Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Detained by the TSA

Yesterday's adventure through the looking glass:

We arrived at Concourse E of the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport to catch our return flight to Phoenix.  We placed our items in a bin on the belt as directed (phone video camera and voice recorder both turned on) and waited patiently to pass through the metal detector.  At the last second before passing through we were stopped by a screener and told to proceed to the backscatter machine instead.  We politely informed the screener that we chose to opt out and would prefer the pat-down instead.  The screener called for assistance and directed us to a separate area.

Once at the secondary screening area, we informed the new screener that our phone camera was on and running, and would he be so kind as to reach into the bin and turn it slightly so it would record our interaction.  He visibly recoiled and told us that filming in the security area was strictly prohibited.  We politely told him that he was mistaken, and that the TSA explicitly does not prohibit photography in the screening areas:

"TSA does not prohibit photographs at screening locations; however, local laws, state statutes, or local ordinances may. We recommend contacting your local airport authority in advance to ensure you are familiar with their local procedures. While TSA does not prohibit the public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations, TSA may ask a photographer to stop if they are interfering with the screening process or taking photos of X-ray monitor screens in a checkpoint."

We, despite being infrequent flyers, know this, so why don't the TSA employees?

Several screeners had arrived at this point and proceeded to berate us en masse for having the audacity to have a running camera in the security area.  We kept calm and requested they dial the 1-800 number prominently posted on signs throughout the area so that TSA Customer Service could inform them that our activities were perfectly legal.  They declined to do so.

By this time TSA Terminal Coordinator Tom Kinderknecht had arrived and again incorrectly told us that all filming by passengers is prohibited, telling us (all quotes paraphrased) that "There are already cameras all over the place recording this".  We responded by saying "That's exactly our point.  You have your cameras, and we have ours.  Sounds fair enough to us".  He apparently didn't see it our way because he then said "I'm going to ask you to please turn your camera off".  We answered with "Sorry, we're not able to do that".  He then said that Texas DPS was on their way, which of course was completely fine with us.  At this point several suit-clad goons were hovering close by our chair, apparently as some sort of show of intimidation.  This failed comically, of course.

The standoff ended after 10 or so minutes when we offered to shut the camera down so that we could be screened and not miss our flight, having felt that our point had been made.  This was acceptable to Mr. Kinderknecht, and so we turned off the devices.  The subsequent pat-down by Officer Burd was rapidly and competently accomplished with great professionalism on his part.

Mr. Kinderknecht then asked us if we were traveling alone, and we answered in the affirmative.  He then stated that we were indeed correct about filming (so why were we detained in the first place?), but that someone else besides us (such as a companion) would have to do the recording since we wouldn't be allowed to touch our belongings during the process.  We replied that of course we didn't expect to be able to hold the camera, we merely wished the screener to move it slightly to capture our pat-down.  That certainly seemed a reasonable request - at least to us, a solo traveler unable to ask our companion for assistance.

We finished being screened and gathered our items together.  Mr. Kinderknecht and us wished each other good day and we concluded our interaction.  He even had the good nature to ask "What time is this going to be on YouTube?"

We're in the process of reviewing the footage now.  Nothing is visible on the tape except the airport ceiling, and we're trying to ascertain whether or not the audio is clear enough to post.  We'll have more on this when our analysis is complete.


Grace R said...

You know this only happened because you tried to board as your arabic alter ego Hasin bin Seen.

Ken Hood said...

That was fun... thanks for the great story and reminder that the "authorities" - however decent they might be - are often woefully ignorant of the law. Having been a "tape recording citizen told that it was not legal" type myself, I would encourage everyone to try it sometime. You might be surprised at how often those in authority demand (illegally) that you stop recording them. But know the law first (like Doug did) before attempting this. In some areas of the country, it may *not* be legal to tape such an interaction.

Jeff said...

Try joining facebook groups "We Won't Fly" and "Boycott Flying" to join the thousands actively fighting the TSA.

If a rapist gives you flowers and a condom, it's still rape. The TSA is performing illegal acts every day - as you found out.


Scott said...


Bike Bubba said...

I'd file a complaint. Obviously they knew the correct procedure and refused to follow it.

Anonymous said...

"reminder that the "authorities" - however decent they might be - are often woefully ignorant of the law."

They are not decent. Decent people don't assault others for a living.

Anonymous said...

eh i just think you made a big deal out of nothing.. just get the pat down and get it over with. you just wasted your own time and the everyone else's. so cry me a river.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for standing up for your own and everyone's Constitutional rights and blogging about it too to raise awareness. You rock!

Anonymous said...

DHS fusion centers were created during the Bush regime, as was the memo warning about 'right wing extremists' that you mistakenly attribute to the current administration.

You might want to correct the record to properly apportion blame across both administrations. Otherwise you make yourself out to be a bit of an idiot and an asshole which only subtracts from your ability to get your message across.

Robert Smith said...

1. DFW doesn't even have Backscatter Xray machines. They have ATR/AIT machines which use millimeter wave and bounce it off you like a sonogram. Your cell phone puts off 10,000 times more radiation than the ATR/AIT machine.
2. The laws regarding pat down and such are approved or made by Congress, not TSA. TSA just has to enforce them.
3. Passenger know and it is posted before entering the security checkpoint that an airport is a sensitive security area and you are willfully submitting to have any and all property and yourself searched. If you visited a national site or the White House or a jail or a large public event, you know that if you choose to go there you may be searched.
4. Yes TSA leaves a lot to be desired but I would like to know what people would suggest instead of TSA. Let's shut down TSA and let everyone and anything onto the plane. Would you feel safer then?