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U.S. Airport Screeners Are Watching What You Read 484

boarder8925 writes "Be careful what you read when you fly in the United States. What you read is being monitored by airport screeners and stored in a government database for years. 'Privacy advocates obtained database records showing that the government routinely records the race of people pulled aside for extra screening as they enter the country, along with cursory answers given to U.S. border inspectors about their purpose in traveling. In one case, the records note Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore's choice of reading material, and worry over the number of small flashlights he'd packed for the trip. The breadth of the information obtained by the Gilmore-funded Identity Project (using a Privacy Act request) shows the government's screening program at the border is actually a survelliance dragnet."
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U.S. Airport Screeners Are Watching What You Read

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:41PM (#20685379) Journal
    I swear those books on kitten huffing & freedom hating are purely for research on my next acting part in a play!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by PlatyPaul ( 690601 )
      Unless you're carrying something like the Anarchist Cookbook [], it seems unlikely that additional suspicion should be warranted. Given this time of year [], it seems ironic that security would be judging others by the cover (and content) of their books rather than their actual threat, if any existed at all.
      • If you're carrying the Anarchist Cookbook, why the hell would you be carrying it in hard copy? The obvious way around this, with the idiocy of the TSA, is e-books; easier to carry on your flight and it looks like just another fancy cell phone or PDA to them. My MDA even has a special flight mode that turns off all the radios.
        • If you believe half the things in the Anarchist Cookbook then you are probably just a teenager looking for trouble anyway and having the T.S.A. confiscate your book before you try and make "fire fudge" or whatever and end up blowing your thumbs off, is the best possible ending anyway.
          • by Gription ( 1006467 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @05:20PM (#20688219)
            If you think the Anarchist Cookbook is a danger to the public then I have a real danger for you!

            I have PC support techs that travel everywhere in the country and one thing they carry is an IDE HD with the standard images of all of the different models of computers we support. This is an amazingly scary source of danger for the American public! (apparently...)

            The TSA in LaGuardia confiscated one of my tech's drives because it looked suspicious: He had affixed an orange DHL "10:30 AM Urgent" sticker on the drive so he could make sure it wasn't overwritten by mistake. Apparently those orange stickers are either a powerful explosive or an extremely efficient oxidizer. (In that case we should all cringe when we see a DHL cargo plane go overhead.)

            . . . or maybe the TSA's airport security is one of the stupidest things to ever be seen on this planet.
            As a rule: Security is a logical exercise. If it doesn't make sense then it can't be an adequate security model!
            (so there!)
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 )
          Did they think he was going to brew something up in the toilet? What was he going to make? A doody bomb? Maybe if he ate bean soup and cabbage first...
      • by Ucklak ( 755284 )
        Get an eBook and they'll never know what you're reading.
        This is the 21st Century people.
    • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:03PM (#20685823)
      ... of Ann Coulter's latest book and Atlas Shrugged.

      Come on. What kind of bullshit is this? Wouldn't it be easier to be "classified" as "safe" just by carrying the right book?

      Radical Muslim extremists could just walk through security with a copy of the Torah while wearing a kippah/yarmelke.
  • by RyuuzakiTetsuya ( 195424 ) <> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:42PM (#20685385)
    I only read Catcher in the Rye.
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:42PM (#20685389) Homepage Journal

    "Chuck, have a look at this one."
    "So he's reading something on a laptop, is it a document or the internet?"
    "Use the higher magnification, it's a website."
    "Ok, I see it now. Something about Patenting a knife and fork... he's typing something."
    "Looks harmless enough."
    "Oh, my god, he's making some reference to life in Soviet Russia! Security security move on I-424, Victor section!"
    "Code yellow! He's obviously some kind of subversive."
    "Wait! There's something about a Beowulf Cluster, sounds like a cell!!!"
    "Code Orange, Code Orange!"
    "Holy sweet mother of Jesus! He's welcoming his new overlords!"
    "CODE RED!! CODE RED!! Take that m**********r down!"


  • Good. (Score:5, Funny)

    by halcyon1234 ( 834388 ) <> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:45PM (#20685435) Journal
    It might expose some government employees to some good books.
    • Re:Good. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by markbt73 ( 1032962 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:49PM (#20685531)
      And here's a list [] to get you started.
    • Re:Good. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:54PM (#20685643)
      > It might expose some government employees to some good books.


      Flag on the play! You're presuming TSA goons can read.

