I took pictures of the "advanced imaging" machines that see through your clothes – the machines that are the subject of so much controversy lately. I was quickly besieged by TSA agents shouting at me to stop taking pictures. I was then detained while they tried to figure out what to do with me.
I should point out that (as far as I know), taking pictures is perfectly acceptable. The following is a section of the 2008 TSA Screening Manual:
2.7. PHOTOGRAPHING, VIDEOTAPING, AND FILMING SCREENING LOCATIONS
A. TSA does not prohibit the public, passengers, or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming screening locations unless the activity interferes with a TSO’s ability to perform his or her duties or prevents the orderly flow of individuals through the screening location. Requests by commercial entities to photograph an airport screening location must be forwarded to TSA’s Office of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs. Photographing EDS or ETD monitor screens or emitted images is not permitted.
B. TSA must not confiscate or destroy the photographic equipment or film of any person photographing the screening location.
I wasn’t trying to cause trouble. I frequently take pictures of the screening area when I pass through airports. I work in the (cyber) security industry, so I’m interested in such things. In this case, I saw something I wanted to photograph and blog about (which I describe at the bottom).
Some sort of manager (old grizzled guy) was summoned to deal with me. He was dressed like the rest in a blue TSA shirt, but must’ve been one level more senior than the TSA employees who were shouting at me to stop photographing.
The old guy, with a couple other agents, escorted me through the normal process of putting my bags through the x-ray and going through the "advanced imaging" scanner. I was planning on asking to get groped instead, but I didn’t want to push it, so I meekly complied.
When I finally got through the machine, my computer and iPhone had been taken off the belt, and had been in possession of the old guy for several minutes. He was holding them at a station at the far end of the conveyer belt.
I asked him to return my items and let me go. He said no, and told me that I was to take a seat while they called people to figure out what to do. Several agents surrounded me preventing me from leaving, while there was a buzz around the main desk as they called people.
Over the half hour, people kept arriving, and we’d go through the following script (these aren’t exact quotes, of course, just my impression of what happened):
TSA: Why are you taking pictures? What’s your motivation?
Me: I find it interesting, and I want to post the pictures to my blog.
TSA: You can’t take pictures in this area.
Me: Well, I read the TSA guidelines on the web a few months ago, and they clearly state that people can take pictures in this area.
TSA: You can’t take pictures in this area.
Me: Can you show me the rules that say that I cannot?
TSA: (Nodding over to the main desk) They are checking on that now.
Some added the following:
TSA: You have to show us your pictures and delete them.
Me: I’m not going to delete my pictures.
TSA: Show us the pictures you took.
Me: If I unlock my phone, I want assurances that you will give me the chance to relock it before you take it from my control.
TSA: We can’t give you any promises.
Me: So I’m not going to unlock my phone.
One random question was:
Q: When is your flight?
A: 4:30 (in roughly two hours)
The implied issue was that if I didn’t comply with their demands, they could detain me long enough to miss my flight. On the flip side, they weren’t happy having to deal with me, which was disrupting their routine. They certainly weren’t going to be happy detaining me for 2 hours to make me miss my flight.
I tried to act nonchalant, as if I didn’t care about the time, but I certainly did. This is Thanksgiving, the flights are full, so it’s unlikely the airline would be able to book me on another flight. If I missed that flight, it would mean missing Thanksgiving. On the other hand, it would be a better blog if the TSA forced me to miss my flight for doing something that is perfectly legal. So I decided I was willing to miss my flight, making me as calm on the inside as I was trying to project on the outside.
Another discussion I heard between a TSA agent and a police officer was something about escorting me back out through security (i.e. denying me access). I didn’t actually talk to him. I feel stupid now; I should have pointed out to him that I felt I was being illegally detained by the TSA.
While sitting there, I was drawn into other conversations, like this one with a higher level manager (she was dressed I in a suit rather than a uniform):
TSA: Don’t you have normal operating procedures at your work?
TSA: How would you like it if somebody came to your work and disrupted your procedures? How would you like it if people took pictures of you at your work?
Me: I don’t work for the government. Government agencies need to be accountable to the public, and therefore suffer disruptions like this.
TSA: Not all parts of the government are accountable to the public, especially the TSA.
Me: Wow. No, ALL parts of the government are accountable to the people, especially the TSA. I’m not sure what type of country you think we live in.
