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Can I Take Photos at the Checkpoint and Airport?

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009
camera

Unfortunately, there isn't a cookie cutter answer that can be applied to all of our screening locations and airports. It’s important to note that we know there’s a difference between someone taking a casual photo and someone doing surveillance, but if you are taking pictures at or near the checkpoint, don’t be surprised if someone (TSA, airport police, or a curious passenger) asks you what you’re up to.

We don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations. You can take pictures at our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process or slowing things down. We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors.

However… while the TSA does not prohibit photographs at screening locations, local laws, state statutes, or local ordinances might. Your best bet is to call ahead and see what that specific airport’s policy is.

I suggest you contact the TSA Contact Center .  They will have an answer for you and if they don’t, they can connect you with somebody who does. Of course, if you’re a member of the press, you should contact the TSA Office of Public Affairs.\

I’ve taken photographs in checkpoints, terminals, and on planes and I have never had an issue. I know some of you have and hopefully this information helps you a little. 

Bob Burns 
TSA Blog Team 

If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact us by clicking here.

Comments

Submitted by Grahamstravelblog on

I took a picture that involved something just past some TSA officials when I was traveling through SNA/Orange County/John Wayne. I asked the TSA officials near by if it was OK to take a pictre and they said it was fine. I always worry about taking pictures in the security area though. Thanks for the post, I'll know where I stand next time, but it never hurts to ask.

I hope that taking the pictures on the plane didn't happen with a digital camera during take off or landing. Though, I wish that wasn't an issue because that's when the interesting stuff is out the window.

Submitted by Anonymous on

As usual, TSA says one thing but then says, or maybe not. Can you in fact name a single local ordinance against photographing a TSA installation that was not asked for by TSA? You guys always like punting things off on other agencies. I.e. "We don't arrest anyone! The cops just arrest anyone we ask them to!"

Also, there exist a small but not hard to find number of people with near photographic memory. So, preventing normal people from taking pictures would accomplish..... what?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Okay, now you just know that someone is going to say something snarky like: "Hear that, folks? No oversight without their permission."

Submitted by Phil on

Bob, I took your advice and submitted the following question via your "Got Feedback?" form:

"On March 31, 2009, Bob at the TSA blog wrote that TSA does not prohibit any photography of publicly-accessible parts of airports [1]. He also wrote, "while the TSA does not prohibit photographs at screening locations, local laws, state statutes, or local ordinances might. Your best bet is to call ahead and see what that specific airport’s policy is. I suggest you use the Got Feedback program to directly contact the Customer Support Manager at the airport you’re going to be traveling through. They will have an answer for you and if they don’t, they can connect you with somebody who does."

Do any such local laws, state statutes, or local ordinances apply to people who wish to photograph publicly-accessible areas of your airport? If so, which ones?

References:

[1]: http://www.tsa.gov/blog/2009/03/can-i-take-photos-at-checkpoint-and.html

I submitted it once for each of the following airports: AZ Phoenix, CA Los Angeles, CA Oakland, CA Ontario, CA Orange County, CA Sacramento, CA San Diego, CA San Francisco, CA San Jose, CO Denver, DC Washington (Dulles International), DC Washington (National), FL Ft. Lauderdale, FL Miami, FL Orlando, FL Tampa, GA Atlanta, HI Honolulu, IL Chicago (Midway), IL Chicago (O'Hare), IN Indianapolis, LA New Orleans, MA Boston, MD Baltimore, MI Detroit, MN Minneapolis/St. Paul, MO Kansas City, MO St. Louis, NC Charlotte, NC Raleigh/Durham, NJ Newark, NM Albuquerque, NV Las Vegas, NY New York (John F. Kennedy), NY New York (La Guardia), OH Cincinnati, OH Columbus, OR Portland, PA Philadelphia, PA Pittsburgh, PR San Juan, TN Memphis, TN Nashville, TX Dallas/Fort Worth (Regional), TX Dallas (Love Field), TX Houston (Intercontinental), TX Houston (William P. Hobby), TX San Antonio, UT Salt Lake City, and WA Seattle-Tacoma.

I'll follow up here with results of my survey.

--
Phil
Add your own questions at TSAFAQ.net

Submitted by GSOLTSO on

Anon said "As usual, TSA says one thing but then says, or maybe not. Can you in fact name a single local ordinance against photographing a TSA installation that was not asked for by TSA? You guys always like punting things off on other agencies. I.e. "We don't arrest anyone! The cops just arrest anyone we ask them to!"