      • Point conceded. =)
  • by NitroWolf ( 72977 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:45PM (#20685451)
    Go Go Gadget editors!

    Someone steals the text of the actual article (not unusual, I know), instead of providing an actual summary... but leaves out the hyperlink that's actually IN the stolen text for the Identity Project [] referenced in the article.

    Why bother with editors?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I had to fly commercial on the day they reopened the skies after 9/11/2001 (I think it was the next Monday, can't remember the exact date).

    The events of the past week made me decide it was time to re-read "The Satanic Verses." I took it on the plane with me and made sure to hold it prominently in the waiting/boarding areas, etc.

    Nobody hassled me. Too bad, I wanted to make a big "Don't Taze Me, Bro" scene.
    • by statemachine ( 840641 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:18PM (#20686113)
      If anything, that book would have lessened any scrutiny (as it was banned in many Islamic countries, and the author received death threats from Iran).

      You might as well have been flashing around the King James Bible.
    • by VAXcat ( 674775 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:20PM (#20686133)
      Heck, about a year ago, I was coming back from a trip to San Francisco. My wife and I were waiting in the departure lounge for our plane. She went off to the bathroom and to look in the shops. I got bored just sitting there. I'm a student pilot, so I dug out my big red Gleim "How to Fly a Plane" book, and my ham band handheld radio, with headset. I tuned into the ground control traffic, hoping to get some experience with a big airport's procedures, and commenced reading my book. When my wife came back, she looked shocked, and asked me if I knew what I looked like. She told me to get that radio off and put that book away before the TSA sees you and things you're a terrorist. I hadda laugh...
  • by Nazlfrag ( 1035012 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:46PM (#20685477) Journal
    In other news, be careful what you post on the internet. Whoops, I mean our beloved Government is there to protect you from yourself. Amen.
  • Don't worry (Score:5, Funny)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:47PM (#20685491) Journal
    Soon this will all be a faded memory as the government will require everyone to board planes like this []
  • I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes.
  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) <> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:48PM (#20685507) Homepage Journal
    I travel a LOT, sometimes internationally, and I've always been paranoid enough to print my own book covers. I own a print shop, but I'm sure anyone can crank out their own book covers for under $1.00 at work or at home.

    My typical book cover usually says "Word of the Day" with other harmless jargon under it, and on the spine. When those morons/monkeys (not ad hominem attack, the employees really are morons) go through my bags, they only look at the fake cover.
    • I'd prefer to get some old tech manuals from the 1960s and cover them with custom covers. "Guide to Underage Bestial Homosexual Sodomy and Sadomasochistic Technology. Vol. XLII"


    • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:10PM (#20685951) Journal
      My typical book cover usually says "Word of the Day" with other harmless jargon under it,

      You could always try the other way by using known titles and changing them. For instance:

      How to kill a mockingbird
      Blowing up the bridges of Madison County
      Putting bullets through the looking glass
      Attack the rear window
      The Stand and shoot method

    • Wow, what kind of books do you read that you need to be so paranoid about? "Bring Down the [Destination Country] in 5 Easy Steps"?

      I can't think of a single book that I would be worried enough to hide. If you're that worried, leave it at home. I think you'd be in a worse situation if they actually checked the real title, since it would look like you're trying to hide something.
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      Just have to wonder why?
      I usually take a Scifi book of some kind or a magazine that I buy by the gate.
      Besides being offended by them keeping track of your reading material which I can understand why bother?
  • Better than what they do normally - just take books, etc. from your luggage and keep 'em....
  • by darthfracas ( 1144839 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:49PM (#20685535) economics student reading both Adam Smith and Karl Marx? divide by zero error?
  • by lone bear ( 67361 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:50PM (#20685539) Homepage
    A copy of The Constitution and The Bill of Rights
  • Phillip K.Dick (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:50PM (#20685541)
    I would like to share a very uncomfortable moment I had related to this....

    I was returning from a trip abroad to England and Sweden. On the way back I was reading a copy of the Phillip K. Dick story "The Man in the High Castle". For those who aren't familiar with it, it's a story set in an alternate world where the Axis won WWII, and American is evenly divided between the Germans and Japanese, along the center of the country.

    The cover art on this particular printing was an American flag where the start had been replaced with Swastikas. As I went through customs I was pulled aside for a little of the ole' extra screenin'. (Damn you again, full beard and being under 30!)

