Fixing Airport Security

It's been months since the Transportation Security Administration has had a permanent director. If, during the job interview (no, I didn't get one), President Obama asked me how I'd fix airport security in one sentence, I would reply: "Get rid of the photo ID check, and return passenger screening to pre-9/11 levels."

Okay, that's a joke. While showing ID, taking your shoes off and throwing away your water bottles isn't making us much safer, I don't expect the Obama administration to roll back those security measures anytime soon. Airport security is more about CYA than anything else: defending against what the terrorists did last time.

But the administration can't risk appearing as if it facilitated a terrorist attack, no matter how remote the possibility, so those annoyances are probably here to stay.

This would be my real answer: "Establish accountability and transparency for airport screening." And if I had another sentence: "Airports are one of the places where Americans, and visitors to America, are most likely to interact with a law enforcement officer - and yet no one knows what rights travelers have or how to exercise those rights."

Obama has repeatedly talked about increasing openness and transparency in government, and it's time to bring transparency to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Let's start with the no-fly and watch lists. Right now, everything about them is secret: You can't find out if you're on one, or who put you there and why, and you can't clear your name if you're innocent. This Kafkaesque scenario is so un-American it's embarrassing. Obama should make the no-fly list subject to judicial review.

Then, move on to the checkpoints themselves. What are our rights? What powers do the TSA officers have? If we're asked "friendly" questions by behavioral detection officers, are we allowed not to answer? If we object to the rough handling of ourselves or our belongings, can the TSA official retaliate against us by putting us on a watch list? Obama should make the rules clear and explicit, and allow people to bring legal action against the TSA for violating those rules; otherwise, airport checkpoints will remain a Constitution-free zone in our country.

Next, Obama should refuse to use unfunded mandates to sneak expensive security measures past Congress. The Secure Flight program is the worst offender. Airlines are being forced to spend billions of dollars redesigning their reservations systems to accommodate the TSA's demands to preapprove every passenger before he or she is allowed to board an airplane. These costs are borne by us, in the form of higher ticket prices, even though we never see them explicitly listed.

Maybe Secure Flight is a good use of our money; maybe it isn't. But let's have debates like that in the open, as part of the budget process, where it belongs.

And finally, Obama should mandate that airport security be solely about terrorism, and not a general-purpose security checkpoint to catch everyone from pot smokers to deadbeat dads.

The Constitution provides us, both Americans and visitors to America, with strong protections against invasive police searches. Two exceptions come into play at airport security checkpoints. The first is "implied consent," which means that you cannot refuse to be searched; your consent is implied when you purchased your ticket. And the second is "plain view," which means that if the TSA officer happens to see something unrelated to airport security while screening you, he is allowed to act on that.

Both of these principles are well established and make sense, but it's their combination that turns airport security checkpoints into police-state-like checkpoints.

The TSA should limit its searches to bombs and weapons and leave general policing to the police - where we know courts and the Constitution still apply.

None of these changes will make airports any less safe, but they will go a long way to de-ratcheting the culture of fear, restoring the presumption of innocence and reassuring Americans, and the rest of the world, that - as Obama said in his inauguration speech - "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals."

This essay originally appeared, without hyperlinks, in the New York Daily News.

Posted on June 24, 2009 at 6:40 AM • 68 Comments

Comments

Clive RobinsonJune 24, 2009 7:25 AM

POTUS has done a U-Turn on Gitmo so don't underestimate the preasure of the administration on him to make "no changes".

BenJune 24, 2009 7:36 AM

One of the main types of harm that the terrorist threat has done is to cause us to distrust one another.

TimJune 24, 2009 7:37 AM

What's wrong with photo ID? You have to do that for flights everywhere else in the world... Shoes and liquids are indeed stupid though.

MarqJune 24, 2009 7:46 AM

When I was flying into Memphis on work one time, I was asked when the last time I was in the states. I remembered being there in 2001, but had forgot a trip in 2003. I was made to feel like I was a terrorist, just because I couldn't remember every trip I make.

Oh yeah, and those green cards that the US officials put in my passport, that *they* are supposed to take out, is somehow *my* responsibility if they don't!

WTF?!

OrvilleJune 24, 2009 8:07 AM

@Tim
You definitely do not need photo ID for domestic flights where I live (a country with one of the five largest economies in the world). Please don't speak for the rest of the world.

aaawwwJune 24, 2009 8:12 AM

@Tim a photo id proves only that you can take a reasonably lookalike photo of yourself; those id are mainly thought for identification and not authentication, and cannot be trusted as authentication no matter what fancy anti replication mechanism they have

RobertJune 24, 2009 8:26 AM

You shouldn't be the director of the TSA.

I'm thinking Schneier for president. Campaigning on the platform of "sanity". IMHO way better than "change" or "strait talk".

PtbJune 24, 2009 8:40 AM

@Robert, agreed. Why cant there be someone like Bruce in the white house. Well a country where the vast majority is comprised of idiots, might as well be run by one I guess.

