One hour ago I posted on Twitter that bloggers have been served supoeanas and had their computers confiscated for posting TSA guidelines. Yesterday, these bloggers’ posts were the only point of sanity and fact my partner and I could find to use to prepare ourselves to be able to follow the rules and laws in perparation our London-SF flight.
This is a non-sex post, so feel free to skip it and come back in a little bit. Last night I landed from my international London-San Francisco flight; I wrote my SF Chronicle column shortly before boarding and in it you’ll see that before I stepped on the plane I had little idea of what to actually expect in terms of what would happen with my body, my belongings, my privacy and my rights. Human rights, not simply civil or as a US citizen. Everything was guesswork, and all I wanted to do was make sure I was going to follow the rules and not have my stuff taken away from me, my body violated in a pointless search, or wind up detained for a mistake I would have no idea I might be making. That’s how ‘culture of fear’ flying internationally had become 24 hours ago. And I’m a US citizen flying into my own country. Imagine what my boyfriend, who is not a US citizen (but is white) was going through. It’s important to mention his skin color, as it had been reported that whites were distinctly being treated less criminally than others.
We did what everyone else web-savvy and confused was doing: we read blogs. When we tried to find out from the airport — Heathrow — what to expect with security guidelines so we’d know what to pack and how to pack, and everything else… The airport told us to contact our flight carrier. Our airline told us to ask the airport. A pointless loop. We went online. Thankfully, a TSA directive was published here and there, and while we didn’t believe all the rumors on Twitter (always consider the source), we had a basic idea on how to protect ourselves — from the TSA.
As of takeoff, we followed what we learned here, a helpful post with then-new TSA guidelines. The TSA blog, and the TSA itself, were silent and contacted no one who was trying to find out information for travelers; citizens with rights, yo. As you can see, the post has been updated FIVE TIMES, as TSA revisions were made (albeit vaguely) and airlines made changes practically by the hour.
Before getting to the airport, we understood that:
* Our electronics might not be allowed, or the GPS on them was not allowed. No idea how this could be enforced.
* Two screenings and searches; one into the terminal, second at the gate.
* Nothing on the lap the last hour of flight.
* No airline mapping, or awareness of plane position over US airspaces allowed.
* Royalty and their family are exempt from these rules.
* No getting up the last hour of the flight.
Note that last item, and consider that with that rule in place, the passenger who foiled the most recent attack attempt would not have been *allowed* to get out of his seat. And as for the royalty exemption rule, well, you should be VERY concerned about that one.
When we got to the airport, we had been upgraded to business class. This made it more obvious for us to see that as we passed through the first security check, everyone was photographed while going through security — except people traveling in business and first class. The second security check was a pocket-by-pocket, person-by-person search with pat down that made the plane late for departure by almost two hours. So, don’t forget to add those hours to your overall travel plans, and reconsider where and how you spend your vacation money and time.
Of the above list, only the double search was in place and enforced. You cannot play by the rules if you don’t know what they are. You cannot follow the rules if they change while you are offline. You can’t obey the law if the law is subject to change without notice. By going after the bloggers who posted the directive, the TSA has validated that this was a real directive at the time of its publication. And by doing all of this, the TSA has effectively violated its own TOS.
The worst part of it all, the most heartbreaking, was watching them pat down and thoroughly search children under three. This system is fucking broken, people.
The reason I did this post: The bloggers that published the TSA directive, which had been disseminated on airline websites, have just been served subpoenas by TSA agents, and have had their computers confiscated.
Update 01.01.10: TSA has dropped the subs: TSA ends journalist subpoenas over leaked memo