    Things were going smoothly until he came across the book, at which point things became extremely hostile and many questions were repeated until I started to explain that the book was sci-fi, and about a postulated alternate universe. I think as soon as I said 'alternate universe' his eyes glazed over, and he began to loose interest in me and I was let go. So based on this article, I guess the government knows I'm a PKD fan. I hope Space Nixon doesn't get word of this, or I'm in real trouble. I'll probably just end up informing on myself to the government anyways. :)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:56PM (#20685693)
      The Government knows you're a damn dirty islamo-fascist who would love nothing more than to abort babies, show obscenities to children, and place lite-brites all over the wonder city of boston.

      We need to start stoning these people. It's the only way to protect our way of life.
  • So how long until the TSA is collecting so much data at airports that other law-enforcement agencies start looking through their database? When TSA screeners rifle through your luggage, is any of that admissible in court? If they're secretly watching what you're reading, even outside of checkpoints, is that admissible too?

    Is it worth all this invasion of privacy, for events that happen exceedingly rarely? And if terrorists target a bus in the U.S., will we start having these checkpoints everywhere?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:53PM (#20685625)
    the rest of us about 'freedom' and 'democracy' as your country clearer has neither.
  • Thanks for the tip.

    Next time I fly, if I want to read The Audacity of Hope I'll be sure to enclose it in a dust jacket from We Will Prevail.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:55PM (#20685661)
    Posted over in the BoingBoing comments []:

    "...perhaps a selection of DIY PDF pamphlets which you print out yourself and carry through security, with titles like 'These Security Measures Aren't Doing Much For Your Public Relations, You Know' and 'Could You Work Harder At Making This Screening Process More Efficient And Effective Please?'

    Sort of like a bug report."

    And then:

    "Here's a selection of DIY pamphlets:

    [Link] []

    Why not make your own, print out some open source book you've been wanting to read? A flight, and the necessary long wait in a security line, is the perfect opportunity."

  • by downix ( 84795 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @02:55PM (#20685677) Homepage
    The last time I flew I took with me my copy of 1984...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 )

      The last time I flew I took with me my copy of 1984...

      Funny, so did I (as well as Huxley's Brave New World and a book by the Dalai Lama).

      I'm afraid, I am no longer willing to travel to the US. The current situation scares me, and I refuse to consent to being fingerprinted without cause. I think more countries should start fingerprinting Americans. :-P

  • "Female IIS edition of Playboy"
  • You know... (Score:4, Funny)

    by sugapablo ( 600023 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:08PM (#20685903) Homepage
    ...sometimes I get real pissed off about this stuff. But other times I just say "fuck it!" I mean really, what do I care really about if some government peon wants to jot down in the big brother database that I'm reading Muscle & Fitness on my flight? I mean compared to the C4 bomb hidden in my MacBook, it's really of little consequence. ;)

    [Note to all federal eavesdroppers: THE ABOVE IS A JOKE! CHILL OUT! I'VE NEVER EVEN BEEN ON AN AIRPLANE BEFORE!]
  • Nothing New (Score:5, Interesting)

    by megamerican ( 1073936 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:11PM (#20685965)
    "Dear Bookseller, it begins. Last week, President Bush signed into law an antiterrorism bill that gives the federal government expanded authority to search your business records, including the titles of the books purchased by your customers...There is no opportunity for you or your lawyer to object in court. You cannot object publicly either. The new law includes a gag order that prevents you from disclosing 'to any person' the fact that you have received an order to produce documents...because of the gag should not tell ABFFE that you have received a court order... you can simply tell us that you need to contact ABFFE's legal counsel."

    That is a letter from the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) sent to its members shortly after the PATRIOT Act was signed into law. The PATRIOT Act gave the federal government powers to search records of any business selling books and any library. Then they slap a gag order which makes it illegal to tell anyone for up to a year.

    It just sickens me to have to be paranoid about the things I read, or having to avoid using a credit card when paying for a book.

    Any terrorist who reads on an airplane isn't going to be reading a book on bombs, explosives or how to be a terrorist. If a terrorist were dumb enough to do that, it sure as hell wouldn't be in english. This is just another example of the government amassing data on ordinary citizens all in the name of national security.
  • Here's the silly thing. Everyone looking all of these nickel and dime privacy issues always forgets that the Dept. of Treasury has everything. I knew a guy whose son worked at the IRS, and he would never fail to pull his Dad's VISA transactions and comment on where he was at in the store. So, the IRS knows everything you've bought, how much you make, how much you are worth, AND, the Dept. of Treasury also knows if you have any dangerous things, due to gun checks, etc.