The organization says the following "WE (meaning TSA) do not prohibit the photography, video, or filming at the checkpoint areas AS LONG as you do not interfere with the screening process, or slow the checkpoint flow down". This means you can take pictures of your buddy Fred being patted down, your buddy Fred can take pictures of you being patted down, you can even videotape Fred getting the pat down. The organization also asks you not to film the monitors (for the x-ray machines and/or closed circuit tv systems). That is it on our part, we make no modifiers on this past those (salient) points. Now, the local LEO/government structure may have different rules that they apply. Please explain to me how "they may have other rules/laws on a local level" became "you guys always like punting things off on other agencies". I will help you some here, the basic rules are given to you here (don't interfere, don't slow down the process, don't photo the monitors), as long as you check with the INDIVIDUAL airport you are flying through to ascertain if they have any laws/rules that are different, you should be ok. I suggest that if you intend to photo/video/film things at a checkpoint, that you ask the nearest airport official (LEO, Security, etc) or the nearest TSO. If the person you ask can't give you an answer, then they should be able to get you in touch with someone that can.

Submitted by Anonymous on

What a ridiculous post Bob. Do you honestly think that if someone whipped out a camera at a checkpoint they wouldn't immediately be accosted by security, any checkpoint at all? I have learned from experience and from this blog, that any action outside the narrowly defined "norm" more often than not gets you an unpleasant date with a LEO, in extreme cases you get surrounded my machine guns and carted off to jail, then later forced to apologize for your "hoax attack" by the people who screwed up.

Phil, thank you so much for doing Bob's research for him. It will be interesting to see if any airport claims to be okay with checkpoint photography. Even if some do, I have a feeling that testing the theory might prove inconvenient or fatal!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Quote:
"Bob, I took your advice and submitted the following question via your "Got Feedback?" form:"


Question: Why is it that people (especially Phil) find it neccessary to copy & quote the entire section of a blog post? Everyone read the post!! You don't need to drop the entire article into your post!! All you do is make a huge, long post that most people skip over anyway!

Are you really that self-importatnt that you feel that you need to have the longest post on the site??

Get over yourself, post your question / comment and get on with life!

Submitted by Anonymous on

I agree that this is a ridiculous post that tells us nothing. It merely says that like everything else about the TSA, what is and is not permitted is entirely at the whim of whichever uniformed official is on duty at the moment. This is presumably what Kip meant by "unpredictability," which he has declared the cornerstone of TSA effectiveness.

That said, I would never dream of taking pictures at an airport, or within viewing distance of any government facility. The "chilling effect" so beloved of Cheney and Ashcroft has been effective. I practice the responsible self-censorship that is essential for all patriotic citizens who want to help our Leaders achieve Victory in the Global War On Terror.

Photography has become a proxy for terrorism. The presence of a camera sets off the alarms of whichever uniformed official is protecting that piece of turf. The Homeland Security Department has dealt with a vaguely-defined threat that's usually difficult to detect by declaring a generalized "War on the Unusual." If the public is afraid of everything and reports it to the Authorities, that might somehow stumble on a terrorist plot that evades ordinary "intelligence." And somehow photography is universally considered "unusual" enough to fit that definition, so everyone is specifically encouraged to be afraid of it. Effectively, there is a War On Photography (that has joined the roster of Wars on Drugs, Terrorism, Child Pornography, and assorted other scourges). Terrorists are very rare, but photographers are rather common; so photographers are useful targets for uniformed officials who are eager "do something to fight terrorists."

The supposed rationale for the War on Photography is that terrorists will take pictures of their targets before planning their attacks, rather than relying on Google Earth or the public library. Since anything can be a target, treating all photographers as suspected terrorists seems the only thing we can do to fight terrorism. So transit authorities ban photography in subways buses, and cities ban photography of bridges because that's they honestly believe it's protecting us and helping to win the War On Terror.

Those cops and officials frequently invoke the PATRIOT Act to justify harassing photographers, even though it actually says nothing about photography. But that's understandable, and perhaps even a desirable side-effect that Ashcroft intended when he rammed it through Congress. The PATRIOT Act is an enormous, wide-ranging piece of legislation that very few people have read and even fewer people really understand. But Congress passed it after 9/11 to "fight terrorism," so cops and officials assume that it restricts or bans photography because of its clear association with terrorism. And threatining a terrorist/photographer with prosecution under the PATRIOT Act is certainly an impressive and effective way to make them surrender a memory card or camera (which the photographer actually has no legal obligation to do).

