Monday, January 29, 2007

Much fun at SFO airport

I arrived to the airport rather late last week when I flew from Indianapolis->San Francisco. With only 35 minutes to clear security, I didn't want to risk anything by refusing to show ID.

Thus, when I flew back from San Francisco this morning, it was my first attempt ever to fly on American Airlines without ID.
Every single time I've attempted to fly without ID, i've been able to successfully avoid showing TSA a single piece of ID - the tricky part is trying to get your boarding pass and check a bag without showing anything to the airline.

American demanded 'some' form of ID. I didnt' want to argue too much, so I whipped out a credit card and my Bloomingfoods Organic Food Co-Op membership card, gave it to the agent, and then she printed me out a special SSSS boarding pass - AA is high tech, and doesn't seem to resort to sharpie pens.

The fun started once I got to the TSA checkpoint.

I'm guessing it had something to do with the fact that I was in San Francisco - but this was no normal checkpoint. First off, it was highly understaffed. Only one employee was manning the SSSS lane, and so there was a baglog of 3-4 passengers being SSSS'd. One gentleman, who they wouldn't even let past the metal detector, was refusing to take off his shoes until they showed him the regulation in writing that enabled them to do so. I beamed him a huge smile, and attempted to give him my business card. TSA quickly stepped in, and I had to give my card to an agent, who passed it to a second agent, and finally to the gentleman. I asked him to email me the results of his protest.

Another gentleman was causing a big stink due to the fact that the trays containing all of our carry on items were sitting on a table quite a distance away from us, while we were stuck in line waiting to be SSSS'd. A TSA officer responded to the man's complaints by telling him to keep an eye on his objects, and they'd be fine - an exceedingly difficult task, given the distance, and the number of people milling past. Nefarious types wouldn't have too many problems lifting a laptop out of an airport line.

Now for my fun...

I'm a keen reader of the Flyertalk Travel Safety/Security forum - and a few of the members there make it a point to demand that TSA employees change their gloves before running any kind of chemical trace test on their bags - to avoid contamination. Thus, today, I decided to start doing the same.

I really felt bad for the poor TSA employee who was running the SSSS lane. I successfully refused to show ID, to go through the air puffer machine (instead opting for a hand pat down), and then got him to change his gloves. All was going well, until the chemical analysis machine started beeping.

His supervisor came over, they ran another test on a freshly wiped sample, and yet again, the explosive detector went off.

At this point, I started to worry. Had my constant probing of TSA finally gotten me into serious trouble - for something that they never would have detected had I not insisted on not showing ID? And worse, by making them change their gloves before they touched my bag, I instantly lost the ability to claim cross-contaimination.

After sweating it out for a few minutes, I was told that everything was fine - that my bag had tested positive for a chemical substance, but one that was common in households. Phew. I asked the TSA staffmember if I should throw away the backpack and get a new one, to avoid this experience, and he said I didn't need to worry about it.

The one cause for concern, however, is the fact that he pulled out a logbook, wrote my boarding pass/name/date in a log, and attached the printout from the chemical analysis machine (with a big spike midpoint through the graph) - which means that the data on that search will be kept somewhere deep in the bowels of TSA, potentially, forever.

I'm new to the law - however, I am taking a couple classes at the IU Law school this semester. From my couple weeks of classes, as well as chats with various lawyers over the past few months, I gather that "standing" is a rather important thing in the legal world.

The silver lining of today's experience, I think, is that I now have standing (should it be required) to find out exactly how long TSA is going to keep that printed out graph, what they're going to do with it, and who "owns" it (i.e. the government, or the citizen that the data is on).

For that, I'll need a FOIA request...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I set that stupid thing off almost everytime. My cat used my bag instead of his litter box one night b/c he was mad at me and every time, beep!!!!!! Each time, they took down my info and when I asked what they were doing with it, my answer was nothing to be concerned with.