    If that were not bad enough, every maj
  • Significance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:15PM (#20686031) Homepage
    The problem is nobody really knows what is significant. So, they are scooping up whatever information they can find with the hope that someday there will be an important correlation.

    Could this be used for other purposes? Probably not, because of the volume of the information and what it is going to take to really get down and start mining it.

    The biggest single problem in the US today is there are indeed terrorists and we have had some incidents blocked. But almost no information about what has been blocked has leaked out. So everyone thinks it is all nonsense. As some people have mentioned, it would be the best thing all around if 3 or 4 indicidents were not blocked and successfully killed hundreds of people. Better yet, if a bunch of foreign nationals got blown up at the same time. Perhaps people would realize there is a problem and we're not anywhere near as isolated as we were in 1850.

    So when would all this collected information be of value? After something big happens. What if it doesn't? What if everything is successfully (and secretly) blocked in the planning stages as it has been so far? Any program like this would be considered foolish and pointless, and invasion of everyone's privacy for no gain whatsoever.

    But let one incident happen and the newsmedia will be all over the government for "not doing something." Today the criticism is for doing seemingly pointless things when still nobody can figure out what would be (a) acceptable and (b) useful. Would El Al style interrogations before boarding a plane produce useful results? Probably not - we're not looking for hijackers now. What we are certainly going to see is some kind of different attack vector. What would be useful to know about the (dead) perpetrators of that event? I don't think anybody knows.

    The other approach that doesn't have much favor in the US government right now is to treat terrorism-related attacks like a tornado. It just happens and messes up a lot of stuff but there isn't anything that can be done about it. As far as I know, no government is taking that attitude - certainly not UK, Germany or Israel where attacks have ocurred. Would this work in the US? Sure - until the first attack. It is difficult to play the role of standing up and saying "it just happens" to a crying mother/father/brother/sister on TV. So incredibly difficult that no elected or unelected member of the government is ever going to do it.
    • Re:Significance (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @04:56PM (#20687783)

      The biggest single problem in the US today is there are indeed terrorists and we have had some incidents blocked
      Sources, please? Because '' isn't getting it done for me.

      I am aware of exactly zero efforts to repeat 9/11. Zero.

      Please enlighten me.

      The other approach that doesn't have much favor in the US government right now is to treat terrorism-related attacks like a tornado
      Now, lucky for me '' does work. It says tornadoes occur in every state and the US gets an average of 125 a year.

      As far as I know, in the last decade we have had a far greater incidence of tornadoes here in the states than we have terrorist attacks. That being said, where the heck is the War on Weather?!?!?!?
  • Although the both work for Homeland Security, their roles are different. When you enter the country at the airport you don't pass any airport screeners (unless you transfer to another flight). If you take a domestic flight you will never see any border inspectors.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:20PM (#20686131) Homepage

    • USMC FMFM-1, "Warfighting", the US Marines guide to how to run a war. Quite a good read.
    • "USMC Small Wars Manual", from 1940 and still useful.
    • US Army FMI 3-07.22, "Counterinsurgency Operations", a recent and honest document about how not to make the same mistakes we made in Iraq.
    • "Impeachment: A Handbook", Yale University Press, 1974. From the Nixon era.
    • "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America" - the must-read book on bin Laden, from 1999, by a US congressional expert on terrorism. Offers a clear picture of what bin Laden is trying to do, written before 9/11. A key point of bin Laden's strategy was to force Western governments to become oppressive, less legitimate, less stable, and thus easier to overthrow.

    That collection is likely to drive security people nuts, yet those are must-read books for anyone who wants to have an informed opinion on the current wars.

  • There is help available, brother: []

  • by spyrochaete ( 707033 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @03:26PM (#20686229) Homepage Journal
    Upstart that I am, I brought the following books with me on my honeymoon to Amsterdam:
    • The Art of Intrusion - Kevin Mitnick
    • Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
    • 2600 Magazine

    I was reading a 2600 article about breaking into secure and staff-only areas in an airport while waiting at the gate to board my flight. I was given no trouble with my reading materials whatsoever.

    Truth be told, we were given more grief at customs regarding the wax-encased gouda in our suitcase than the bubblewrapped bong in my carry on.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec