Last month, we noted that the Transportation Security Administration might require travelers to remove more kinds of things from their carry-ons during the screening process. And one thing the TSA is considering has drawn the wrath of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The new TSA rules might require passengers to remove books, newspapers and other paper materials from their carry-ons to help its agents conduct more effective x-ray scans of over-packed bags.
But would you want fellow travelers to glance into a security bin and see exactly what kinds of things you’re reading? Maybe it wouldn’t bother you at all. But the ACLU believes there’s a principle at stake.
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“Books raise very special privacy issues,” ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley wrote in a blog post on the organization’s website. “There is a long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one’s reading habits in the United States, not only through numerous Supreme Court and other court decisions, but also through state laws that criminalize the violation of public library reading privacy or require a warrant to obtain book sales, rental or lending records.”
TSA agents who conduct hand searches of travelers’ bags might already see what they’re reading. But adoption of a policy requiring all reading materials to be removed “would lead to more routine and systematic exposure and, inevitably, greater scrutiny of passengers’ reading materials in the course of the screening process,” Stanley wrote.
The agency is supposed to be concerned only with traveler safety, he noted, and is not supposed to serve any other law enforcement functions. He noted that in 2010, the ACLU helped to defend a passenger who was handcuffed and questioned for five hours after he was found to be carrying a set of Arabic-language flash cards and a book that criticized U.S. foreign policy.
“A person who is reading a book entitled ‘Overcoming Sexual Abuse’ or ‘Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction’ is not likely to want to plop that volume down on the conveyor belt for all to see,” Stanley wrote. “Even someone reading a bestseller like ‘50 Shades of Grey’ or a mild self-help book with a title such as ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’ might be shy about exposing his or her reading habits. And of course someone reading Arab or Muslim literature in today’s environment has all too much cause to worry about discrimination.”
He said if TSA does move ahead with such a policy, it should allow travelers to store their books in a separate package when they go through security. “All kinds of things could serve that purpose, from a brown paper bag to manila folder,” he wrote. “We could even see the emergence of a product category of ‘book sleeves’ or the like—compartmentalized bags that allow for things to be separated for the x-ray without visually exposing them to anyone.” Or perhaps book covers like readers of a certain age may recall– when I was in elementary school my mom used to make them out of used A&P bags!
For many of us this may be a moot issue… it’s likely that the highly mobile, tech-savvy readers of TravelSkills consume their books and magazines on their phones or tablets.
What do you think about the possibility of exposing your reading material during TSA searches? Please leave your comments below.