This made me angry. Up to this point, I was trying to project a calm, relaxed attitude. I don’t want to be like those hippy douche-bag activists that try to provoke the TSA with their passive-aggression or belligerence. I wanted to be the calm, relaxed, easy going guy that while standing for principle, was nice about everything else. At several points, I pointed out to the guards that I wasn’t upset, that I understood their job, that I supported their work, and that I was willing to comply with anything that didn’t infringe my rights.
The final guy was "Duty Manager Jerry Estes" (finally, I remembered somebody’s name). We went through the standard script. He then claimed that the reason photographs aren’t allowed is because of the controversy over the images taken by the "advanced imaging" machines, and that absolutely NO images are allowed of the people in the machines.
This was bogus, of course. It actually would be a valid reason if I had photographs of the console showing naked people, but that was locked away in a back room somewhere. My guess he was just looking for another excuse to see the pictures I had taken.
He offered a compromise: if I were to delete pictures of people inside machines, then he would allow me to keep the rest of the pictures. I agreed (I was getting bored, and truly, I didn’t have a lawyer, so I didn’t know how far I could push this). So we reviewed the pictures, and he forced me to delete one. That one didn’t show a person inside of a machine, just a person in front of a machine, but I didn’t argue – it’s nearly identical to another picture.
After that, they let me go as if nothing happened.
Why I took the pictures
The reason I took the pictures was to blog on a typical security issue that, in the industry, is called "security theatre". Screening techniques are chosen to make the public feel safe, not to stop terrorists.
The "advanced imaging" machines that see through clothing are a good example.
First of all, terrorists can get around them pretty easy, but either putting C4 in a body cavity or surgically implanted.
Secondly, terrorists are not deterred by "random selection". The goal of the terrorist is to blow themselves up. Getting caught means not dying, but still has a (lesser) terror effect because people will get scared from the attempt. It’s a win-win for them.
Sure, random selection will deter us from bringing contraband (like nail clippers [well, allowed now]) onto a plane, but I doubt it’s a big deterrent to a suicide bomber.
So, I wanted a picture of the L3 Provision machine in order to include with my blog describing this.
Here all the pictures I took, minus the one I was forced to delete.
According to (right-wing conspiracy theory) http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/30286, the Obama administration is labeling people like me a "domestic extremist". Ok, I'm being a bit melodramatic here, I believe in accountability and am not trying to protest the security measures, but I'm not sure that law enforcement can understand the difference (especially since this post has been linked from posts labeled Resources for National Opt Out Day).
Ken Murray points out this link of TSA jokes http://www.examiner.com/movie-in-boston/tsa-tsa-tsa-oh-lord-almighty-tsa.
@eileenludwig points to TSA's own blog post clarifying that I can take pictures http://www.tsa.gov/blog/2009/03/can-i-take-photos-at-checkpoint-and.html.
My ornery curmudgeon of a father makes the recommendation that I look at their tag and speak to them using their names. It's easy for them to hide behind the character of a faceless bureaucrat when you don't know their name. But when you make it clear you know their name, they are more likely to fear that they will be held accountable for their actions. Intimidating as all hell.
Hey, I just remembered. I don't remember them looking at my identification (other than the normal check further back in line). I think the incident will be attributed to "annoying passenger" than "Robert Graham".
Here is another guy detained for taking pictures http://boardingarea.com/blogs/flyingwithfish/2010/11/17/so%E2%80%A6i-got-detained-by-the-tsa-at-the-airport-today/. He points out that video cameras probably recorded the entire incident.
Apparently, I could have called TSA public affairs at (571) 227-2829, and they would have told the TSA agents that yes, I can take photos.
Here is how senile hackers work:
- Google for how to to recover deleted images on iPhone.
- Google harder
- Google "iPhone undelete"
- Find page that says to start by jailbreaking phone
- Doh! Phone already jailbroken many months ago.
- "It's a UNIX system! I know this!"
- ssh to iPhone (no, the password isn't alpine).
- Robs-iPhone:~ root# dd if=/dev/disk0 | ssh email@example.com 'dd of=/tmp/dump.dmg'
- (wait 3 hours to transfer 8-gig iPhone image across slow 802.11b 11-mbps network)
- Ran PhotoRec on the iPhone disk image, wasn't able to recover image (or any thumbnailes)
- ....hunting for other recover software to run on the image...