliberately left my bag unlocked as I'd bought a replica cannon made of metal."

Sounds like a fine item for carry-on! ;-)

I don't lock bags anymore: waste of time and money. This upsets people I know, particularly the ones with lock fetishes. The aforementioned report notes the usual problems.

rapier57March 7, 2008 12:37 PM

@Harry: Re: TSA Locks. You don't even need a duped master, just a hairpin or paper clip. Nothing secure about those locks. Just a waste of tax money to develop.

As is this project. TSA has waaaayyyy too much money to spend when it thinks it has to re-engineer our lives to fit their needs. The TSA Gangstaz YouTube was very appropriate. TSA is nothing but hole into which tax money is poured, and from which nothing of any value is returned.

David DonahueMarch 7, 2008 12:47 PM

My take on this is that anything that increases the speed and ease through which I pass through security checkpoints is a move towards the better.

Scanning laptops is silly security theater in any case, so I'm all for ANYTHING that makes these checks faster, it doesn't matter if the change makes the security improve or not, as long as I and everyone in front of me, get through the line faster (without sacrificing additional privacy) .

KaukomieliMarch 7, 2008 12:49 PM

The third option doesn't sound that stupid to me - and my laptop-bag almost fullfils this proposal. It is a backpack with one compartment for the laptop directly at my backside, then another compartment for cables and stuff (and some smaller bags etc.). If the zippers on the laptop-compartment where just a little longer I could zip them down to the bottom, splitting the rest from it. When I lay it on the belt nothing interferes with the xray-image of the laptop, since this part has no zippers etc. on its own.

Clive RobinsonMarch 7, 2008 1:34 PM

For those "following the money" argument a little thought.

How much does a nice new shiny scanning machine with all the bells and whistles cost?

Now work out how much it costs to keep a few of the old crapy scanning machines going.

Ok now the problem with old machines is they cannot cope with even a moderate laptop bag.

Solution, invent a new bag that makes it easier for the crapy old scanners to still work.

So figure money saved pluss a little extra for the logo. To make it all work you give prefrence to TSA bag carrying people (God it sounds like a union 8)

The result people do what you want.

And who realy cares about the security hole created you dont actually think that most of the TSA people can actualy spot a bomb unless it has a metal detonator the size of your thumb and wires you could use to tow a car with clearly in the middle of the screen.

If you do go back and read just how many scrreaners miss things like the guns etc they use for training...

Don MonroeMarch 7, 2008 1:36 PM

My eight-year-old Tecra laptop backtop already satisfies proposal number 1: it zips all the way down to open flat, with the laptop still velcro'd in on one side and all the other stuff on the other.

All they had to do was ask.

David G. HolmMarch 7, 2008 2:00 PM

There's no need to "invent" a new type of bag. It already exists.

I have a bag from U.S. Luggage (I bought it at Staples 2 years ago) with a separate compartment for the laptop. It zips open from the side.

The laptop goes into a padded carry bag that slides into the compartment.

opposite dayMarch 7, 2008 2:04 PM

How about the opposite?

If enough people carried bags made out of materials that obscured x-ray analysis, would TSA be forced to change their procedure in the face of mounting delays at the security checkpoint?

What kind of materials obscure x-rays anyway, and can you make bags out of them

AnonymousMarch 7, 2008 2:38 PM

@opposite day

"How about the opposite?"

After the first few episodes, someone at TSA would scribble affix a note to the metal detector gate that reads something like "People who use carry-on baggage that absorbs x-rays will be required to submit to secondary and tertiary screening processes."

Somewhere on this note will be a small picture of a rubber glove.

antimediaMarch 7, 2008 2:50 PM

"A bag that would open completely, and lie horizontally on the X-ray belt, such that one side with hold only the laptop."

My laptop bag already meets this standard. It would be nice not to have to remove it from the bag.

antimediaMarch 7, 2008 2:54 PM

@ opposite day "How about the opposite?

If enough people carried bags made out of materials that obscured x-ray analysis, would TSA be forced to change their procedure in the face of mounting delays at the security checkpoint?

What kind of materials obscure x-rays anyway, and can you make bags out of them"

Apparently you don't travel by air. Right now you have to REMOVE your laptop and run it through the xray machine separately. Being able to leave it in the bag would be less hassle and make it less likely to get swapped for someone else's laptop.

