As we’ve indicated many times at TSA News, passengers are allowed to take photographs, video, or sound recordings at TSA checkpoints. The TSA’s own rules state this. Yet we’ve had many accounts of passengers being intimidated or threatened when they try to record their experiences.
This account by passenger Paul Sanchez was originally posted at the chat forum Travel Underground on Oct 16, 2012. It has been edited for reposting here at TSA News:
It’s said that a baseball player who can hit 0.333 will statistically get on base often and likely bring in a few runs as well. My hitting record with the TSA is running about 0.95.
This all started in May 2012 at St. Louis (STL) when, for newsworthy content, I started recording TSA screeners blocking the exit because there had been a breach and they were doing a terminal shut down. Still photos here; complete video at Flickr.
A TSA screener came up to me and told me that “photography is prohibited.” I asked her if this was a public area and she said yes. That led to an encounter with Detective Sgt. Williams, who threatened to arrest me for “interfering.” He quickly backed down when I confronted him. Federal Security Director (FSD) Switzer tried to explain that there was a problem with TSA training and that the TSA screener didn’t know the actual rules. He also explained to me that I can’t expect perfection. I asked him if that’s all he learned from the Steven Bierfeldt incident; he didn’t comment.
Then last August I got to Memphis and discovered that the “training problem” must be contagious, since BDO (Behavior Detection Officer) Tyronne did not like my photographing him while I was in line waiting to get to the travel document podium. He and the Transportation Security Manager (TSM) insisted that this was not a public area. The TSM then backed down.
So it was at Colorado Springs (COS) with BDO Paul Rose insisting that I couldn’t take photos of him in the “non-sterile” area.
Above are photos taken at Fort Lauderdale (FLL) in September — again the statement “you can’t take photos.”
Then in October, at Baltimore-Washington International (BWI), it started off fine with my taking two photos of BDO Coats at the beginning of the line.
BDO Coats then said photography was not allowed. I asked her which federal law prohibited photography (there is none), or which State of Maryland law (again none). She stated that it is a federal law. She wasn’t able to quote the supposed federal law nor the supposed Maryland statute. I suggested to her that she confer with her TSM. I continued to wait in line.
TSM “Ivy” came up to me and I asked her for her SIDA (Secure Identification Display Area) credentials. Then I asked her if the line up to the travel document check podium was a public area. She yes but photography wasn’t allowed. I told her I didn’t know that but would be glad to confer with her after I got past the travel doc podium.
After much delay, it turned out that TSM Ivy didn’t want to discuss it on that side of the checkpoint (she never came back), so I went to the screener blocking the way of the walk-through-metal-detector and asked if I was required to go through the AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology) scanner. He didn’t know the answer. I then asked him if I could opt out, which he didn’t seem to understand.
Lead TSA screener Blair Wallace then came up (he was the one who had told me that TSM Ivy wouldn’t meet with me until I was in the sterile area). He asked if I was going to complete the screening or leave. I told him I had already stated my intention to the previous screener and perhaps he should confer with him.
He then said that I had to remove my belt and put it through the x-ray. I said fine, I’d be happy to when we were doing the pat-down. Lead screener Wallace insisted that he wanted to x-ray the belt, and I again said I’d be happy to during the pat-down.
I walked through the metal detector (for some reason no alarm in spite of the hazardous belt I was wearing). I asked screener Wallace if he was familiar with the term “private screening.” He said yes, so I asked him which additional screener he was going to use as witness, and suggested that if the door to the private screening room was locked he could get the key from TSM Ivy.
He and the additional screener took the two bins containing my belongings toward the private screening room but left behind the blue roll-on suitcase, despite being told several times by the x-ray operator that it was mine. I asked lead screener Wallace if the rules were now changed and if unscreened passengers could handle their property or if he just wasn’t following procedure. He seemed unnerved.
I got to the private room at last. My first question to both screeners was about what size gloves they wore. I got blank looks for about 10 seconds. Then they stated large and extra-large. I told them I didn’t notice a box of gloves on the metal table so I suggested to the junior screener that he go get large & extra-large pairs of gloves. Again dumb looks for about 10 seconds but lead screener Wallace told the junior screener to do so. Door was closed behind him as he left.
This, of course, left one screener in the private room instead of the required two, so I suggested that Wallace open the door. He said no, which is again against the rules. So I strongly suggested to him that he open the door. He then did so, and both of us stood in the doorway until the second screener returned.
Wallace gave his spiel. When he started describing “until I meet resistance,” I stopped him. I said “resistance” was an electrical value or interfering with the screening process — which one was he referring to? He explained that he meant until he couldn’t go any higher on my inner thigh. I asked him if that mean my lower torso, groin, testicles, genitals, etc? He meekly said yes. I suggested that he use nomenclature the public understands if he wants consent to these pat-downs.
The pat-down went fine. Wallace left to do the explosive trace testing (I stood in the doorway watching, much to the consternation of the junior screener), and he came back with negative results. Great I said, no nitrates today.
My belt was still on the metal table. Wallace said he didn’t need to x-ray the belt after all. I told him that was 100% contradictory to what he had told me 20 minutes earlier about insisting that the belt had to be x-rayed. I asked him how I could complete the screening process if the belt wasn’t x-rayed? He said the screening was done and told me to please leave.
I walked out, and there was TSM Ivy. I began to ask her about BDO Coats’s statement on the “federal law” that prohibits photography at TSA checkpoints. She started to explain the previous rules about the airport’s trying to ban photography, but I quickly corrected her. She then started to explain about the TSA’s own policy, but I quickly showed her a print-out of the TSA policy, and she backed down.
She started to explain that I can’t expect perfection from screeners. I agreed with her, except for the fact that the TSA publishes these rules and screeners should know them, especially given that they work five days a week, which is more often than I come through airport checkpoints. So if I know the rules, how come they don’t? I explained to her that she’s the one who decided to work with an agency that hires non-GED applicants (she blamed Congress for that), knowingly hires convicted felons, and proportionately has a higher arrest record than do passengers. She didn’t have an answer for those either.
She started to say that perhaps BDO Coats was new at BWI and didn’t know the rules. She said she would forward this to the training department (I’ve heard that before).
She asked me who I work for since I knew the specific rules and procedures (she appeared nervous when she heard me ask about 49 CFR 1520, etc). I told her I don’t work for the TSA, or DHS, or BWI. I suggested that she write up an incident report and gave her my business card.
For my flight from BWI to FLL, I thought why not go up to bat again in the last inning? Took two photos of the checkpoint before leaving, and as I walked past the exit point I turned and took a picture of an indignant TSA screener.