No More Reading On Planes?

Hrag Vartanian.

Oh, the TSA has come up with yet another of their unbelievably stupid ideas, and naturally, are quite enthused about it. All books and all paper of any kind will be pulled for extra scrutiny. Given the collective brain power of the TSA, this most likely means that a very high number of potential passengers will not be making their flight, but be locked up in a back room somewhere, while the crafty TSA agents attempt to figure out the reading material.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is testing new requirements that would oblige travelers to remove books and other paper goods from their carry-on baggage when going through airport security. The new proposal hasn’t gone into effect, though the TSA, which is an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security, has tested it at airports, including in early May, when screeners at a Kansas City airport “forced passengers to remove all paper from bags, down to notepads,” according to Wall Street Journal; The Sacramento Bee reported that the TSA also tested this policy in Sacramento.


TSA agents already have the authority to search what they want, and anyone who has been subject to extra screenings will know that notebooks and other books are often flipped through by agents, who sometimes even read their pages. That was the experience of artist Kameelah Janan Rashid, who was removed from a plane on her way to Istanbul in 2015. Yet this new policy, as outlined by Stanley, “would lead to more routine and systematic exposure and, inevitably, greater scrutiny of passengers’ reading materials in the course of the screening process.”

Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, told Inside Higher Ed that the screening change was troubling:

Academics are unsurprisingly big readers, and since we don’t simply read for pleasure, we often read materials with which we disagree or which may be seen by others as offensive. […] For instance, a scholar studying terrorism and its roots may well be reading — and potentially carrying on a plane — books that others might see as endorsing terrorism. In addition, because scholarship is international, I suspect academics are more likely than others to be reading and carrying material in foreign languages, which might arouse some suspicion. … Finally, academics (as well as editors and journalists) may well be carrying pre-publication materials — drafts for peer review or comment, etc. — and these could raise special concerns.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said in an interview with Fox News Sunday last month that the department “might and likely will” expand the new carry-on policy.

The Full Story is at Hyperallergic.


  1. Patricia Phillips says

    Wow. Things getting madder by the day I swear…at the beginning of the month I had to fly to from Sacramento to DC (and back again!). First air travel I’ve done in a decade or so. I travelled w/notebooks, a paper book and a kindle. Luckily on this trip I did not run into any problems -- no special searches. Clearly in future I am going to have to plan even more carefully what I have in carry-ons.

  2. says

    I wonder what silly threat model they are pursuing… Maybe they think people are going to make book bombs?

    Shit, I’ve done that. My last book sold something like 1200 copies. If that’s not a bomb, I don’t know what is.

  3. chigau (違う) says

    I am Canadian.
    There is no place in the United States of America that I am willing to risk visiting.
    There are many, many, many places in the USA that I would like to see but…y’know
    And I do not pass through any USA airport, ever, under any circumstances.

  4. khms says

    Didn’t you hear? Trump wants more jobs! So, this will mean more jobs for the TSA! It’ll make the TSA great again!

  5. rq says

    I’m glad I visited Portia last August, before this shitshow went down. Crossed the bridge by car for a day visit; wouldn’t risk anything else.
    Next time, her turn.

  6. says

    What happened? Did somebody threaten a crew member with death of a thousand paper cuts?


    There are many, many, many places in the USA that I would like to see but…y’know

    And people are wondering why the US tourism industry is tanking…

  7. komarov says

    Why not skip right ahead to the logical conclusion of this process?
    -- No handluggage allowed
    -- In fact, no luggage at all
    -- On arrival at the airport, passengers must remove all clothing and have to wear plastic coveralls until they land at their destination
    -- The coveralls are transparent to facilitate screening and searching

    Passengers can simply buy new outfits at their destination airport. This is to be discarded once more on the journey home.* To reduce costs the TSA could charge for the coveralls, or maybe ask for a deposit. Likewise, any jewelry, watches and similar accessories could be handed over directly to TSA agents -- tipping is customary in the US and hence a good way of keeping salaries down.

    *It’ll make flying more of a status symbol again. People know you have money if you can fly somewhere and still wear fancy clothes.

  8. blf says

    What is the point of this?

    According to the ACLU’s report (New TSA Policy May Lead to Increased Scrutiny of Reading Material), there are two concerns (at least, and in no particular order): Thin explosives known as “sheet explosives”, and hollowed-out books containing a bomb or similar. (Supposedly there are issues with baggage scanners finding such items.)

    None of which is to say this proposed ban is acceptable nor necessary. There are numerous possible privacy and First Amendment violations (see the report). Combined with previous incidents (e.g., detaining people for having Arabic language material) and known behaviour (e.g., logging “in travelers’ permanent files […] controversial books in their possession”), this is not a good idea at all.

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