Scott KMarch 7, 2008 3:05 PM

Most modern x-ray scanners a) do scan from multiple directions, and b) can identify quite a few different materials by density and level of metal content. (Also, I've seen the x-ray scans of my work laptop's bag, containing laptop, bundles of cables, connectors, and accessories, plus stacks of papers and labels--and lo, it looks like a laptop stacked with cables and connectors, in a bag.)

pranksterMarch 7, 2008 3:06 PM

This gives me an idea. A very thin spread of lead or similar x-ray absorbing substance stitched into the lining of a bag, carefully cut into shapes that spell out interesting messages to the TSA workers.

The trick would be making it thin enough so it would just /barely/ show up on the x-ray scanner. A slight ghost-image above the contents of your luggage...

TSA employeeMarch 7, 2008 3:07 PM

I work for TSA... don't hate, participate... these are the laws that the Bush administration developed to protect the flying public. And who elected the Bush administration?--- the flying public itself... next time you get your perfume or bottle of water taken away remember that you yourself put the vote in the ballot box...

Pilots can kiss my ass they are the most arrogant bit*es that ever lived on the face of the earth...

Gorge DoucheMarch 7, 2008 3:15 PM

hmm...how about a bag that would disassemble the laptop after unfolding itself? Those damn laptops...and libertarians...

alanMarch 7, 2008 3:17 PM

"Civil disobedience is still disobedience and will be punished accordingly."

Anything done to rebel or buck the system will be handled with reprisals. Either you will be forced to endure further humiliation, seizure/theft of assets, and/or physical punishment.

You assume that because the government says "Democracy" on the label that it actually contains anything resembling the components of a functioning Democracy.

Michael AshMarch 7, 2008 3:25 PM

@TSA employee

Thanks for such a vivid example of what is so wrong with the TSA. And for the record, I certainly never put any vote for Bush in any ballot box, so acting as though I'm in any way personally responsible for the current mess is rather mean-spirited.

arrogant flyerMarch 7, 2008 3:27 PM

re: TSA ,"Pilots can kiss my ass they are the most arrogant bit*es that ever lived on the face of the earth.."

Well lets talk about TSA people who yell at little old ladies, yeah I've seen twice at 2 airports. How about TSA being helping themselves to people property, or loading drugs/guns onto planes? Orlando ring a bell?

I could do this all day, TSA is a joke.

PS: since when is it ok to look at my private wedding photos? or ask how much money we make? or take my cell phone and go thur the text-call -number logs?

alanMarch 7, 2008 3:27 PM

@TSA employee: "I work for TSA... don't hate, participate... these are the laws that the Bush administration developed to protect the flying public."

Bull! Whenever people have tried to challenge the rules and take this nonsense to court they have been told by this administration "Suck it!". These are arbitrary rules made by people who are accountable to no one. They don't help. They just cause frustration among the general public. They have all but destroyed our tourism industry. Telling people that by voting they can change this is at best a lie.

When you have a congress by their tapped phone conversations, their hearts and minds will follow.

gopiMarch 7, 2008 3:28 PM

@TSA Employee:
"Pilots can kiss my ass they are the most arrogant bit*es that ever lived on the face of the earth..."

I see you're working hard to unseat pilots and take your rightful position at the top.

CMMarch 7, 2008 3:37 PM

The UK, which kicked off the liquids 'n' gels paranoia, now insists laptops stay in bags (as of mid Jan). Tiny drops of liuquids are still confiscated, shoes are randomly removed or left on depending on the shift workers. The inconsitency in air travel security must be a deliberate effective policy or else it's all madness (and it can't be that, can it?).

shoobe01March 7, 2008 3:56 PM

> A bag that would open completely, and lie horizontally on the X-ray belt, such that one side with hold only the laptop.

Yeah... Those already exist. The ones where you have the computer semi-permanently in its case, for comfort and protection while computing, I guess. I have seen folks go through the machine with them just unfolded so the computer is exposed. When I saw it, no one gave him trouble over it.

Though I am sure since then he's been cavity searched for trying to thwart some unwritten rule or other.

joeMarch 7, 2008 4:45 PM

while they're at it, they might as well give a definition of a "laptop", because apparently the new Macbook Air is causing some problems
http://www.michaelnygard.com/blog/2008/03/...

[quote]
I'm standing, watching my laptop on the table, listening to security clucking just behind me. "There's no drive," one says. "And no ports on the back. It has a couple of lines where the drive should be," she continues.