AlanSJune 24, 2009 8:53 AM

Did you notice that Verified Identity Pass, Inc., the company that runs the Clear Lanes program, just went bankrupt a couple of days ago? See http://www.flyclear.com/.

Apparently no refunds so if you signed up last week you are out a lot of money for nothing. And they have your iris scans, finger prints, SS#, etc.

Clive RobinsonJune 24, 2009 8:54 AM

@ Nilz,

Not the first time an under ten has caused a scare of major proportions with "nuclear" threat in it.

HJohnJune 24, 2009 9:30 AM

Keep in mind, and I'm a strong opponent of Obama's who will defend him a bit here, Obama doing a "U-Turn" on something may have more to do with the information he has as president than with him caving or flipping. As President Obama he has more information than he did as Candidate Obama, and he has more information than we have.

But one thing I would do is end the no-fly list. It is more useful to terrorists than anyone else--that isn't the intent, it is the reality.

Another thing I would do is cut their budget to make the TSA prioritize the threats. (I don't have the inside scoop, so I won't elaborate too much more on this, other than to say that while I don't know everything they do, cutting their budget would make them prioritize).

Phil MocekJune 24, 2009 9:52 AM

Tim: For domestic flights, the ID check amounts to a requirement that we ask for and receive permission from our government before moving about the country. It serves no purpose but to protect airline revenue (no transferring your flight to someone else; if you can't make it, you forfeit it) and to restrict freedom of movement using government blacklists. For more on this, see The Identity Project's "What's Wrong With Showing ID?" page [1]. See also this article that was written about my experiences flying without showing ID (originally published in the Kansas City Star, whose archives are available only by subscription, but still available other places) [2], and the comment (#4) that I posted there in response.

[1]: http://papersplease.org/id.html
[2]: http://www.azstarnet.com/news/235184

Bruce: Regarding improvements to TSA: Very generally, I'd like to them publish a list of all the rules and regulations that they will subject someone to if that person wishes to cross a U.S. Government checkpoint at an airport en route to the gate from which his domestic flight will depart, not including laws that the person is required to abide by outside of the airport checkpoint (i.e., just those rules and regulations that apply specifically at the checkpoint). They flatly refuse to do so. A requirement that we follow rules we are not allowed to read is dangerous to our freedom.

Also, note this recent District Court ruling: United States v. Fofana, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45852, S.D. Ohio, June 2, 2009.

Much discussion [3] of the ruling is happening on FlyerTalk Forums. In particular, see comment #13, by "PTravel" [4], which appears to be a good analysis of the ruling. A TSA Blog and FlyerTalk regular has posted a PDF of the ruling [5], and another has posted it in a slightly different format [6].

[3]: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/...
[4]: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/...
[5]: http://www.rebelmodel.com/tsa/Fofana.pdf
[6]: http://pubpolicy.com/files/fofana_lexis.pdf

In the name of safety, we give TSA special permission to perform searches of us and our belongings that would otherwise be illegal. I believe that it is unacceptable for TSA to exploit that opportunity by turning the search for dangerous items into a fishing expedition. It seems that the District Court shares that opinion. My understanding of the ruling is that because TSA went beyond its administrative search for weapons, explosives, and incendiaries, evidence of crime (passport or identity fraud) that was found was not admissible in court.

Following is an excerpt from the ruling:

"The evidence also established that before the envelopes were opened, Fofana's bags had already been thoroughly searched and that opening the envelopes containing the passports did not serve safety-related ends. By the time the envelopes were opened, the bags had been examined through the x-ray machine, tested for explosives residue, and emptied during a thorough hand search by Stroud. Stroud had also already manipulated the envelopes by hand, discovering that they were thin and unbendable. Although Mirow testified that a bulky "mass" of paper, such as 100 one-dollar bills or a book, would need to be investigated to ensure that nothing dangerous was disguised within the mass, his testimony suggests that something as thin as a passport would not be bulky enough to trigger that concern. (5/13/2009 Hr'g Tr. 40-42 (testifying that 5 bills would not be bulky enough to require scrutiny).)

"The Government argues that Stroud's subjective intent is irrelevant because, in the context of administrative searches, the purpose driving the search is assessed at the programmatic level. Edmund, 531 U.S. at 44-47 (explaining that cases dealing with administrative searches "have often required an inquiry into purpose at the programmatic level"). But, the Government failed to establish through evidence that opening the envelopes containing the passports was necessary to serve the programmatic purpose of an airport screening search, i.e., to unearth weapons or explosives. As already explained, the bulk of the evidence presented suggests that it was not. While it is conceivable that, as the Government argues, an envelope containing a passport-sized item might need to be opened, despite the use of other screening technologies, to detect a small prohibited item hidden inside, the Government has not supported that argument with evidence. For example, the TSA did not present, or submit for in camera review, SOPs or other regulations stating that all items, including non-bulky business-sized envelopes, must be opened as part of a secondary screening to ensure that there are no prohibited items are contained within. It is equally conceivable to the Court that a combination of x-ray screening and external manipulation would be sufficient to exclude the presence of weapons or explosives in the envelopes Fofana was carrying. In fact, Stroud testified to that effect. (5/13/2009 Hr'g Tr. 97-99.)"

Mike GJune 24, 2009 9:59 AM

I've put off returning to New York, a place I lived, for eight years - mostly for the reasons mentioned above. I'm finally going back next month, and I have to say I'm not looking forward to it at all. It was always an unpleasant business going through immigration and customs, now I suspect it's going to be several orders of magnitude worse.

Brandioch ConnerJune 24, 2009 10:03 AM

@HJohn
"As President Obama he has more information than he did as Candidate Obama, and he has more information than we have."

I didn't buy that with the previous administration and I don't buy that with the current administration.

I've seen the "terrorist threats" that the governement has "cracked". If they had anything better, they'd be shouting it from the rooftops.

This is all about CYA.

"Another thing I would do is cut their budget to make the TSA prioritize the threats."

CYA. If you cut their budget and a threat gets through ... well it wouldn't have happened if you hadn't cut their budget.

It's easy to base a campaign on "change" (even the Iranian's campaigned on "change") but once you have the authority and responsibility it's all about CYA and fear.

GeorgeJune 24, 2009 10:18 AM

The TSA will likely continue on its present path for the very same reason the Drug War continues after some 40 years of failure. No politician wants the risk of an opponent branding him or her "soft on terrorism" during the next election campaign. So it would be political suicide for any member of Congress to call for accountability or for anything that would "weaken the TSA's ability to fight terrorism."

There is a small amount of hope, though. Some people are getting rather upset about the TSA's plan to strip search every passenger with a whole body imaging scanner. Enough of those people complained to Congress for the House to pass an amendment to the TSA's funding bill restricting the use of these scanners to secondary screening, where there is at least some cause to inflict such a major intrusion. I'm sure the TSA will ultimately prevail, either in the Senate or in conference committee. They need merely send someone to a hearing who reminds the members that they will personally have to explain to the widows and orphans after the next attack why they voted to restrict the TSA's ability to prevent the attack. But it at least sends the message that the TSA can no longer count on its current blank check to do whatever it wants.

HJohnJune 24, 2009 10:20 AM

@Brandioch: "CYA. If you cut their budget and a threat gets through ... well it wouldn't have happened if you hadn't cut their budget."
________

That's the paradox that this administration, the previous administration, and any future administration will face.

Phil MocekJune 24, 2009 10:22 AM

Note also that a TSA press release issued in 2008 [1] stated that their airport ID requirements were to change in June of 2008 (there previously was not requirement; passengers had the option of a thorough search of themselves and their belongings, or an abbreviated search along with presentation of documentation of their identity). They new policy was to be that people who willfully refused to "show their papers" would not be allowed to fly, but those who said that their ID was misplaced or stolen would be allowed if they cooperated in an interrogation used to verify their identities.

However, we've recently found that TSA SOP in affect after the time the change was to occur was inconsistent with policy described in the press release. Last month, The Identity Project [2] announced [3] that they have received, via FOIA request [4] placed in July of 2008, a copy [5] of TSA's standard operating procedure as it pertains to attempts to verify passengers' identities prior to their crossing airport checkpoints.

The June 30, 2008, TSA SOP that IDP received says, "Individuals who appear to be 18 years of age or older with a valid travel document, but without an ID, or in possession of an invalid ID, must be designated and screened as a selectee." Their press release (which, strangely, was later post-dated June 23, 2008), however, says, "Beginning Saturday, June 21, 2008 passengers that willfully refuse to provide identification at security checkpoint will be denied access to the secure area of airports. This change will apply exclusively to individuals that simply refuse to provide any identification or assist transportation security officers in ascertaining their identity. This new procedure will not affect passengers that may have misplaced, lost or otherwise do not have ID but are cooperative with officers."

I submitted a FOIA request to DHS for copies of any documents pertaining to TSA policies regarding discovery and verification of identities of passengers by TSA staff at airports in the United States, but the request was denied [6] due to non-specificity. So I've submitted a new request for the "TSA Screening Management SOP manual", later clarified to mean "a written description of procedures [TSA's] staff use at airport checkpoints when searching and interrogating people who are stopped by [TSA's] staff at those checkpoints". I recently received a letter dated June 17 stating that TSA will invoke the 10-day extension to the 20-day period in which they are required to fulfill requests. I'll follow up on the FlyerTalk thread when I know more.

[1]: http://www.tsa.gov/press/happenings/...
[2]: http://papersplease.org/who.html
[3]: http://papersplease.org/wp/2009/05/26/...
[4]: http://papersplease.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/...
[5]: http://www.papersplease.org/wp/wp-content/...
[6]: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/...

