TSA apologizes to "blogesphere" for arbitrary gadget screenings

Last week, Mark blogged about reports that TSA agents in certain US airports were reportedly demanding that air travelers remove *all* electronics from their carry-on luggage (not just laptops, but phones, cables, cameras, everything) during screening. Mark referenced Scott Beale's post, and I believe Beale was the first to speak up about it. He experienced this at SFO, but many others traveling in or out of SFO around the same time (myself included), did not -- so everyone was confused.

Today, on the newfangled Official TSA Blog (RSS), there's a super awkward apology of sorts, and an even more awkward but hearty back-slap to bloggers for bringing the issue to public attention. That's their logo, above.

Why awkward? For starters, there's the title: "HOORAY BLOGGERS! A Win for the Blogesphere." (sic). Here's what they say to the, erm, "blogesphere."

Posters on this blog have had their first official impact on our operations. That's right, less than one week since we began the blog and already you're affecting security in a very positive way.

On Monday afternoon we began receiving questions about airports that were requiring ALL electronics to be removed from carry-on bags (everything, including blackberrys, iPods and even cords). This practice was also mentioned on several other blogs and left us scratching our heads.

So...we checked with our security operations team to figure out what was going on. After some calls to our airports, we learned that this exercise was set up by local TSA offices and was not part of any grand plan across the country. These practices were stopped on Monday afternoon and blackberrys, cords and iPods began to flow through checkpoints like the booze was flowing on Bourbon Street Tuesday night. (Fat Tuesday of course).


  1. If I read every TSA related post here and elsewhere, if I scour,sort and collate all on the TSA blog… I’m pretty certain I could sell a detailed guide for getting through any airport to travelers and “other interested parties” both.

  2. Hey, I don’t care if they call it a Bhlogyspear if they are actually in some way listening, changing, discussing.

    @Clint: I left SFO on the Thursday night of Macworld with a colleague. Both loaded with electronics. No hassles, nor was anyone else being asked.

  3. As much as we dislike the TSA and how they handle things, I think they do deserve some props for noticing/listening to this problem online, tracking down the cause, and fixing it. It seems to me to be rare that our government actually listens and acts on the people’s wishes.

  4. if they had left out the really unneeded bullying, threats and woodenheadedness at the start, they would have had everyone’s total support from day one. They deserve credit now for finally doing the basic job?

  5. I hoist my confiscated cigarette lighter in the air to signify agreement with Daryll’s thoughts. I, too, was one of those forced at SFO to unload everything–the officer, at least, was nice about it, and even at the time he said it was something we had to do “today,” implying it wasn’t going to be a regular thing. I’m glad the TSA is paying some attention about what seems to be a loose-cannon situation. On the other hand, I do wish the local TSA airport offices weren’t so loose about sacrificing my time when they don’t have a good security reason to so inconvenience me.

  6. So those with infants on the no fly list can just post some comments on the TSA’s blog for quickest correction?

  7. i went through three airports in the last week (ONT, ABIA and DFW, and the only time i ever had a problem was at DFW. i had to take my portable DVD player out of my carry on, even though it said on their signs that only full size dvd players and laptops had to be removed. and that was only on my return flight. so reading this was kind of nice, in a wierd way. at least im not the only one to deal with the random crap.

  8. Electronics “began to flow through checkpoints like the booze was flowing on Bourbon Street”… does that strike anyone else as a somewhat inappropriate comparison? It also seems forced, like they’re trying *really hard* to be casual and fun bureaucrats.

  9. So, random, arbitrary, ad hoc rules are still happening, but you can get rid of some of them by blogging about it on their blog? Gee, what a huge victory.

  10. While the message itself was gawky and fraught with dorkmanship, the TSA nevertheless deserves a modicum of props for the meta-message: their recognition of the “bloggers’ sphere” of influence.

  11. I appreciate that they are improving, but I think the post is sort of amateur and unprofessional. Maybe they need a copy editor?

  12. or are they? Haven’t looked lately, but the CIA website used to be pathetic. The equivalent of the front office furnished with old kitchen chairs and three year old wall calendars. Maybe the TSA ain’t so dumb. Somewhere.

  13. Oh man, that post is so hip, casual, trendy and modern…. Blogesphere…. i think i just threw up a little..

  14. I’m impressed. The other posts aren’t bad. It gives a human face to TSA. Just like a funny commercial makes that company seem more human and friendly, this blog makes TSA seem friendly. At least they’re saying, in a way, that it’s okay to ask questions and raise concerns.

    Strange iPod/booze/Fat Tuesday remark aside, I think this is a brilliant idea.

  15. Progress is progress. For those cringing, it could be worse. They could have referenced “wiki.”
    Hm. Wikisecurity?

  16. There might be (intelligent) life inside the TSA!!

    I think we are dealing with a lone individual inside the TSA. Might be a bureaucrat, but only recently appointed, so (s)he can tell higher echelons about these random arbitrarinesses and get something done. What is amazing is that a better service is obtained in a few key-strokes than all letter writing and newspaper articles have achieved before!

  17. this seems more like civil {sic} servants realizing they’ll be getting a new boss soon. a “no sinners in foxholes” scramble for relevance. I think takuan nailed it with #15.

  18. hey rrsafety, who are the “they” you speak of? and your qualifications, if you would, of your diagnoses of nuttiness and or jerkatude.

  19. I’m not at all impressed.

    It would be too easy to create a small and inexplicable inconvenience, sit back and wait for the backlash, announce a ‘mea culpa’, then bask in the glow of ‘wow they got it right’ feedback.