A younger agent, joins the crew. I must now be occupying ten, perhaps twenty, percent of the security force. At this checkpoint anyway. There are three score more at the other five checkpoints. The new arrival looks at the printouts from x-ray, looks at my laptop sitting small and alone. He tells the others that it is a real laptop, not a "device". That it has a solid-state drive instead of a hard disc. They don't know what he means. He tries again, "Instead of a spinning disc, it keeps everything in flash memory." Still no good. "Like the memory card in a digital camera." He points to the x-ray, "Here. That's what it uses instead of a hard drive."

The senior agent hasn't been trained for technological change. New products on the market? They haven't been TSA approved. Probably shouldn't be permitted. He requires me to open the "device" and run a program. I do, and despite his inclination, the lead agent decides to release me and my troublesome laptop. My flight is long gone now, so I head for the service center to get rebooked.

Behind me, I hear the younger agent, perhaps not realizing that even the TSA must obey TSA rules, repeating himself.

"It's a MacBook Air."
[/quote]

SethMarch 7, 2008 4:56 PM

It would be slightly more convenient for me to pull the padded case out of my knapsack for the xray machine, rather than pull the laptop out of the case.

If one zipper on my laptop backpack opened further, it could satisfy their first suggestion.

The Bush administration didn't develop these rules to protect people who fly, it developed the security theater (perhaps you've seen that phrase before) to fool voters into thinking it's doing something. "Something must be done; this is something; therefore this must be done."

alanMarch 7, 2008 6:37 PM

Someone on Slashdot had the right idea. Loud orgasm startup sounds on your laptop.

Jan SchejbalMarch 7, 2008 7:07 PM

If I read the conditions right, most standard laptop bags should be fine:
- They are below the size limits
- the bag is not out of metal or something else that absorbs x-ray a lot
- Metal is used only "outside" the bag: the zipper, the things that keep the handle and shoulder strap attached are not above or below the laptop when the bag is lying flag (my outer compartment is held closed by velcro strips)
- unless you put stuff in the outer compartment, nothing blocks x-ray, so maybe you do not even need to open the bag

- if you open the bag, the laptop stays on one side, with nothing bug a velcro strip above and nothing but the non-metallic, flat, uniformly dense (and thus non-xray-disturbing) side of the bag below it, with all the other stuff (pens, paper, cables, etc.) on the other side

btw: I never put my charger, mouse or anything big inside the outer compartment - in case pressure is applied to the bag, this would concentrate the pressure on a single, small point on the back of the lcd. not good.

So I cannot see why a bag complying with these conditions should be useless.

Rich WilsonMarch 7, 2008 7:19 PM

@MacBook Air

I assuming booting up a Linux/BSD laptop with no GUI would get you taken away for sure. I'm surprised they know Apple makes anything besides iPods.

SkorjMarch 7, 2008 8:35 PM

@TSA Employee

Is it true that the TSA employee restrooms have the 4th amendment printed on every sheet of toilet paper?

bjMarch 7, 2008 10:05 PM

Or how about the TSA folks just do as they are in London Heathrow -- not requiring that you take your laptop out of the bag... hardest part of that experience was reading the 15 signs saying to leave your laptop _in_ the bag.

CJMarch 8, 2008 4:54 AM

The ziploc ones don't have any padding...
Carryclear (www.carryclear.com) have a laptop bag designed for security checkpoints. They have patented a clear laptop bag with clear cushioning to protect your laptop. TSA really can't argue with that can they? (Probably as it's not a big bag company that owns it?!)

RochusMarch 8, 2008 5:12 AM

I wonder, whether the TSA will publish their requirements for TSA-approved passengers this year or next.

HarryMarch 8, 2008 6:26 AM

CJ writes "Carryclear (www.carryclear.com) have a laptop bag designed for security checkpoints."

But why is every page of that site active *except* the ones that shoes products? All we get is instructions on how to contact them. No pix, no specs, nada. This sets off my warning bells.

Too bad because it sounds like a good idea.

timMarch 8, 2008 11:10 AM

Perhaps I missed this but doesn't anyone else seem to care that creating and using a special bag for a highly portable and expensive piece of equipment a completely idiotic idea? Why don't you put a flashing red light with a neon sign on the side that states "Thieves! I'm Worth A Lot! Steal Me!"

I don't use a laptop bag for this reason. I use a old beaten up backpack that I've had for years for business trips.

Brian PetersonMarch 8, 2008 11:41 AM

On the contrary, the last of the three suggestions from the TSA is a great one.

I needed to buy a courier bag for a long trip to Europe. I found a great one at REI. Soon after returning, I got a new job and needed a laptop bag. REI sells what is essentially a padded sleeve that fits perfectly into the courier bag I had previously purchased. Now when I fly, I put my bag in the overheard compartment and just pull out my laptop in its sleeve. The laptop+sleeve is compact enough to stay in the seat-back pocket, so I get all my available leg room for my (gasp) legs!

The only reason the REI laptop sleeve doesn't meet the TSA's requirements is that it has a zippered mesh pocket on one face. I could easily cut that off and have what is required.

That pocket is really handy though. I think the TSA should modify those requirements accept a velcro-closed pocket since it only adds another layer of fabric to the bag which should be easily penetrated by the x-ray machines.

Anyway, I love the bag (REI Transit Day Bag) and the sleeve (REI E-Wrap Computer Sleeve). It's made my frequent travel much more comfortable.

Jeez... I sound like a shill in this post, don't I?

Jose AngelMarch 8, 2008 1:03 PM

And the next step would be a plastic bag for passengers.
You will not need neither take your shoes off nor empty your pockets. And they could x-ray you as much as they want.

D'oh!. That black plastic bags exist. Do you know what I mean?. They are shown on CSI TV show....

ElliottMarch 8, 2008 11:22 PM

I flew yesterday and did a little experiment. I kept my laptop in a zipped, padded sleeve that has a fabric handle and no other pockets. It was in its own bin with nothing else.

The first screener either didn't see it or didn't realize it was a laptop. The person sitting behind the x-ray machine probably saw yet another laptop in its own bin--nothing out of the ordinary. On the other end of the machine, I slipped on my shoes, grabbed the laptop sleeve with one hand and my backpack with the other. No issues.

I'm going to try this again in a week when I fly home.

TSAguyMarch 9, 2008 2:59 PM

hi all - thanks for the thoughts and ideas on the laptop bag. We are hoping that this is a simple way to improve the security experience for you, the passengers. Rest assured, we are not making any money off this venture. I only wish!

TSA, like any large agency, certainly has its flaws. This is compounded by the fact that we are only five years old, which is a microsecond in government bureaucracy adjusted time. But, if you look at the data, things seem to be improving. Wait times down, employee attrition down, more transparency of information (e.g., tsa blog).

Informed citizens are the key to any democratic government, but remember you can either be part of the solution or part of the problem. If you arent going to actually try to climb inside the bureaucracy and fix the problems yourself, at least keep this in mind. The checkpoint is a complex adaptive system. Mean passengers cause lower screener morale. Lower morale means more screeners quitting. Higher attrition means less trained screeners on the line. Less trained screeners on the line mean less effective screening and less effective security.

Finding IEDs is a tough job and no way will we ever be 100% effective (unless we disallow all carryons and strip search everyone!). But, even if we are 40, 50, 60, 70% effective, that should be considered a pretty significant accomplishment. Deterrance can significantly affect the planning cycle of a would be terrorist.

TSAguyMarch 9, 2008 3:04 PM

Also, Bruce - I am curious as to why you think this would be a joke. It is easy to be a critic, but much harded to come up with concrete ideas about how to improve things. It would be nice if you balanced things that you think are wrong with TSA with ideas about how to improve it.

TSA is simply trying to spur industry to come up with some innovative solutions to a problem that we commonly hear about. Whats so funny about that?

George SmileyMarch 9, 2008 11:25 PM

How to improve the TSA: cut its budget.

The deeper the cut, the greater the improvement.

A different CJMarch 10, 2008 1:58 AM

@TSAguy: I can't speak for Bruce, but what I find amusing is the idea that I should change the entire way I manage my laptop during work and travel, just so that you can screen it more easily. Implying that one single bag type fits everyone's requirements.

Or even worse, that I now need to buy a second laptop bag, to use purely when flying.

Either way, there's definitely scope to suspect it's a joke.

GadgetGavMarch 10, 2008 6:42 AM

@TSAguy. ARE you 40% effective in finding IEDs..? 70% maybe..? Exactly how many bombs did you detect at the screening points last year..? Is there a web site or publication that lists these figures. I ask because I want to congratulate you on your "pretty significant accomplishment". If only 30 - 60% of the IEDs that are attempted to be smuggled onto planes get through, and yet NONE have blown up since Richard Reid (who's device you didn't detect), then we're all doing just great.

