In yet another example of how TSA has done nothing to educate its screeners about its own policy on photography, Transportation Security Administration officials detained a man trying to videotape his own patdown search.
Douglas Hester, who operates the Northern Muckraker blog, said he was detained at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Monday.
Hester and his companion were on their way back to Phoenix as they prepared to walk through the metal detector at a security checkpoint. They placed their items in a bin, including a cell phone with the video camera recording.
Then they were chosen to step through the x-ray body scanners, which have been the source of controversy since they were introduced last year. That’s when they chose to opt-out.
The problems started when they asked a TSA official to reach into the bin to point the camera in their direction so it could record the patdown.
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.
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.
The cameras were still rolling when TSA Terminal Coordinator Tom Kinderknecht arrived and told them that they were not allowed to record at the checkpoint. He also told them that the Texas state police were on their way.
Meanwhile, on the TSA’s Website FAQ page, it states that photography of TSA checkpoints is allowed.
Q. Is it okay to take pictures or videos inside the airport and at a checkpoint?
A. 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. The same guidelines apply to media. Members of the press should contact TSA’s Office of Public Affairs, at 571-227-2829, prior to filming or taking photographs at a security checkpoint.
While there is a difference between taking a casual photo and someone conducting surveillance, travelers should not be surprised if TSA or local law enforcement inquires about their actions. This is important to ensure the safety of the traveling public and something our officers may do as part of their security mission.
Hester and his companion then decided that the situation wasn’t worth missing their flight over.
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.
The kicker: Kinderknecht, the TSA terminal coordinator who told them they were not allowed to record, eventually admitted that they were in deed allowed to record.
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.
Hester said the camera only recorded the airport ceiling and is reviewing the footage to see if there is any audio worth posting.