Of course the enforcement is selective. Someone with an SLR will attract any cops or rent-a-cop in the vicinity, but millions of people with ubiquitous cellphone cameras won't be noticed. That means if a terrorist actually does decide to photograph a target, he'll use an unobtrusive cellphone camera. So while harassing more serious photographers lets the cops feel like they're being heroes who fight terrorism, it's just another one of so many needless losses of freedom that provides no actual security benefit. That unfortunately seems to be the defining characteristic of the vaguely-defined Global War On Terror.

Submitted by Phil on

Someone anonymously wrote:

"Why is it that people (especially Phil) find it neccessary to copy & quote the entire section of a blog post? Everyone read the post!! You don't need to drop the entire article into your post!! All you do is make a huge, long post that most people skip over anyway!"

In discussions that take place "on the Internet" (whether they be on Usenet, in e-mail, in a Web-based discussion forum, or in the comments for a blog post) good netiquette dictates that follow-up messages/posts include a quotation of the original message or post sufficient to provide context for the follow-up.

I make a strong effort to trim my quotations to include the minimum necessary for readers to understand what I write. For instance, in this case I left out your assumptions and suggestions about my intent and future actions. Many people, I assume, will believe that you wasted space by including those rude comments that added nothing to the discussion.

--
Phil
Add your own questions at TSAFAQ.net

Submitted by Anonymous on

Quote:
"I make a strong effort to trim my quotations to include the minimum necessary for readers to understand what I write. For instance, in this case I left out your assumptions and suggestions about my intent and future actions. Many people, I assume, will believe that you wasted space by including those rude comments that added nothing to the discussion."

Uh, no you didn't and uh, no they won't!

Submitted by Anonymous on

So once again we are given a vague non-answer. Photography at checkpoint is allowed unless a TSO decides that we are interfering with the screening process. Since we lack any clear definition about what interfering at a checkpoint is we are then subject to the TSO’s definition and that definition is SSI. Something that could not be questioned or we could be subject to harassment if law enforcement is called.

We’ve seen what happens when TSO’s are allowed to substitute their definition for some sort of written standard. Battery packs confiscated because they look like a bomb, is it 3.0 ounces or 3.4, containers in the freedom baggie, our 3.4 ounce containers must have the manufacturers label on them or not, prescriptions medications have to the pharmacy label on them or not, nipple rings must be removed or not, freezer gel packs can be used or not. These are just a few of the problems that occur when a policy can be enforced when TSO’s are left to their own devices. I’m sure someone will claim these are isolated incidents, but when the TSA makes claims about protecting us from harm they can claim it only has to happen once. So that guideline should be applied to all policies.

Eric
One of the 5 or 6

Submitted by Anonymous on
"I make a strong effort to trim my quotations to include the minimum necessary for readers to understand what I write. For instance, in this case I left out your assumptions and suggestions about my intent and future actions. Many people, I assume, will believe that you wasted space by including those rude comments that added nothing to the discussion."

Uh, no you didn't and uh, no they won't!

He did and we do.

Eric
One of the 5 or 6
Submitted by Matt on

I don't think taking a photo with a camera is a good idea to begin with. I mean of course TSA is going to say something because they are doing there best to protect.

Submitted by Tomas on
Yet Another anonymous wrote...
Of course the enforcement is selective. Someone with an SLR will attract any cops or rent-a-cop in the vicinity, but millions of people with ubiquitous cellphone cameras won't be noticed. That means if a terrorist actually does decide to photograph a target, he'll use an unobtrusive cellphone camera. So while harassing more serious photographers lets the cops feel like they're being heroes who fight terrorism, it's just another one of so many needless losses of freedom that provides no actual security benefit. That unfortunately seems to be the defining characteristic of the vaguely-defined Global War On Terror.
________________

Sadly that has turned out to be the case in places other than just the United States.

My usual digital camera is a DSLR with a hefty zoom lens on it, because I enjoy taking GOOD pictures, and have used a single lens reflex for this since 1961.

SLRs tend to stand out a bit because they are large, difficult to conceal lumps, and are easy for the officious minions to spot.

Just to prove a point, a friend of mine who has a high-end cell phone with an excellent camera in it recently stood in a "no photography" area appearing to talk on his phone.

As he slowly, casually turned 360 degrees while "talking" on his phone, he was actually making a detailed video of the entire area.

The two "guards" nearby didn't even notice him.

Later he came back with his DSLR and was told he could not bring it in.

True, this was not TSA, and not an airport, but it shows that as usual, the "watchers" see only what they expect to see.

Tom
Submitted by Anonymous on

@GSOLTSO "This means you can take pictures of your buddy Fred being patted down, your buddy Fred can take pictures of you being patted down, you can even videotape Fred getting the pat down."

I was threatened with arrest by a TSA supervisor at SLC for trying to take a picture of a friend being screened from 25 feet away. (The supervisor wasn't called, just standing around staring at the ceiling bored when he saw me.) Despite my knowing he has no arrest powers, I am sure that if he called the police they would arrest me for some trumped up "verbally interfering" charge on behalf of TSA. So despite being in the right I stopped - I did not have time, sadly, to stand up for myself against someone's power trip.

Submitted by GSOLTSO on

Anon said "I was threatened with arrest by a TSA supervisor at SLC for trying to take a picture of a friend being screened from 25 feet away. "

I will say that unless there was an interference issue (impeding the process, passenger flow or response to another situation) this was not the stated policy. I can't comment on the situation you describe, but the stated policy is essentially "if it doesn't interfere, and the pics/vid are not of the monitors then it is ok". I hope that you addressed your situation with the Got Feedback page. I know it is not 100% satisfactory, but let them know what happened, give them the who, what, where, when and your view on why. There might have been something going on that you didn't know about, there could have been some problem with where you were standing, etc. Even if you don't get the resolution you are looking for, you might get some information for future reference.

Submitted by Sandra on

Anonymous posted this, (April 1, 2009 4:40 PM):

Some dude said some TSA dude said you're wrong: "TSA Captain: Yes there is. Phography is not allowed."

Follow the link and in the comments you will find:

Comment 1: "They would simply say ignorance of the law is no excuse"

Comment 2: I agree, but there’s no way for me to acquaint myself with said law…

Guess what - Comment 2 DID NOT come from Phil. So there are others out there who also realize that the TSA is hiding behind secret rules.

Submitted by Anonymous on

@GSOLTSO "I hope that you addressed your situation with the Got Feedback page."

It was around a year ago, before the Got Feedback Program when the only way to complain was to hand over your ID in exchange for a complaint form and a retaliatory screening. (Only wee a bit of snark in that sentence. :))

A real problem though is, how do you complain about someone without their ID number? Because if you are already feeling mistreated by someone with authority, asking them to stand still while you find some paper to write down a small number form their badge is not very appealing.

Submitted by RB on

While we are discussing what should not be a problem at a TSA Checkpoint would any of you on the TSA Blog Staff care to comment on an event that occurred at St. Louis and reported on Fox news where a traveler was detained and interrogated by TSA personnel for having somewhere around $5000 in cash?

Can someone at TSA articulate what threat this person presented to the air transportation system?

Can someone at TSA articulate why TSA employees are permitted to use threats, vulgar language and intimidation to coerce information from anyone?

Can someone at TSA describe what interrogation training TSO's received since we all know they are so highly trained?

Can anyone at TSA tell me why this event was not headlined on the TSA web page as a success story?

Here's a partial clip of the event.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMB6L487LHM

I suspect I will only get silence from TSA on these questions but surely the Public Affairs staff has spun this already.

Submitted by Dunstan on

" matt said...

I don't think taking a photo with a camera is a good idea to begin with. I mean of course TSA is going to say something because they are doing there best to protect."

SSI, Matt? Protect the human race from being its historically curious, gossiping nature?

Submitted by Patrick (BOS TSO) on

How ironic or shall we coincidental, because I was just stopped two days ago by MBTA (or as we call it... the T)customer service agent for taking photos in the subway station. I'm a railfan, one of my little hobbies I do. ;)

Of course, it was my day off, and I was just killing time in Boston. The guy just hassled me a bit. I felt like whipping out a copy of the system map, which has a small section on the T's photo policy and showing it to him. But I decided not to.

Personally, again, I could care less if you take photos or videos of pat downs since we do the same exact thing the CCTVs. However, If you try to take a photo regardless if you have a cell phone, a compact or an SLR of an X-ray screen or an ETD, I will try and disrupt your photo as that is forbidden as X-ray images are generally considered to be SSI.

But again... I don't have much against people taking photos because I do it myself.

Submitted by Mr Gel-pack on

GSLTSO @ "I will say that unless there was an interference issue (impeding the process, passenger flow or response to another situation) this was not the stated policy. I can't comment on the situation you describe, but the stated policy is essentially "if it doesn't interfere, and the pics/vid are not of the monitors then it is ok". I hope that you addressed your situation with the Got Feedback page. I know it is not 100% satisfactory, but let them know what happened, give them the who, what, where, when and your view on why. There might have been something going on that you didn't know about, there could have been some problem with where you were standing, etc. Even if you don't get the resolution you are looking for, you might get some information for future reference."