  20. So if we post on their blog about how ridiculous, ineffective and counter productive the “war on liquids” is, that they will let us start bringing liquids back on planes?

  21. The imagery of anything flowing like booze through a checkpoint made to catch bombs and guns… doesn’t work for me. They just seem so out of touch.

  22. I can’t help but visualize all of those passengers out there who had to empty their bags of their corduroys.

  23. The post is kind of sad. Others on here have noticed that it seems forced and unprofessional. They definitely are trying very hard to take on a cutesy tone, like a parent trying to talk to his/her kids in rap Ebonics. It’s annoying, tedious, condescending and transparent. Still, it seems like they actually did their job properly and reacted in a sane, rational manner this one time.

  24. http://www.tsacomplaints.com/

    from the front page:
    “This site is a response to the hundreds of comments taking the TSA to task for their reputation of being ineffective, lax and generally obnoxious. I hope for it to become a forum for complaints, housing the opinion of travelers inconvenienced by the company thats supposed to be keeping them safe.

    Eventually — once enough input has been given — I’ll be excitedly mining the results on a regular basis (probably weekly-to-monthly) and publishing the results to watch trends in both the short and long (historical) term to find the most troubled airports, when the trouble happens the most, and to whom it happens.”


  25. A problem was raised, they solved it. Get over yourselves.

    No, DOZENS of problems have been raised over the years. A handful of the least frustrating ones have been addressed.

    We need to keep complaining, to keep compiling our experiences and thoughts that reveal the arbitrary (and arguably unconstitutional) “security theater” nature of the TSA, before the US has things like a secret police that abruptly kidnaps people for years for no reason and then lies about it. Oh wait…

  26. Ok, as a not-to-frequent traveller, I too have TSA stories!! While visiting the Easter Shore of VA three years ago, I lost my wallet and my photo ID. I was kinda freaked, tried calling all sorts of folks until I finally talked to someone at Norfolk Int’l Airport. They said just come in, and we’ll pull you to the side for additional screening. I wrote down their name and our convo, fearing that I was hosed, but it worked out fine, just as they said it would. Then last year, I flew to Oahu on my honeymoon, and during my stop-over in Chicago, the person at the check-in desk failed to return my ID. So we land in Honolulu and I realize its gone and I freak again. Called 1-800 Airline and got nothing but auto systems. Finally reach the gate in Chicago, but its closed. Spent my 9 days in Oahu with no ID, but I dont’ drink so it weren’t no biggee. On the return flight, I got pulled aside and wanded, but that was it. When we got home, an envlope was in the mail with my ID. Then yesterday, I was returning to CMH from Richmond, VA and the guys at the scanner kept passing my laptop bag back through the scanner, talking and pointing, then almost pulling the bag to check it, then rescanning it, so I finally said out loud “Crap! Did I leave my girlie mag in there??” The female behind the counter collecting tubs busted out laughing. The guy then brought my bag over and asked who’s it was. I raised my hand as he started going through it, looking for something. I had Motorola S9 headphones, several chargers, but that wasn’t what he was looking for. Finally, he found the pocket watch I had slipped into a an inside pocket, and we both went “Aha!” I said “Guess you dont’ see many of these, huh?” He said nope, smiled and sent me on my way. Now, it they confiscated my laptop like they seem to be doing to travellers returning from the UK, I’d have shit a brick. Good to be Amurehcun.

  27. A later comment from a TSA’er in that EoS thread indicated that that the all-electronics removal was a kind of pilot program at several airports, and that TSA security operations management knew about it. It is not clear to me why blog postings would be used as a reason to terminate such a program, unless Hawley’s approval is not needed for such things as long as SOM knows about them.

    The whole blog is an interesting experiment. They’ve clearly insourced it to a customer-relations desk so it is somewhat afflicted with cheesy pr-speak. There are also a lot of TSA’ers chiming in anonymously (most comments from everyone are anonymous) with comments ranging from rant to sweet reason. Of course the spittle-flecked TSA haters are in steady attendance, along with pilots, stews, military, and other interesting constituencies. And a huge number of nuanced critical/supportive posts from reasonable passengers with specific gripes and concerns. I hope someone is reading those.

  28. #41’s comment is pretty much dead on. It would be nice to see the TSA be a little more transparent about who’s behind the blog, and it might help them to try and associate a human identity (or multiple humans) with their own postings. Assuming they really do want this to work as a blog and not just as some temporary PR thing, riding this whole new-fangled ‘blogesphere’ wave. That was maybe too harsh, but you see what I mean.

  29. just went through PHL–they made us take all electronics (and power cables) out of our carry-ons… guess the message hasn’t gotten to the outlying territories yet?

  30. Ummm…regardless of what they say, they haven’t stopped this yet. I got all my junk (cables, phone, smokes, headphones, mice, etc.) dragged out of my bag and re-x-rayed heading to Detroit from Baltimore on Tuesday and AGAIN leaving Syracuse on Thursday. Apparently the goons didn’t get the memo.

    Oh, and the guy in Syracuse actually replied “Errr…negative, sir!” when I asked him a question. Nice!

  31. It’s, uh, “great” that the TSA is starting to listen… but isn’t it a few years too late?

    After spending 18 months planning a working holiday, partly in the US, I canned it and went elsewhere.

    I have no desire to enter the grand old United States anymore, which is a shame, but things like the TSA’s abuse of passengers at airports is at the top of a growing list of “Why you never want to visit the US”.

    (Go Canada!, btw)

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