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We know that some of you will ignore our advice and spend today and tomorrow traveling long distances. You'll go to airports, wait in security, and get filmed by news crews with grumpy looks on your faces. There's not much we can do about that.
If it makes you feel any better though, you should know that a lot of the security that's holding you up is totally useless. So at least there's that. Last week we covered how and why the TSA's behavior screening program - which brings security to you in line, rather than waiting for you to come to security - is statistically useless. This week comes news that all of the x-rays and scans people go through might be kind of silly, since it's possible to build an array of deadly weapons with products you buy past the terminal.
FAA / FCC / Cell Phones / Electronics Tavel / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / Technology / → All Tags
America's Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, created a system of government with multiple checks and balances. The idea was to prevent populist excesses and to slow down change, just in case lawmakers got carried away with a seemingly good idea and accidentally - in their own zeal - made the world a worse place to live. This is what they were talking about.
It took literally two years for the FAA to move from thinking about letting travelers use electronics gate-to-gate, to writing a proposal letting travelers use electronics gate-to-gate, to actually letting travelers use electronics gate-to-gate. This was not exactly a rush across the finish line, in other words.
But now that there's some momentum, apparently the federal government - this time the FCC - thinks that everything involving flying and electronics should be up for grabs. Yesterday the agency floated the idea of letting passengers use cell pohnes above 10,000 feet.
TSA / Airline Security / Airport Security / Travel Journalism / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Stories in travel journalism - in any kind of journalism, really - begin as news, then migrate over to commentary, and then eventually become meta-commentary. Sufficiently vicious and prominent meta-commentary gets treated as news, and thus does the circle of life turn.
So for instance, coverage of the recently published report on TSA's behavior profiling program began as news. More specifically, it began as news that the program spectacularly sucks. You'll remember this as the system that sought to supplement pat-downs with "chat-downs" in which screeners would ask you really specific questions and then guess - based on your reactions - if you were doing something suspicious. TSA called it Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques - SPOT - and they spent roughly one billion dollars on it. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office indicated that it works only "slightly better than chance." Opps.
Liquids Ban / TSA / LHR / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / Airport Security / Airline Security / → All Tags
In 2010, the TSA was actually putting up signs at security checkpoints promising that "future advances" in x-ray technology would let them play around with the restrictions on the amount of liquid travelers can carry on board planes.
Fast forward to 2013 and we still have liquids restrictions on U.S. flights. Meanwhile the EU regulations which were set to expire in 2013 are - wait for it - actually expiring. We don't know if the decision is deliberate or the result of laziness, but either way European airports will now let you carry shampoos onboard airplanes. Small victories, ladies and gentlemen, small victories.
It's becoming a very complicated end of the week for travel politics surrounding TSA. Today's shooting at LAX is going to trigger a bunch of investigations and questions, and we're probably going to have to revisit the old debate over whether long security lines make travelers safer or more vulnerable.
While all that's going on, the airline security agency is also facing questions over corruption and efficiency. The Washington Times yesterday published the results of a Homeland Security inspector general report on how TSA employees managed to secure "premium pay and other costly benefits" without being entitled to those perks. Apparently the trick wasn't particularly complicated: they just promoted themselves, except without doing anything else. The final extra cost to taxpayers was estimated at $17.5 million.
Long-time Jaunted readers will remember a somewhat contentious comment thread from a year and a half ago, in which we wrote about a video made by anti-TSA blogger Jonathan Corbett showing how to defeat an old kind of full-body scanner. It started off as a more or less routine post: we criticize both TSA security theater and full-body scanners when they need criticizing, and that was one of the times they needed criticizing.
Except there were many people - not a few of them from the conspiracy fringe where people imagine that TSA is a United Nations plot to bad touch grandma until she gets PTSD and starts drinking fluoride - who got grumpy because we noted that Corbett's trick probably wouldn't work on TSA's new gingerbread man scanners. Those people wanted to believe that a blogger had just defeated all of TSA's scanners, because that would absolutely prove that the government was screening people for no reason, and so that's what they believed. Never mind that it simply wasn't true.
TSA / Drugs / Drug Travel / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Let's go back to this incident from 2011. Rapper Freddie "Gangsta" Gibbs, in a move that we described as evidence of "mind-bending idiocy," got caught by TSA transporting weed in his checked luggage. The size of the baggies made it obvious that he was transporting the drug for recreational purposes - you may not have heard, but rappers are rumored to smoke pot occasionally - and the TSA agent left him an exasperated, pitch-perfect note reading "C'MON SON."
Since then, of course, several states have liberalized their marijuana laws. The federal government, in sharp contrast, has not. This sets up a nice little legal problem: if you're flying within a state where you're allowed to carry weed, or between two states where you're allowed to carry weed, are you allowed to transport your marijuana? Remember that airports are subject to federal jurisdiction, which is why this issue is even a question.
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The United States federal government has shut down precisely 17 times since 1976, as various elements of the Legislative and Executive branches - which the Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, set in opposition to each other - failed to agree on various measures necessary to keep the government operating. This time around, our elected representatives are fighting over Obamacare. If they don't hammer out something in the next few hours, the government will shut down and only so-called "essential" personnel will be allowed to continue working.
Before you ask why the federal government uses taxpayer money to pay employees who aren't essential, please know that (1) the joke has been made dozens of times in the last few hours on Twitter and (2) if there's a shutdown, they're going to close the gates at the DC Zoo and turn off the pandacam. Not so libertarian now, are we?
Something is not quite right with this story, about the dozens and dozens of TSA employees who were disciplined for participating in what the agency describes as a gambling ring at Pittsburgh International Airport. Five people are set to be fired, 47 people might get suspended, and another 10 got reprimand letters. Some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations indicate that about 20% of TSA employees at PIT are caught up in this mess.
And that's where things begin get muddy.
TSA / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / VIPR / → All Tags
We've written more than once that, when it comes to security policies, TSA is damned if they do and damned if they don't. When they scale back their security restrictions, they get slammed for endangering Americans. When they diversify how they approach security, they get blasted for inefficiency.
We've also repeatedly discussed real problems with the politics around how the agency is funded. No one wants to be the politician who cuts off funding for the agency, because that's the politician who will get tagged for the next terror attack. But no one wants to propose increasing the TSA's funding, because in Washington "funding" equals "approval," and politicians prefer to grandstand by criticizing the agency. So we end up with an underfunded agency facing criticism for cutting corners.
TSA / Airport Security / Airline Security / Travel News / Politics Travel / Travel Politics / → All Tags
Remember TSA's VIPR program? This is the one that allows TSA agents to go beyond airportsand into places like bus and train stationsand do the same thing to travelers there that they do in airports. That means, very explicitly, that they're allowed to engage in so-called "suspicionless searches" of travelers just because those travelers are... well... traveling.
The objection to the VIPR program is that it sounds very much illegal. Cops can't search citizens just because those citizens are standing close to where a train might soon be. And yet not only are federal agents doing exactly that, butand this is why the program is back in the newsthey're adding new locations for VIPR teams to monitor.
Travel Alerts / Terrorism / Airline Security / Airport Security / Travel Politics / Politics Travel / → All Tags
It's August. We're traditionally supposed to be talking about baby animals and the zoos where you can visit them, perhaps during "brew at the zoo" events. Instead there's this global terror alert that the United States issued last week, and one scenario is that Al Qaeda has figured out an "ingenious" new way to attack passenger airliners.
Let's run through this terrifying (and, for TSA critics, frustrating) scenario. ABC News outlined it yesterday.