###

The "Stated policy" and the "you might get some information for future reference" is a huge problem with TSA communication--the rules/stated policies often change depending on who you are talking to. This problem is what Phil and at least 30 of the 5 or 6 have been asking for for months: Publish the darn rules. If the rules of the game are SSI and can only be officially shared through bureaucratic responses from GotFeedback, us passengers will never be able to "partner" with TSA.

Submitted by Phil on

Someone anonymously wrote:

"I was threatened with arrest by a TSA supervisor at SLC for trying to take a picture of a friend being screened from 25 feet away."

GSOLTSOresponded:

"the stated policy is essentially `if it doesn't interfere, and the pics/vid are not of the monitors then it is ok'."

That's not the policy Bob from TSA published here two days ago. He wrote that TSA "don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations." He also said that TSA asks people not to film or photograph their monitors. He didn't say which monitors, and he didn't say that such photography was prohibited, only discouraged. I've attempted repeatedly for the past three days to post a comment about this request that people not photograph monitors, but although it violates none of TSA's comment rules, it has not been approved. Bob, why are you refusing discussion of this matter?

--
Phil
Add your own questions at TSAFAQ.net

Submitted by Anonymous on

GSOLTSO said...
"This means you can take pictures of your buddy Fred being patted down, your buddy Fred can take pictures of you being patted down, you can even videotape Fred getting the pat down. The organization also asks you not to film the monitors (for the x-ray machines and/or closed circuit tv systems). That is it on our part, we make no modifiers on this past those (salient) points"

Exactly. I have worked at several airports and photography has never been a problem unless it is interfering with the screening process. What do I mean by interfering? For example, when your companion is trying to step into the wanding area to get a snapshot of you getting screened or a camera right up in the face of the officer. Also consider how distracting flash photography can be. I think most of us would have a hard time doing our jobs with the pop of flash bulbs in your face. Yes, sometimes local policy is more strict than TSA. Often LEOs working at a checkpoint do not want their pictures taken, or maybe other passengers don't want to be in your YouTube video.
I think exercising common sense and courtesy (on both sides) can make taking your pictures a possibility. Be prepared to explain what you are doing - if you are just taking a picture of "Fred" on his way to Cancun, you have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. If you are unnecessarily hassles, you should report the event.

Submitted by Anonymous on
GSOLTSO said...
Anon said "I was threatened with arrest by a TSA supervisor at SLC for trying to take a picture of a friend being screened from 25 feet away. "

I will say that unless there was an interference issue (impeding the process, passenger flow or response to another situation) this was not the stated policy.

Bob, I tried searching the TSA website and could not find anything official regarding the TSA’s policy on photography at a checkpoint. Something that I could show in the event a TSO attempted to do what is described above. More importantly something that defines “interference”, other wise we are subject to vague whims of TSA personnel. The problem with this and other TSA blog posts is that there are no official documents to protect passengers from TSA personnel abusing the system.

Eric
One of the five or six
Submitted by HappyToHelp on
Might I pose another scenario. Someone who is not suppose to be photographed is present at the checkpoint. The supervisor is asked to report such people taking photographs to law enforcement during that time. Person leaves and photography is allowed as normal.

Just something to think about.

-H2H
Submitted by Phil on
Patrick (BOS TSO)wrote:

"If you try to take a photo regardless if you have a cell phone, a compact or an SLR of an X-ray screen or an ETD, I will try and disrupt your photo as that is forbidden as X-ray images are generally considered to be SSI."

Patrick, what you wrote was in conflict with what Bob wrote Tuesday (photography of your monitors at TSA luggage search stations is discouraged but not prohibited). It's also in conflict with 15 of the 17 responses I've received so far from TSA representatives at various major airports.

Could you please explain why you believe that such photography is prohibited?

Also, you wrote that X-ray images are "generally considered [by TSA] to be SSI." My understanding of your "SSI" classification is minimal, but Bruce Schneier wrote, "Before someone can have access to SSI, he simply must sign an NDA. If someone discloses classified information, he faces criminal penalties. If someone discloses SSI, he faces civil penalties."

If he's correct, then aren't you subjecting yourself to civil penalties by displaying that SSI to anyone who walks by?

Why would you want to prevent someone from photographing what thousands of people can see and remember? For that matter, how do you think you can enforce such a policy given the ubiquity of tiny cameras, often built into objects that people carry around and hold up to their faces in airports (mobile phones)?

--
Phil
Add your own questions at TSAFAQ.net
Submitted by Chris Boyce on
HappyToHelp said...

