June 1, 2017

The TSA began a new screening policy for paper products at airport checkpoints in Missouri last month, and now the agency's branch in Sacramento, California, is testing out more invasive searches for books and food items.

In the new system, passengers are required to take all reading material and food out of their carry-on luggage and place it in a separate bin. TSA screeners can "fan" through travelers' books to see if anything is hidden in the pages, but agency officials insist they will not pay attention to the content. Critics have long argued passengers selected for extra screening are not chosen as randomly as the TSA claims, and book content — particularly of a political or religious nature — could re-ignite that debate.

"It's always been a series of insults," said Julie Sze, a University of California, Davis, professor who experienced the test procedure at Sacramento. "Books, magazines, food, those are like my three treasured things. It feels personal on a whole different level."

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Sunday he will likely expand the new searches nationwide and may also ban laptop carry-ons for all international flights in and out of the United States. Bonnie Kristian

December 24, 2015

Travelers who prefer to opt out of the full-body scanners at airport security may no longer be given that option, thanks to a rule change issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

"While passengers may generally decline [scanner] screening in favor of physical screening," the update stated, "TSA may direct mandatory [scanner] screening for some passengers as warranted by security considerations in order to safeguard transportation security." The considerations which would justify an agent's decision to refuse an opt-out are not specified.

The TSA's body scanners have been controversial since the first generation of machines were installed in 2008. Privacy advocates concerned with the security of the images generated by the machines were not placated by software changes which the agency says make it impossible for workers to save and share body scan images, and the TSA also caught heat in 2015 for its failure to detect 95 percent of fake bombs and weapons passed through checkpoints. Bonnie Kristian

October 9, 2015

A Michigan woman named Mary Hostein has been feuding with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) since 2013 after she attempted to bring a jar of apple butter through airport security. The agency has slapped her with a $2,000 fine, and has threatened litigation if she doesn't pay soon.

Hostein didn't think that the near-solid spread counted as a liquid subject to the TSA's 3-ounce limit, so she tried to take her jar through two different TSA lines — a decision the TSA claims indicates her intent to break the rules.

For her part, Hostein is shocked that the agency has devoted so much time and levied so harsh a fine over apple butter. "I'm a nobody fighting a government agency that I feel is being relentless," she says. "Is this really what you [the TSA] pay your manpower to do? Is this really protecting our country?" Bonnie Kristian

September 11, 2015

Since 2013, the TSA has demanded random access to all checked luggage, and to avoid breaking travelers' bags, it encouraged the use of locks the agency could open with a master key. This sounds like a smart security idea in theory — until you remember that the internet and 3D printing exist.

The key design was leaked online via a quickly deleted Washington Post photograph last fall; since then, online collaborators have perfected the 3D printer specs to replicate the master key. Here's a video of one such key in action:

The TSA has not commented on this security breach. Bonnie Kristian

September 4, 2015

A Denver CBS station has obtained footage that has been concealed from the public since the incident that was caught on camera occurred in February.

Two TSA agents, Ty Spicha and Yasmin Shafi, plotted to manipulate their airport security checkpoint to allow Spicha to fondle male passengers he found attractive. Shafi would tell the body scanner the passenger being screened was female so it detected an irregularity in the genital region. This allowed Spicha to conduct an unjustified pat-down of that area. In the video clip, we see their plan in action:

Another TSA employee reported the plot to superiors. Spicha and Shafi were fired, but no charges were filed. In response to this incident, the TSA has promised more training "in the long run." Bonnie Kristian

March 24, 2015

In an effort to make its security screenings more effective — the agency has yet to catch an honest-to-goodness terrorist — the TSA implemented a behavioral profiling system called SPOT. The idea is to train agents to recognize certain "suspicious" behaviors to prevent an attack.

Formalized in 2007, SPOT has come at a price tag of $1 billion, but a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleges that the screening techniques are "discriminatory, ineffective, pseudo-scientific, and wasteful of taxpayer money."

A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in November found that SPOT's success rate is only "the same as or slightly better than chance." And all of this may be irrelevant anyway, as the TSA itself admitted in 2013 that terrorists have moved on from airplanes. Bonnie Kristian

February 5, 2015

Last week, a Philadelphia man named Roger Vanderklok filed suit against  the TSA, the DHS, and the Philadelphia Police Department over an incident in the Philadelphia airport in January 2013. Vanderklok was traveling to a half marathon in Florida when he had a misunderstanding with a TSA agent about whether he was carrying "organic material" — in this case, energy bars — in his carry-on bag

After the half hour of confusion was cleared up, Vanderklok mentioned that the delay could have been avoided if the agent had better explained himself and asked to file a complaint. Enraged, the agent summoned the police, confiscated Vanderklok's belongings, and accused him of "threatening the placement of a bomb" and making "terroristic threats."

After Vanderklok's panicked wife finally located her missing husband and bailed him out of jail, the dispute went to trial. Vanderklok was cleared of all charges after surveillance footage backed up his account against the TSA's claims. Bonnie Kristian

December 1, 2014

Midway isn't Chicago's busiest airport (that would be O'Hare), but on Sunday, it probably felt like it. The Sunday at the end of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest travel days of the year, and the TSA security line that greeted air passengers yesterday morning was reportedly 1.2 miles long, snaking from the security gate down the hall, out the door, all the way to the subway station, and back inside the airport. This is what that looks like in grainy stop-motion, from Paige Southard and the Chicago Sun-Times:

Some passengers missed their flights, but the TSA apparently moved the line through with impressive speed, all things considered:

The airport authorities were philosophical about the ridiculously long line. "This happens sometimes," Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride told the Chicago Sun-Times. The lines were long for a two-hour period on Sunday morning "because that is when most people are traveling for the holiday period." Peter Weber

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