JasonJune 24, 2009 10:34 AM

Re: all the CYA comments.

What we really need is a president who will just say "F*** it" and work to push it through anyway.

They won't get reelected, but it isn't like they'll get impeached for it.

The country is beyond broke, cutting funding is a great idea. They slapped NASA around and they learned to improvise and work with off-the-shelf stuff.

I don't see why other groups can't be forced to innovate.

tpoJune 24, 2009 10:50 AM

Its government, a million petty authority trips running on ego gratification from humiliating citizens. You think cutting the budget will force them to innovate,
Dont compare them to NASA where its all science and geekery, those people actually care about thier subject.

Cut thier budjet and they will innervate, and then tell you its your fault for every disaster they create. Heckuva job brownie.

cjJune 24, 2009 10:50 AM

How about restoring habeas corpus for visitors to your country? Or not being treated like a criminal when entering your country?

Rich WilsonJune 24, 2009 11:03 AM

I fly the same trip about every 6 weeks. SOP is for the first TSA person to check my id, look at my face, look at my boarding pass, and scribble on it. Next step is I put everything on the belt, 3rd step I walk through the metal detector, while presenting my scribbled on boarding pass to another TSA person.

On my outbound flight they changed that, and I no longer had to show my scribbled on boarding pass. But on my return flight (out of a much smaller airport) I still had to show my scribbled on boarding pass.

Showing the scribbled on boarding pass is pretty inane, since there's no way to get to TSA person #2 without first going to TSA person #1 and getting my boarding pass scribbled on. What I don't get is why big airport did away with it, and small one (which is always a lot more strict) didn't.

HJohnJune 24, 2009 11:09 AM

@ziesta: "I think you should give a try to bust TSA myst busters."

@TSA (linked to by ziesta: "At an October 22, 2008 press conference, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said there are less than 16,000 individuals on the selectee and no fly lists, which contain information about known or suspected terrorists that reach a threshold at which they either should not be allowed to fly, or should get additional scrutiny. Of the 16,000, less than 2,500 individuals are on the no fly list, and less than ten percent are U.S. persons.
_______________

I don't question Chertoff's numbers, but they are not as rellevant as TSA may think. While, on surface, it may seem prudent to not allow certain people on the FBI's radar to fly, the "Law of Unintended Consequences" comes into play. Regardless of how big or small the list is, and leaving liberties aside as a discussion for another day, all a terrorist has to do to see if they are on the government's radar is fly.

FPJune 24, 2009 11:22 AM

I think the "implied consent" reasoning is important. I believe that one of the government's lines of reasoning in the Gilmore case (John Gilmore tried to challenge the photo id requirement in court) was that air travel is a privilege. Because travelers can choose other transportation, requiring identification at the airport does not restrict the freedom of people that want to travel without identification.

Knowing that in many cases there is no reasonable alternative to air travel, they can force us into "implied consent."

NotMeJune 24, 2009 11:34 AM

The photo ID requirement is stupid. And un-American.

Aside from the myriad obvious ways to deliberately get around it it is also all to subject to accidental failure.

Last week I was flying home with a colleague. We were on the same reservation so when we checked in at the kiosk both names came up. I wasn't paying much attention and ended up with his BP -- not mine.

In spite of the usual painfully slow inspection of my ID with a magnifying glass and that funky light they use they did not manage to notice that the name on the ID did not match the name on the BP.

I didn't notice until we were about to board the plane when I happened to double-check my seat assignment. It was 1F which annoyed me a bit because I gone to some trouble to be on the aisle -- so I asked my buddy what his seat was... "1F". Oops!

Lucky for me the gate agent hadn't given away my seat yet and he just printed the correct BP for me.

Nor is this the first time that I've had a document mix up. I estimate that about 1 in 10 times that I travel with someone else such an event occurs at some level that the TSA should, in theory, catch. They have never noticed anything. But they are quite eager to pat me down for wearing a shirt with buttons. Or any female wearing a skirt. Or rifle through my ever so dangerous wallet because it is in my pants rather than going though the x-ray.

It isn't that the mass of people are idiots. Almost everyone who isn't a TSA employee, a journalist or a politician knows that the TSA is a moronic and ineffective waste of money. You would be hard pressed to find more than 10% of a random sample who actually believes any of the hog wash about anything that they do being useful.

They're wasting billions of dollars but we're busy throwing away trillions so it's hardly worth worrying about on that front. Most people can ignore them except for a couple of times a year when they grimace and bear it while wishing that somebody else would get rid of these clowns. The scary thing is that we can afford to waste all of this time and money. That, more than anything, ought to bother the bad guys. We basically just don't care enough to take them seriously.

StephanieJune 24, 2009 11:37 AM

The point about people being put on these no fly lists without the benefit of judicial review is chilling. Who has access to these databases? Where is the accountability? How many innocent people are going to be unable to fly? What about the other databases with no judicial review? These databases place US citizens into a virtual oubliette where the constitutional guarantees we treasure are tossed into the trashcan. What are we doing to our beautiful country in the name of fear and or CYA?
I wish the Obama Administration would take a good look at these databases. Every name in those databases involves a certain level of human suffering. Imagine being unable to fly to mom's funeral? Losing your job because you can't travel as required for work?
Perhaps Mr. Schneier could be consulted for a congressional review of such things. This is truly a disgrace to our participatory democracy to see US citizens put into databases where there is no recourse, no ability to sue, and no way out for innocent people.

ShortWomanJune 24, 2009 12:48 PM

You know what would be a good start? Make nice, big signs with a numbered list of passenger rights, TSA procedures, and allowed/banned items. It should include a section dealing with special passengers (such as children and the handicapped). That way the rules would be clear and known by everyone involved. I think such signs would prevent a lot of abuses and problems by reducing an argument with the TSA officer to somebody pointing to it and saying a number.

EHJune 24, 2009 1:03 PM

Airport security is more about CYA than anything else: defending against what the terrorists did last time.

Just as a note of illustration, trying to prevent something that already happened is the basic textbook definition of PTSD.

SynopticusJune 24, 2009 1:43 PM

I am on the "Do not Fly" list for no better reason than that my name is a common one; that is, the FBI is looking for someone that shares it.

I was interogated in Amsterdam because my name was flagged was flagged by the TSA.

In Detroit, I was not allowed to board my flight home. It was then that I learned that I was on the list. I was held at the gate while an airline representative confirmed my indentity. It took a while because the TSA officer was out of the office. I was told at that time that I could expect the same treatment every time I traveled by air.


I complained to the TSA not once, but three times, and never received a reply.

kangarooJune 24, 2009 1:48 PM

>>Re: all the CYA comments.
>>What we really need is a president
>>who will just say "F*** it" and work
>>to push it through anyway.

Why does the system work this way? Not every government is so sucked into CYA.

Why is politics always reduced to the half-assed opinion of the most mentally challenged? Not every democracy is this way.

Could it be that there is a systemic manipulation (no conspiracy or individual guilt -- systemic) of the electorate? Then we'd see exactly this behavior -- where all discussions would devolve into CYA precisely because that turns the electorate into consumers that are being bought and sold between the agents, rather than as political actors.

It's not about "a person" rising above the system. It's about a system that looks like democracy, smells like democracy, and yet we always get sound-bites and marketing instead of serious discussion.

CGomezJune 24, 2009 1:48 PM

The joke of it all was anyone who believed there was any difference between any candidate or sitting president. Say whatever you want when you run, do whatever you want when you win.

The only way they'll learn is single term presidencies and single term congressional careers... not by law or rule, but by the ballot box. Punish liars and liars can't run for office anymore.

But US voters aren't smart enough, savvy enough or frankly... care enough. Every morning the sun comes up and (for the most part) we go about our business freely.

luJune 24, 2009 2:10 PM

Airport security is a joke. There is no consistency from airport to airport and it seems the smaller the airport the more nazi like the inspectors. All the screenong is moot when anyone can freely walk in and out of baggage claim which seems to be the only consistent pattern at all the airports.

DanJune 24, 2009 2:11 PM

How can we take seriously an agency like the TSA, which insisted that holders of the now defunct CLEAR card also show a photo ID?

Given the TSA's own commitment to passenger identification (for better or worse), it was simply bizarre that they rejected the accuracy and certainty of biometric identification in favor of an overworked employee's comparison of a tiny driver license photo to a traveler's face (which is subject to changes in appearance due to hair color or style, weight gain or loss, aging, changes in facial hair, etc.). The TSA's policy in that regard violated simple common sense, let alone the higher intellectual skills necessary to effectively protect us from terrorism.

AndrekovJune 24, 2009 2:16 PM

"...yet no one knows what rights travelers have or how to exercise those rights...."

False.

Many Americans know that warrantless, involuntary searches at airports are completely, totally, and absolutely illegal under the 4th Amendment.

And some people invent ludicrous excuses such as "implied consent" to condone the blatant law-breaking.

When the rule-of-law has been lost in a nation... one can take to the streets (like the Iranians this week) -- or just tolerate the tyranny, if it's not too, too inconvenient ?

HJohn June 24, 2009 2:21 PM

I agree with kangaroo about sound bites. I don't see an easy solution, since an ill-informed soundbite voter cancels out someone who takes their civic duty seriously. Not sure what to do about that, short of restricting voting which is not a good idea.

I also also semi agree with CGomez about limiting political careers. On one hand, re-election makes sitting politicians accountable to the electorate, which has the unintended consequence of them being subject to the whims and soundbite opinions of voters. On the other hand, one wonders how they would behave if they knew that they would soon be done and have to return to live under the laws they voted for (yet with less concern for public opinion).

For every plus, there is a minus.