Might I pose another scenario. Someone who is not suppose to be photographed is present at the checkpoint. The supervisor is asked to report such people taking photographs to law enforcement during that time. Person leaves and photography is allowed as normal.

Sir, I'm utterly baffled. Would you mind posting an example of such a person and under what law photography of said individual is prohibited?
Submitted by RB on

HappyToHelp said...
Might I pose another scenario. Someone who is not suppose to be photographed is present at the checkpoint. The supervisor is asked to report such people taking photographs to law enforcement during that time. Person leaves and photography is allowed as normal.

Just something to think about.

-H2H

April 2, 2009 2:33 PM
.......................
It is something to think about.

What kind of people are those who cannot be photographed?

Who asked and by what authority was the supervisor instructed to report such people and why would law enforcement care?

Person leaves and photography can resume.

If taking pictues is not against some law then people on the checkpoint cannot modify or create a new law just because they want to.

That would be a restriction of individual freedom.

Just something to think about!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Any information on TSA confiscating lunches of airport workers?

Any information on TSA harassing a guy with $4700 in cash? Seems like it is significantly less than the $10,000 being tossed about as being suspicious.

Submitted by Boomka on

I was at the airport in Adelaide in Australia and I took a picture of the departures board which happened to be above the security check point. Well, someone came up to me and asked to see the photo because apparently it was illegal. It was the first time I'd heard of that.

Submitted by RB on

Bob, why was a traveler detained by TSA for doing nothing more than having $4700 dollars on their person?

Submitted by Anonymous on

@HappyToHelp "Might I pose another scenario. Someone who is not suppose to be photographed is present at the checkpoint. The supervisor is asked to report such people taking photographs to law enforcement during that time. Person leaves and photography is allowed as normal."

What does this mean? There are special people that can not be photographed? What makes a person so magical? Who maintains such a list? Are they given special ID cards?

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA Abuse of Power continues:

http://www.upgradetravelbetter.com/2009/04/02/caught-on-tape-tsa-harasse...

TSA had someone arrested even though they had not committed a crime, and it was pretty clear the person would have cooperated with any legal requests. TSA was not making legal requests.

TSA needs to stop trumpeting their false wins, and either start really making air travel safer, or disband.

As to the people involved with the incident in St Louis: Fire them all. Publicly. Now!

Submitted by Just Some Guy on

Will you be commenting on the traveler in St. Louis who was detained by TSA and threatened because he wouldn't answer unlawful questions?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMB6L487LHM

Submitted by Anonymous on

Thanks Bob for bringing up the subject. While I really have no interest in taking pictures or filming the security checkpoints, I do enjoy the hobby known as "plane spotting"--hopefully you've heard of it. It's a worldwide hobby that simply involves watching airplanes takeoff and land, and sometimes photographing them, listening to them talk to Air Traffic Control on airband scanners, and tracking their movements; sometimes from within the terminals and sometimes from the airport perimeters. It's a perfectly legitimate and legal hobby that's been around long before 9/11 and long before TSA. Many airports actually have parks and observation areas set up for this purpose. In the wake of 9/11, several areas were closed down. Due to efforts (letter writing campaigns, petitions, etc) by myself and others, a number of observation areas have been thankfully reopened. While it's my understanding that photography at airports has never been prohibited by the TSA or FAA, plane spotters frequently attract the attention of "security personnel" including police officers and contract guards who attempt to harass us and threaten us with violations of TSA and/or FAA regulations. Some have legitimate concerns, while others are clearly on a power trip of some kind. I'm not really posting here to rant, but more to introduce the hobby to those who may be unfamiliar with it. While it may appear that we're doing "surveillance", please rest assured that we simply enjoy watching airports and airplanes just like many people enjoy walking their dog at the park. In addition, we serve as the "eyes and ears" of the security apparatus, and will be the first ones to report any real threats to aviation (i.e. someone climbing the fence or setting up a shoulder fired missile). So please consider us allies in the war on terror, not enemies. I encourage you to check out websites such as http://www.airliners.net and http://www.flightlevel350.com to watch some of the outstanding photos and videos taken by aviation enthusiasts.

Submitted by Anonymous on

RB said...
"While we are discussing what should not be a problem at a TSA Checkpoint would any of you on the TSA Blog Staff care to comment on an event that occurred at St. Louis and reported on Fox news where a traveler was detained and interrogated by TSA personnel for having somewhere around $5000 in cash?"

