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Week 2 of this nonsense. Now lawmakerswho usually grandstand by attacking TSA for having too many restrictionsare going after the agency for dropping some of them. It's not quite enough to make us wish for more sequester travel newsbecause, you knowbut we're getting to a place where investigating travel pillows seems like a good idea.
By way of review: in the face of endless demands that the agency use common sense, TSA last week announced new rules under which passengers would be allowed to carry sporting goods and small knives on board airplanes. Everybody promptly lost their shit, and here we all find ourselves.
This is one of those times when we really pity TSA. The airport security agency just can't win. Yesterday TSA officials announced that they were going to start allowing small - very, very small - pocket knives on board airplanes. One would think that the announcement would have been celebrated, since tiny knives that people forget they're carrying constantly slow down TSA lines. The new rules sound exactly like the common sense regulations everyone claims to want.
Instead the agency was immediately criticized by flight attendants and 9/11 families for endangering passengers. 6cm long, 1/2 inch wide blades were indistinguishable from box cutters, we were told. A popular political satire site ran a headline saying that TSA had been praised by the "National Arbitrariness Association," which as near as we can tell mocked TSA basically just for making a decision about something.
Hey, who's up for another week of shouting about whether the sequester is going to prevent TSA agents from doing their jobs? We wrote about the political back-and-forth last week and explained why the debate is surreal bordering on inexplicable. But if you're a travel junkie or a political junkie or just really hate yourself, here are links saying it's going to be a disaster (one, two) and here are links saying you don't have to worry (one, two). Consider yourself briefed.
Not to get all emo, but we remember a time when writing about TSA was fun. The word "stupid" came up a lot (a lot). Now it's all about economic disaster and crying, disabled 3 year olds. What happened to the days when airport security stories were just brief little reminders that people are totally insane, is what we've been asking ourselves.
There's a huge Beltway debate afoot - Washingtonians like to think that people outside of DC care, but that's uncertain - regarding the probable effects of the increasingly likely sequester budget cuts. The left has been going issue by issue and insisting that cuts will be devestating. The right has been doing the same thing except concluding the exact opposite. CBS News describes this as the "will sequestration really be that bad?" debate.
Now each side has gotten around to TSA. White House officials say that the sequester will negatively impact the airport security agency. Their political opponents are saying not so much. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in the middle, none of which is what we find so strange about the back-and-forth.
In 2008 we were all like "can you believe security officers are allowed to search your hard drive just because you're crossing the border?" And then in 2009 we were all like "can you believe security officers are allowed to search your hard drive just because you're crossing the border? And also your digital camera? And also your mp3 player? And also your flash drive?" Which is to say, we've been less than enthusiastic about this particular airport security policy for a while.
So imagine our excitement when we learned that the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security would be investigating and then producing a report on the policy. This is a division within DHS charged with protecting the civil liberties of Americans. It says so right there in the name. Meanwhile we're pretty sure thatunder some theories we've heard of, at leastforcing U.S. citizens to hand over their data to the U.S. government in the absence not just of a warrant but of any suspicion is a violation of their civil liberties. Done and done, right?
The TSA has, of coursefamously and aggressively, though not always successfullybeen moving toward what it calls "risk-based security." The agency would like to get to a place where not every passenger goes through the same procedures, partly because that seems smart but also because they're tired of having to listen to everyone complain about how they treat grandma the same way they treat 25 year old males.
Sometimes the changes take the form of more screening. Sometimes they take the form of less screening. In the context of today's story, we can't figure out exactly which direction the agency is moving. We did however notice that there were puppies involved. Puppies!
You guys know how we feel about tales of TSA woe that are just too perfect: the conspiracy theorist who says he was personally targeted by government agents, the deaf rights activist who says he was subject to anti-handicap abuse, the model who says she was just so hot that TSA officials simply had to grope her, and so on. It's cliched but it's true.
Things that are too good to be true, by definition, never are.
Except maybe this case in which an Ohio woman is suing just about everybody related to airport securitythe TSA, the FBI, the ICE, Frontier Airlines, a bunch of federal agencies, various airports and airport officialsover what sounds like a batshit crazy abuse of power on September 11, 2011.
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The L3 body scanners you will see in airports from now on
News broke on Friday that TSA is removing Rapiscan full-body scanners, made by OSI Systems Inc., from airports. We wrote it up with a somewhat immodest reminder that we had put the move on your radar last October and called your attention to two salient details in the story.
One, that this is a software issue and not anything having to do with hardware or with full-body scanning or anything fundamental like that. Two, that TSA would be subbing in L3's millimeter-wave machines for the Rapiscan machines, essentially replacing one full-body scanner with another.
What happened is Congress told TSA to use scanners that produce feature-less outlines. So TSA told companies to make scanners that feature-less outlines. L3 developed what they call "Automatic Target Recognition," which makes machines display gingerbread man outlines, but OSI didn't develop anything similar. Ergo, TSA replaced OSI's machines with L3's machines.
Cue mass confusion on the Internet. Half the stories we saw incorrectly implied that TSA had abolished full-body scanners. The other half (the more entertaining half) explained that the misreporting was part of a conspiracy to lull America's sheeple into giving up their rights. God love you all, but wrong and wrong.
You know how we've told you for years that you should always trust content from Jaunted? And you remember how we told you in October 2012 that TSA might be giving up on the agency's nude-o-scope scanners, even though the agency had issued denials and even though the scanners were still in the process of getting deployed to airports around the country?
Radio host Alex Jones is more or less unrivaled as America's most listened-to wacky conspiracy theorist. The things beamed into his brain aren't always the same things beamed into ours. He's linked the United States government to the Oklahoma City bombing, to the September 11 attacks, and to a conspiracy to lobotomize children with fluoridated water.
Here's a video of him wandering around town dressed as the Joker and explaining to the camera that Obama, the New World Order, and vaccines are all evil. Within the conspiracy theory world, he's long been involved in an on-again off-again fight with another conspiracy theorist, David Icke, because Icke insists that the Earth is controlled by shapeshifting lizards. Jones thinks that the Icke conspiracy theory is part of a conspiracy to undermine conspiracy theories, because that's the problem with it.
We went over this when some genius decided to dress up as a giant pink rabbit and misbehave during a security check, but apparently it requires emphasis. Though there are lots of great reasons to dislike TSA, you don't actually get to attack TSA agents. To wit:
Take one 39 year old South Korean woman traveling to Orlando International Airport. Add some holiday stress and mix in 3-2-1 regulations that excluded two bottles of lotion she was carrying. Now for good measure throw in a TSA enhanced patdown. Without getting into too many details, the result involves the phrase "swung several times."
It's long been kind of a holiday tradition around here. Thanksgiving gives way to Christmas, and we make fun of TSA's pathetic ban on snow globes. We started in 2007 when the rule went into effect. Then we did it again in 2009. And then again, tangentially, in 2010. And then again, in the context of TSA's annual holiday travel tips, in 2011.
But when we checked TSA's blog for this year's travel tips, we discovered that they've changed the rule. "Some snow globes are permitted now," reads the entry, in between rules about makeup and a note about permitted gel inserts. Can you believe it?