Update: A spokesman for the TSA has shot down the rumor that the agency would require passengers to remove books, saying a private airport security company was experimenting with the procedure.
“This is the rumor that doesn’t want to die … At no time has the removal of books been TSA policy, nor are we considering making it policy. Now there are times when a TSO may ask a passenger declutter their carry-on bag in order to make it easier to screen. We do this because our xray machines may have trouble screening overstuffed bags.”
The TSA is reportedly testing new safety procedures that could require airline passengers to remove books from their carry-on bags when going through security lines, as The Hill reported. The TSA has been testing this program since at least early May, although the agency told the Wall Street Journal that tests in Kansas City “didn’t go well” and were halted after a few days.
We reached out to the TSA for comment about implementation of this new rule. As frequently flying bookworms may be aware, the TSA has already been plucking people out of line to search through their carry-on bags for books, because apparently books can look like plastic explosives when they are sent through the X-ray machine. (That’s what the TSA agent told me last time I was pulled out of line for packing hardcovers in my carry-on.)
However, the ACLU is sounding the alarm on the grounds that this could be a way for TSA agents to unconstitutionally scrutinize reading material, citing a case they took on of a man handcuffed and detained for hours for merely carrying a set of Arabic-language flash cards and a book critical of U.S. foreign policy. “[B]ooks raise very special privacy issues,” the ACLU’s senior policy analyst Jay Stanley wrote in a recent blog post. “There is a long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one’s reading habits in the United States, not only through numerous Supreme Court and other court decisions, but also through state laws that criminalize the violation of public library reading privacy or require a warrant to obtain book sales, rental, or lending records.” While the ACLU is clearly on it, for now, maybe don’t pack Conquered by Clippy on your next flight.