Airport security is one symptom of the problem. After 9/11, emotions were high, and security and prevention were demanded, and not just real security and prevention, but percieved--things they could see. Not surprisingly, they wanted to feel secure. Now the emotions have subsided and we're stuck with a system that is tough to change for reasons too long to discuss.

Ironically, while I blame President Bush for implenting poor and expensive systems (full disclosure, that isn't a Bush bash, I happen to admire him personally), he probably would not have been reelected had he done things right. President Obama may or may not have a similar fate or destiny (we don't know what is in store for him). That's the paradox of politics...sometimes doing the right thing is punished and the wrong things is rewarded. Like cumbersome and expensive airport security.

SVJune 24, 2009 2:35 PM

A friend was mine was held back for questioning for an hour and had to miss the flight. Her mistake: wearing a ring on the ring finger without being married. Please TSA, stop being stupid and take our lives out!

HJohnJune 24, 2009 2:41 PM

@SV: "A friend was mine was held back for questioning for an hour and had to miss the flight. Her mistake: wearing a ring on the ring finger without being married. Please TSA, stop being stupid and take our lives out!"
____________

That would be stupid, but I wish I had the whole story because I have doubts. Millions of unmarried women have flown with rings on their ring finger... that's where most women wear their ring when engaged. I find it unlikely someone would even ask about a ring on a ring finger, much less interrogate.

SVJune 24, 2009 3:11 PM

@HJohn: Yes it is stupid and unlikely, but true. May be she being a brown made them pick her for random checkup

NotMeJune 24, 2009 3:41 PM

I believe it. It was probably one of those small airports being run by a martinet with a chip on his shoulder. I'd even go so far as to guess that they dreamed up a specific procedure for checking IDs vs ring fingers in the back room one day. It's the same "thought" process that leads to wallet inspections and skirt pat downs.

clearandfreeJune 24, 2009 4:14 PM

http://www.flyclear.com/

Clear Lanes Are No Longer Available.

At 11:00 p.m. PST on June 22, 2009, Clear will cease operations. Clear’s parent company, Verified Identity Pass, Inc. has been unable to negotiate an agreement with its senior creditor to continue operations.

What will happen to my personal information?

Applicant and Member data is currently secured in accordance with the Transportation Security Administration’s Security, Privacy and Compliance Standards. Verified Identity Pass, Inc. will continue to secure such information and will take appropriate steps to delete the information.

Will I receive a refund for membership in Clear?

At the present time, because of its financial condition, Verified Identity Pass, Inc. cannot issue refunds.

HJohnJune 24, 2009 4:20 PM

@SV: "Yes it is stupid and unlikely, but true. May be she being a brown made them pick her for random checkup."
_____________

I never thought you were lying, I just doubted the story you heard. Assuming it is true...

The ring was unlikely the reason then, probably the excuse. Saying "I scrutinized her because marital status was different" would probably get the person in less trouble than saying "I was concerned because of her race."

HJohnJune 24, 2009 4:25 PM

@HJohn: "The ring was unlikely the reason then, probably the excuse. Saying "I scrutinized her because marital status was different" would probably get the person in less trouble than saying "I was concerned because of her race." "
_____________

In other words, most people, when having done something stupid that they don't want to admit doing, will try to backpedal and find a suitable excuse.

JonJune 24, 2009 5:05 PM

@Tim:
What's wrong with photo ID? You have to do that for flights everywhere else in the world.

Apart from the exceptions already noted, those places where you *do* have to provide photo id is invariably due to US pressure to conform to your dumb rules (as in "do this, or your planes can't fly to through or over the US").

CoreyJune 24, 2009 6:54 PM

I am a foreign national from a country that is "privileged" to be part of the Visa Waiver Program. I have traveled to the US once, which will sadly probably be the *only* time. When I visited ESTA did not exist.

Due to my routine treatment during this visit I will never again visit the US (as a strike against the unconstitutional practices of the TSA and US gov.) I am truly saddened by this.

I will visit the US again when:
1) I am not treated like a criminal on entry (the only times you will be required to surrender fingerprints and high res. 'mug shots').
2) No longer be required to provide my life story online prior to travel (ESTA) - my life is private, and I will not share it so I can cross a border.

If you read this: http://articles.latimes.com/2004/may/11/opinion/... you can probably grasp some of the 'fear' that foreign nationals feel entering the US, this is not helped by the refusal to publish the rights that you have when entering the country (at present it feels like you have NONE)

I urge everyone to boycott visiting the US until these policies are changed or reformed, and to encourage you government to institute similar policies explicitly for US citizens entering you country so they can experience what their government is subjecting everyone else too.

FearJune 24, 2009 6:55 PM

"These steps would go a long way towards ratcheting down the culture of fear..."

Hello, the entire purpose of the TSA and screening is to ratchet up the culture of fear. Creating fear is the goal. All of your suggestions will be ignored, because this whole thing is about a) CYA and also b) creating fear. Creating fear is good because it justifies more powers, more budget and more secrecy. Why would anyone say no to those things? No one says "no" to more money.