I watched and listened to this clip and it sounded to me like the conversation was between local law enforcement officers and the passenger with the exception of one interjection which appeared to be a TSA officer stating that the individual was not cooperating at the checkpoint either. Because this is only audio and not video there is no clear indication who is speaking to the passenger - is it TSA officers or is it St. Louis police officers? Because TSA does not have the ability to arrest someone or "take them to the station" it seems likely it was the airport police.
It is not illegal to transport large amounts of cash unless you are travelling internationally, in which case it is to be declared to Customs. While I understand the passenges view here and his concern with perceptions of this particular campaign in that location, if he had explained that the amount was under $10K and that it was a result of fundraising he participated in while in St. Louis, the situation may have been avoided.
You mentioned Public Affairs spinning the story, I think the video clip has some spin, too as it tries to imply that all of the dialogue is between only TSA and the pax. If they were armed, they were not TSA.

Submitted by RB on

http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=113040&catid=339

Perhaps we should be taking photos at checkpoints all across the country.

Not only do screeners abuse travelers it seems they may be abusing themselves also.

Remember, "I'm from the government, I'm here to help!"

Submitted by George on

@HappyToHelp: Might I pose another scenario. Someone who is not suppose to be photographed is present at the checkpoint. The supervisor is asked to report such people taking photographs to law enforcement during that time. Person leaves and photography is allowed as normal. Just something to think about.

I thought about that scenario, as Happy suggested. I got a headache. Now that the TSA-Strength Tylenol has taken effect, I can write this. (If you haven't heard of TSA-Strength Tylenol, it's because it's an SSI formulation available only from the dispensary in the classified area at TSA Headquarters.)

This is a very typical TSA scenario. Photography is normally permitted, but during the few minutes the Unphotographable Person is present at the checkpoint, the rules change. The Unphotographable Person leaves, and the rules change again.

Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing that an Unphotographable person is present at the checkpoint, and thus has no way of knowing that photography is Prohibited at that moment. Since the Unphotographable Person is presumably Unphotographable for an SSI reason, there is no public announcement or indication that either the Unphotographable Person is present or that the rules have changed. Any such announcement or indication would, of course, reveal SSI.

So let's try another scenario. Hypothetical Photographer (HP) has read this blog post, and followed Bob's advice to contact the Customer Support Manager. It took five attempts, but HP finally received a response from the Acting Assistant to the Customer Support Manager: "Photography is permitted at checkpoints, except when any TSA or airport employee determines that it isn't. Thank you for contacting the TSA, and have a nice day."

Arriving at the airport for his early morning flight, HP joins the long queue leading to the checkpoint. While removing his shoes, he notices that the checkpoint is bathed in golden light coming through the skylight, and sees an interesting artistic composition. He takes his camera out of its bag and points it at the checkpoint.... just when the Unphotographable Person happens to be conducting her SSI business at the checkpoint. The supervisor sees the violation, and sends an Urgent Alert to the airport police as he has been requested to do.

Three officers converge on HP with their guns drawn. They tackle HP, confiscate his camera, handcuff him, and transport him to the police facility. When he asks why he has been arrested, he is told only that photography is strictly prohibited anywhere near the checkpoint, and the TSA supervisor has specifically requested that the police immediately arrest anyone seen using a camera.

The young Assistant United States Attorney assigned to prosecute the case is zealous and aggressive, and this terrorism-related case seems just the ticket to career enhancement. She makes an impassioned presentation to the grand jury about the 9/11 victims and their widows and orphans, and they rubber-stamp the (tear-stained) indictment. The indictment includes seven felony charges, including interference with airport security, conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, and section 41175.1372.b(2)(a)(iii) of the PATRIOT Act (an obscure provision that has nothing to do with either photography or airports, but she thought a successful conviction would set a useful precedent). The U.S. Attorney's Office calls a press conference to announce the latest Victory in the War on Terror, and the TSA issues a triumphant press conference praising the supervisor's excellent work.

The prosecutor makes an even more impassioned plea to the jury (none of whom own cameras) recounting the details of 9/11, quoting from Osama bin-Laden, and urging them to convict HP so that 9/11 will never happen again. They return guilty verdicts on six of the seven counts (they determined that the damage to the camera during the arrest did not constitute Destruction of Federal Property because it occurred before the officers formally confiscated it).

During the sentencing hearing, the still-incredulous HP reads the e-mail he got from Acting Assistant to the Customer Support Manager and insists that he had no idea that photography was prohibited. (Of course he still doesn't know about the Unphotographable Person and the rule in effect during her presence, since that's SSI.) The judge delivers a stern lecture about how ignorance of the law is no excuse, followed by a recitation of the events of 9/11 and the need to send a message to potential terror plotters. The judge then sentences HP to 150 years in solitary confinement at the Supermax in Florance, Colorado. The actual sentence is 100 years under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, but he's adding 50 years because HP has shown no evidence of remorse.