The problem with laptops at screening points is education of the TSA operatives. Not only on new technology like the SSD drive in the Mac Book Air and others, but just on their own rules. We have a laptop bag that has a separate, lightly padded pouch inside that is form-fitted to the laptop. No space for anything else. But no, that's not good enough for TSA screeners. They insist on it being removed and put into a plastic tray that 2 minutes ago contained someone's shoes which, as it's Boston, were covered in grit and sand. Now our brand new laptop has scratches all over the case.

bobMarch 10, 2008 8:31 AM

@TSA employee: While you make a convincing case that TSA employees are rude, overpaid, arrogant and useless; as a pilot I will have to concede that most pilots are arrogant.

JasonMarch 10, 2008 2:28 PM

@TSA Goons

The point is not that the TSA is providing guidelines for an approved laptop bag.

The point is that the TSA, a single government entity that serves a purpose only at the airports in which is works, asks the entire population of the United States and anyone traveling through the US to change our stuff to satisfy your requirements.

It shows a great deal of arrogance and a disconnect from the common folk.

Arrogance that the population as a whole should take its fashion cues from the TSA. Disconnect that the TSA thinks any normal citizen holds them in anything but contempt.

The contempt is not entirely the fault of "The TSA" but more the fault of some of the employees of the TSA. It's like Uncle Ben said, with great power comes great responsibility. Only, the TSA reports to no one who cares about any abuses heaped upon the masses. Actually, the higher ups are likely to uphold any sort of transgressions carried out by rogue TSA agents because to do otherwise would tarnish the illusion of things being done in our best interests.

It's more like Lord Acton said, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

quicksandMarch 10, 2008 6:01 PM

Hmm, they are looking for a bag that easily turns inside-out and comes apart into multiple pieces. There's a word for that, isn't there?

Let's see here. Maybe they could call it an "exploding" laptop bag.

mikeMarch 10, 2008 6:15 PM

TSA Guy,
"Informed citizens are the key to any democratic government, but remember you can either be part of the solution or part of the problem."

The solution seems pretty obvious.

"Finding IEDs is a tough job and no way will we ever be 100% effective (unless we disallow all carryons and strip search everyone!). But, even if we are 40, 50, 60, 70% effective, that should be considered a pretty significant accomplishment. Deterrance can significantly affect the planning cycle of a would be terrorist."

That's an interesting premise, but your proof is a negative. "It's working because nothing happens", insert elephant/martian/tiger repelant magic device here. Apparently 40-70% is also optimistic, see http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/04/... , which gives 10%.

So we have:

* very money (tax) expensive organization
* violates basic human rights on a massive and truly incomprehensible scale (I think it's something like 2 million people, a day. The quantity of abuse, although admittedly not the seriousness of each abuse, is just amazing, probably a historical record)
* looking for something that doesn't exist
* has a 10% chance of finding it if it did exist

hmm, the solution seems to be dissolve the entire thing and start from scratch (or don't even start). I have a hard time imagining a more massive and costly failure.

John David GaltApril 26, 2008 12:43 AM

Let's take this business of nipping in the bud crimes which "just might" happen in the future to its logical conclusion:

Any government which proposes "pre-crime" legislation just might be a nascent future police state. Let's prevent it from ever becoming one by overthrowing it today, while we still can. (Preferably by the vote, if that's still an option where you live.)

John David GaltApril 26, 2008 12:50 AM

If I ever travel by plane again and want to bring my laptop on the trip, I'll mail it rather than carry it on or check it. That way, while it may get X-rayed, the local airport's Keystone Gestapo won't get their hands on it and foul it up.

I wouldn't be surprised if mail is a more effective way for bad guys to get various destructive stuff aboard planes for the same reason. Plus, they'll no longer need a recruit willing to commit suicide by flying with the package.

The horse left the barn years ago. Forget about bolting the door, already.

JonathanJuly 2, 2008 12:35 PM

My Waterfield Designs laptop bag already meets the requirements (option #3). I've been breezing through airport security for the last two years, and *apparently* will be allowed to still--important because I travel a LOT.

Here's the bag. Built like a tank, thoughtfully designed and I get compliments (even from the TSA workers) all the time.

http://www.sfbags.com/products/mambocombos/...

I can't imagine how the TSA is going to enforce these new guidelines, but at least I'm ready for them.

AnonymousJuly 6, 2008 11:55 PM

Nothing on TSA blog about this. Here's an updated blog tagline.
Terrorists Evolve. Threats Evolve. Security Must Stay Ahead. You Play A Part. Buy a new bag, because bags evolve.

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