JJune 24, 2009 10:34 PM

The only post-9/11 screening rule that made sense to me was restricting knives. I used to regularly fly with a 3" tactical folder and knew others that flew with a 4" folder, both perfectly allowed under FAA rules. Even pre-9/11 it didn't make much sense to me that you could fly with those.

The new rules on cockpit access also make sense.

averrosJune 25, 2009 4:00 AM

> Obama should make...

Wishful thinking. Obama is exactly the same kind of totalitarian Bush the Stupid was. So far we saw nothing of what Bush did which Obama didn't continue and expand.

Tres ca change.

As for changing TSA... heh. It should be disbanded, and the flight security handed back to the airlines - they do have some incentives to treat their passangers as humans. The sooner, the better.

averrosJune 25, 2009 4:13 AM

> air travel is a privilege.

I'm wondering if this bullshit notion was ever challenged in court... the last time I checked the Constitutions the Feds didn't have any right to grant "privileges" like that, or to deny citizens freedom of travel.

mofembot in franceJune 25, 2009 9:53 AM

Hear, hear! I have been railing for years against the extra-Constitution excesses of TSA and the Border Patrol. "UnAmerican" is the least one can say about these purveyors of nightmares for travelers.

DavidJune 25, 2009 10:11 AM

@J: I haven't been in an airport secure area for some time, but last I was I noticed that I could have bought alcoholic beverages in glass bottles if I'd had a boarding pass for an international flight.

Therefore, a confederate could have gotten me a bottle, which I could have broken and used as a weapon.

There's really no point in banning knives if you're not going to ban large glass bottles. A broken bottle is at least as scary as a box cutter.

HJohnJune 25, 2009 12:17 PM

@averros: "Wishful thinking. Obama is exactly the same kind of totalitarian Bush the Stupid was. So far we saw nothing of what Bush did which Obama didn't continue and expand."
____________

This isn't a blind defense of Obama (full disclosure, I would vote for Bush over Obama any day). However, Obama has only been president just over 5 months... so i'm included to ask you this: In a continent-wide country of 300 million, with hundreds of legislators, thousands of airports, unbelievably complex problems, and millions of pages of laws and statutes, just how fast, exactly did you expect Obama to change everything, even just airport security?

averrosJune 26, 2009 6:00 PM

@HJohn -- easy. "TSA is disbanded as of ....., Date, Signature, POTUS". Problem solved.

As a head of executive (and commander in chief), POTUS has enormous powers. The fact that O. uses them to perpetuate and expand the scam simply says that he was bought by the military-industrial complex, from toes to the big ears.

And, no, I only expected Obama to make things worse. I've seen socialism up and close and know how it looks and feels like. Unlike millions of American public education products who think it's a good idea.

JqJune 27, 2009 11:15 AM

Even if Obama signed a bill that disbanded the TSA tomorrow, do you really think the TSA would be removed that quickly? It would take months for that to happen and a number of people would be without jobs. Changing what the TSA is about and focusing on the real problem of Terrorism should be the goal.

afanJune 27, 2009 2:19 PM

I rarely fly. Not because I object to the screening, in fact, given the number of things that get through, the screening seems it should be tighter than it is.

I avoid flying because it has become so tedious and unpleasant it is not worth it.

Fine with me if they use security screening to catch other types of criminals, or make it more difficult for drug dealers to fly. Why should I endorse the rights of criminals to get on airplanes?

What worries me is that all this hassle may not accomplish its primary goal of making the country safer from attacks on airplanes.

pjmJune 27, 2009 10:56 PM

We do see the increased costs to the airlines. I noticed a "September 11 Security Fee" on my fee listing when I bought a ticket in 2008.

JimJuly 6, 2009 1:03 PM

If you happen to handle a road flare or touch something containing like a firework or model rocket engine then you have a high likelyhood of setting off the alarms at airport. You will be classed a terrorist. I know someone who came from England for a job interview (a nanny position). On the day she left she was watching the kids. THey were setting off model rockets. She touched the rocket. When she got to the airport to return home she was accused of being a terrorist, stripped searched, body cavity searched, held for 3 days without access to a phone or legal council, her belongings shredded. Eventually she was returned to the UK and declared persona nongrata. WTF!

My brother in law has coworkers who handle military grade ordinance for the company the works for. (a large US contractor) They often inspect the ordinance and then fly home passing through the same airports in the US. None of them have ever been stopped for nitrogen compounds. (explosion detection) He says the reason is TSA is looking for explosives you could make with over the counter items. They are not looking for traces of C4 for example. (military grade explosives) This is very silly. If we are worried about explosives do we really think Mr. Binladen and his cohorts couldn't get hold of C4 etc.? Yet we terrorize a nanny looking for employment.

Bob WilsonJuly 15, 2009 9:45 AM

Bruce, I have to make a point on this comment:

"and yet no one knows what rights travelers have or how to exercise those rights."

