(In)security theatre


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.

Read: Paying a price for setting the record straight?

See also: President Obama, It’s Time to Fire The TSA

Update 01.01.10: TSA has dropped the subs: TSA ends journalist subpoenas over leaked memo

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  1. Looks like the Obama radical socialist, tax-evading, welfare, nanny state is finally showing it’s true colors…

    Don’t blame me, I voted for the other guy! Let’s elect Ron Paul in 2012

  2. that is the most beautiful and telling photo i have seen regarding this subject. it immediatly drew me in, sleepy sleepy violet and dotben, completely drained by travel and confusion. i am glad you made it home safe. im scared to fly now, and not because of terrorists. because of tsaists.

  3. I flew today from Detroit (where the underpants bomber was caught) to San Francisco (I’m too jetlagged to make a good underpants joke here, so just pretend I did and it was awesome). Aside from inexplicably long lines at security in Detroit, we had no unusual security measures on our flights. Nothing obtrusive or weird at all. I was honestly shocked. I was all prepared to hide electronics or paperback novels during the last hour of the flight, but they couldn’t care less.

  4. I sure miss the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments. But I’ll bet those bloggers miss them even more. (freedom of speech; secure against unreasonable searches and seizures; nor be deprived of property without due process of law)

  5. TSA imposed a lot of insane security measure after 9/11. Most of them would not have stopped the terrorists of Al Qaeda. Now we are repeatedly seeing that these measures are still not preventing terrorist acts. Even the lame ones. So why continue to impose these annoyances ? Because they feel that it shows us travellers that the flights are now safe… Yeah right.

    Making the honest citizens afraid of taking the plane because of the authorities… that’s playing the terrorists’ game. Terror does not come from the terrorist but from TSA.

    My conclusion: if you’re a US citizen, don’t travel. If you’re an European citizen, don’t fly to the US at least for a few months.

  6. I want to point out first off, that this is a terrible situation and really does need to be fixed. I feel for you and everyone else being hit by this. Bloggers, fliers, whatever.

    That said, how do we keep the people in planes safe while at the same time not cross into coo-coo land? Something clearly does need to be done, since we do have people doing bad things on planes, but there’s no way the TSA is doing the right thing. I want to know who is doing something about this nonsense.

    I wonder, maybe the bloggers who were subpoenaed will actually be able to help bring about change via the courts? I wonder if that might have been part of the reason it happened…

  7. All airplane passengers should be gagged, handcuffed, diapered…hmmm, maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Can I have a young redheaded flight attendant at least if I’m going to be put through all this torture?

  8. TSA is ridiculous and we ought to hold leaders in Congress and the President accountable for fixing this mess, most likely by dismantling it outright. Terrorists can target any public venue they want and we’re wasting precious human time/energy.

    If you start with the number of people flying from this great chart (http://gizmodo.com/5435954/the-true-odds-of-airborne-terror-chart), and figure each of them loses an hour of their life coming to the airport early for screening–you end up with 7 billion hours. That’s an entire lifetime * 9,988 people. So about 10,000 human lives wasted sitting in an airport line being harrassed. And for what!!! So some idiot can bypass the whole thing and still attempt to kill 100+ innocent people.

  9. So … what’s to be done about this? I think it’s time to stand up to the terrorists and say “NO, YOU DON’T SCARE US.” Abolish the TSA! Every time they crank their searching higher, what happens? We get another scare. This is a game we can’t win. The only way to win is not to play. Disband the TSA! Call your federal legislators. Call the White House. Don’t stop until the TSA is dead and buried.

  10. The TSA have become the real terrorists. They are causing fear, uncertainty and doubt. They are terrorizing people. They are letting those who would want to destroy our way of life win, because they are doing the work for them. This stuff needs to stop. Our world is going to hell all because of fear. They really need to listen to Yoda, fear leads to the Dark Side.

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