Yes, this is a very silly scenario. But it's no sillier than what Happy seems to be advocating: The concept that rules should continuously fluctuate according to conditions that may be secret, with those subject to the rules unaware of it until they commit a violation and have to suffer the consequences. Most of us (who aren't TSA employees) would consider that absurd, offensive, and completely contrary to American concepts of due process, in which people must be informed of the rules they're accountable for obeying. But apparently the TSA believes enforcing continuously-changing rules that are unknown to those who are subject to them is not only desirable, but necessary for "effective security."

Submitted by Anonymous on

Original Post-
We don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations.
You can take pictures at our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process or slowing things down. We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors.

Phil asks
Could you please explain why you believe that such photography is prohibited?
___________________________________

Well Phil, I believe that the original post states.....

"We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors." Right there stating that TSA does not want you to take pictures of their monitors. How do you want that spelled out to you. I thought it was pretty easy to understand.

Phil asks-
If he's correct, then aren't you subjecting yourself to civil penalties by displaying that SSI to anyone who walks by?
___________________________________

The Xray screen can be seen by passengers sometimes. But it is not right there where they can walk up to the screen and study the images. Really are you worried about the civil penalties. You probably are, you are always worrying about things that are none of your concern.

Submitted by TSORon on

I’ll do what I can to help you out RB.

“Can someone at TSA articulate what threat this person presented to the air transportation system?”

None. But it is against federal law to transport more than $10,000 in cash outside of the U.S. We would contact a LEO in cases where this happens.

“Can someone at TSA articulate why TSA employees are permitted to use threats, vulgar language and intimidation to coerce information from anyone?”

I winced when I heard this. The TSA employee was wrong in speaking like this. Somehow I think disciplinary action is on its way for him.

“Can someone at TSA describe what interrogation training TSO's received since we all know they are so highly trained?”

TSO’s? None. BDO’s? Quite a bit. TSI’s? Even more. LEO’s? Even more than a TSI. Now, can you tell us which one it was that was asking the questions? I certainly cant.

I hope this helps.

Submitted by RB on

TSORon said...
I’ll do what I can to help you out RB.

“Can someone at TSA articulate what threat this person presented to the air transportation system?”

None. But it is against federal law to transport more than $10,000 in cash outside of the U.S. We would contact a LEO in cases where this happens.
.........................

Ah, Wrong again TSORon.

It is not against the law to transport more than $10,000 out of or in to the United States.

The only requirement is that it must be declared.

Here is a link;

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/money.xml

I hope this helps.

April 3, 2009 1:43 PM

Submitted by Anonymous on

"But it is against federal law to transport more than $10,000 in cash outside of the U.S."

No it is not.

Another TSO who just makes up laws...

Sad, very sad

Submitted by Anonymous on
None. But it is against federal law to transport more than $10,000 in cash outside of the U.S. We would contact a LEO in cases where this happens.

WRONG

It is illegal only if you don't fill out the proper paperwork.

Read up on the law before you comment TSORON.
Submitted by HappyToHelp on
George said...
Yes, this is a very silly scenario. But it's no sillier than what Happy seems to be advocating: The concept that rules should continuously fluctuate according to conditions that may be secret, with those subject to the rules unaware of it until they commit a violation and have to suffer the consequences.

Yes, I'm a very verbal advocate for keeping the Standard Operating Proceeder(SOP) Sensitive Security Information(SSI). My above scenario is not advocating for either keeping the SOP SSI or publishing the SOP for passenger review which would be completely off topic(photography?!?). The scenario is what it is. I've only seen that happen once and only affected the checkpoint for about five minutes. I can't see why that scenario couldn't apply to other checkpoints. I wouldn't know. It was just something to think about. Maybe more of a thinking out loud on my part.

Your story was highly entertaining George but very silly. :)

I really don't like your statement “...they commit a violation and have to suffer the consequences.” when you used such a unrealistic example of what could happen to a passenger. Your leading people to make conclusions based off of nonfactual information is very deceptive. I don't think this was done on purpose but this is how I read it. Not a personal attack on you in any way, shape, or form. Just my opinion.

Other then that, it was a top notch story. Thanks for contributing to the Evolution of Security Blog.

Have a good weekend everyone,

-H2H
Submitted by Anonymous on

TSORon, any comments on your statement and the numerous replies to it?

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