The first Transportation Security Administration screener I encountered at Ronald Reagan National Airport on my return flight to Miami from Washington D.C. Wednesday told me he would not let me board if I did not stop video recording.
I told him that TSA policy allows me to record the checkpoints, but he wasn’t buying it.
He called a supervisor, who told me the same thing; that video recording the checkpoints is forbidden.
When I insisted he was wrong, that it clearly states on the TSA website that it is legal to record, he called police.
Fortunately, the pair of DC Metro cops who arrived acknowledged that I wasn’t committing a crime, but they did not go as far as telling TSA that I had the right to record the checkpoints.
They basically told TSA to deal with the situation themselves.
So even though I was eventually allowed to enter the checkpoint, the TSA supervisor, who said his name is Ricky Flowers, continued to insist that I was not allowed to record.
Perhaps Flowers would have been convinced had I handed him a copy of the policy as I did in Miami in January, but shouldn’t a supervisor already know the policy?
At this point, my family was really stressing out at the thought of me going to jail, so they kept urging I turn the camera off.
And I had already proven what I had set out to prove; that TSA officials are clueless about their own policy.
I did turn the camera off, but turned it back on once I got through the checkpoint because my aunt was detained after setting off the metal detector with her replacement metal hip.
She was prepared for this, so she had a card explaining the metal hip, but the TSA screener would not allow her to retrieve it from her pocket.
Instead, she was pulled aside and patted down, the screener’s hands coming uncomfortably close to her privates, flustering and frustrating my aunt even more.
Because I was the last to walk through and was dealing with my own issues, I managed to record her reaction after the pat down, but not the pat down itself.
But once again, TSA screeners threatened to call the cops on me.
At this point, we had all gotten through, so we just walked to our gate where I ordered a much-needed beer.
Why do I do this?
It may seem petty and instigating to many people, but it is crucial that we ensure TSA officials abide by their own policies – especially at a time when their authority is expanding beyond airports.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
The Transportation Security Administration isn’t just in airports anymore. TSA teams are increasingly conducting searches and screenings at train stations, subways, ferry terminals and other mass transit locations around the country.
“We are not the Airport Security Administration,” said Ray Dineen, the air marshal in charge of the TSA office in Charlotte. “We take that transportation part seriously.”
The TSA’s 25 “viper” teams — for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response — have run more than 9,300 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in the last year. Department of Homeland Security officials have asked Congress for funding to add 12 more teams next year.
According to budget documents, the department spent $110 million in fiscal 2011 for “surface transportation security,” including the TSA’s viper program, and is asking for an additional $24 million next year. That compares with more than $5 billion for aviation security.
TSA officials say they have no proof that the roving viper teams have foiled any terrorist plots or thwarted any major threat to public safety. But they argue that the random nature of the searches and the presence of armed officers serve as a deterrent and bolster public confidence.
Bolster public confidence?
Does it make you feel secure knowing that an agency supposedly responsible for your safety doesn’t even know its own policy towards something as simple and common as passengers pulling out cameras during the screening process?
Does it make you feel secure that the agency that is supposed to protect passengers from dangerous hijackers is busy strip searching 84-year-old women in wheelchairs?
Does it make you feel secure that the agency responsible for screening terrorists from boarding planes is unable to screen child molesters from its own ranks?
TSA News, which proclaims it is “dedicated to writing about the agency with fairness, balance and accuracy,” highlighted nine cases from 2011 where a TSA official was arrested on charges of child pornography or sexual assault on a minor.
It must be further noted: the vast majority of sex crimes–like enticement, molestation, and rape–are not reported (for example, only about one in six incidents of rape are reported). This is due to a complicated array of cultural and legal factors that includes misplaced shame (where victims, especially young ones, blame themselves), fear of having to relive a horrific incident in a courtroom setting, fear of retribution, fear of the perpetrator himself, and more. Thus, we can fairly conclude that there were even more such crimes committed by TSA employees than those in the hardly-brief list above.
None of that makes me feel secure, which is why I won’t stop video recording TSA screeners despite their threats, lies and intimidation tactics.