It's all well and good knowing what your rights are, and knowing how to exercise them, but to be in a position to be unable to exercise them defeats the whole purpose.

People going through airport screening are in a powerless situation - they have to make their flight, and usually because they have further connections/appointments to make. We all know what the result of questioning the actions of a TSA officer is: missing your flight, as an absolute minimum. Torture in Gitmo for an indetermined period of time as a maximum.

As a foreign national whose government has proved that they will do nothing to support individuals sent to Gitmo or rendered elsewhere, I acquiesce in silence to every demand that a TSA officers makes of me. For two reasons:

1) I have no efficient, cost effective option other than flying, and

2) no matter how unseemly the treatment that I receive from the TSA officer is, it is nothing compared to what I will endure if I don't acquiesce.

And before someone tries to neuter this comment by saying 'But no-one is being sent to Gitmo anymore', I use the term Gitmo in this sense to describe the place(s) where the US is now sending foreign nationals that they want to spend some extra time with. I have to continue to call it Gitmo because the government has learnt that publicising the fact that they do such things undermines their hypocritical moral high-ground, so they haven't told us the name of the place where they are sending these people now.

I know that by acquiescing I'm just helping to perpetuate the problem, but the reality is that it's not my country, and I'm there at most once a year. It's the people of the US that have to call their government to account, before their stature in this world, and their tourist economy) is damaged irretrievably (if it hasn't already).

JoeyJuly 15, 2009 10:00 AM

President Obama has "talked" about transparency and openness non-stop. That does not mean he meant any of it. The exchange recently between Helen Thomas and his press secretary about the control exerted by the Administration over questions asked at his town hall showpiece is a perfect example. I believe that President Bush was wrong to implement some of the measures that he did, but President Obama has already shown in 5 months that his colors are much darker, more dangerous, more secretive, and more restrictive of liberty than Mr. Bush could ever have dreamed.

HershJuly 19, 2009 9:13 PM

Two comments:
#1. For foreign nationals who complain about US Security checks when they enter the country, I can only say that we, not they experienced 9/11. Many years ago after a Palestinian woman hijacked a Swiss Airliner, I flew into Zurich to be met with soldiers in military full-battle garb surrounding our plane. One boarded the plane and announced that we were to walk between the cordon of soldiers who had orders to shoot anyone who ran.

#2. My favorite TSA story. I was going through security and ask a TSA officer if we had to remove our shoes. She said removing them was not necessary, but I would have to go through a special screening. "What's that," I asked. She replied, "You have to go over there (pointing to some benches) and take off your shoes." ?????????

AlbertAugust 7, 2009 11:57 AM

TSA CrewPASS will allow cockpit members to pass unscreened through airport secure area exits.

JeffAugust 21, 2009 3:01 PM

Going through airport security has become equivalent to a border crossing into a communist country. It seems more about intimidation than security. My last trip makes me think twice about air travel, what a hassle it has become. I spent 5 hours in an airport as the law forced them to re-ticket my flight. I could have made it to my flight easily before they finished boarding. I was not allowed on my scheduled flight as I was delayed at a third checkpoint as was repeatedly told I must be at the gate 20 minutes before the plane leaves. So I walked to the gate and watched as they finished boarding my original ticketed flight. A five hour delay, I had to call work and take another vacation day to change my schedule and when I arrived, my baggage didn't. I flew through 3 airports on the way over and back. Going through security and screening at every airport, why??? I go through security, get on the plane and at the next arrival, through another security check point before walking to the gate for the next flight. What could I have possibly picked up??? Same scenario at the next airport. Delays and hassle that makes no sense to me. There is safety and then there is beyond ridiculous. I cannot imagine what may be next.

One airport interviewed each passenger before going through screening at every gate. That has to cost a ton of money. Questions such as why did I shave my moustache as I had one on my passport picture and not now. I can't grow a thick moustache to begin with. I was asked about this at least three different times during the interview. This was the most important question they kept asking me, my shaving habits. What the hell does shaving have to do with anything. I really do not look forward to going through an airport again.

Philip SNovember 15, 2010 3:57 PM

I agree with a lot of the things you are saying in your blog post. There are so many flawed system in the TSA it is almost embarassing. I am an avid traveler myself and can remember the old days when the airline companies themselves were responaible for security. Seeing all the changes in security to counter the failed terrorist attacks are becoming more of an annoyance. The one thing i disagree with in this blog is how the author says that Obama needs to make all of these changes. While I agree the changes need to be done it isn't going to be Obama that makes the changes, it will be legislation presented in congress that will fix the problems TSA has. So overall this is a good blog.

Dan W.March 3, 2011 10:56 AM

Why has no one come out and said that "implied consent" and "plain view" are being abused? If the framers of the Constitution were to visit our society and saw the security measures at airports, I would think they would be appalled.

Dan W.March 3, 2011 11:07 AM

Just found out the CLEAR is back in business. It is currently available at the Denver and Orlando airports.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..