Rebecca Bernard
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Just Drive Already: TSA Screenings Get More Intense for Books

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Strand Books New York City

The TSA wants to see what you’re reading

If you have been paying attention this year you know that TSA screenings have gotten a little bit more intense recently, which has motivated a few of us to take to the road instead. News that screeners were getting a bit more handsy when checking passengers who fail traditional methods or are randomly selected made the national news earlier this summer, but a recent addition has been hiding in the shadows and is related to the books you pack in your carry on.


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In some airports, the TSA was experimenting with a policy that would ask travelers to remove books and other paper goods from their bags and place them in a separate bin as you would a laptop computer. According to the TSA, books, especially thicker ones, make it hard for screening machines to see what else is in the bag. Books themselves can also reportedly look like explosives, depending on their proximity to other objects. Who knew that a vacation goal of reading War and Peace or that huge Alexander Hamilton biography all Hamilton fans try to complete could get you into trouble when trying to board the plane?

While the rest of us see these enhanced book screenings as just another time-consuming inconvenience we have to face when flying, alarms are going off at the ACLU as this screening practice is slowly expanding nationwide. There are long-standing Supreme Court decisions in this country that protect your right to privacy when it comes to what you choose to read. In fact, there are also several state laws that make violating the privacy of someone’s public library borrowing history a crime. Warrants are also required in this country to access book sales information or any other records that indicate what you decide to read. The ACLU’s main concern is that the TSA flipping through your reading material to check for hidden items violates your right to privacy. It is especially concerning that this policy includes other papers, like legal documents a professional might have while traveling, which should remain confidential.

Before you rush to protest that the TSA could care less about what book you bring on the plane, you should know that in 2010 a man was questioned and detained for several hours because he had a book criticizing American foreign policy in his bag along with Arabic flash cards, according to Book Riot. Besides political leanings, even glancing at covers of books could reveal private information about passengers from health issues they may be facing to their sexuality. If you want to protect what you choose to read, the ACLU states that the TSA does not have the right to search reading materials in e-readers or other tablets. However, we all know that those electronic devices come with their own sets of rules.

Editor Rebecca's bags getting additional TSA screening.

This is when I began to question packing all my books in my carry on just in case my bag was lost.
(Don’t judge my hair… it was a long, hot day in the city)

This month I flew to New York City with my mother for a week away from cars (as if I could ever really escape). Everything was fine going to NYC, but on the way back I was pulled aside for an extra bag search. Turns out that the three hardcover books from my trip to The Strand, the paperback I picked up on Broadway, and the two books I brought with me originally were too much for the machine to handle. It also didn’t help that I had a tin of French cookies as well for my nights of reading ahead. As I saw the contents of my bags unpacked all over the stainless steel table, a little voice in my head crowed that this would have never happened if I had just driven my trusty car Jerome.


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The moral of this article is if you are not ready to be judged, and possibly detained, because of your reading material, plan a nice summer road trip this year. Besides the freedom to pack what you want, your car will never be overbooked and all delays and re-routes will be decided by you instead of an airline.

News Source: Book Riot

  • Rebecca BernardEditor

    A Dayton native, Rebecca got her start blogging at the curiously named Harlac's Tongue while studying abroad in the UK. She loves tooling around town with her Ford Focus named Jerome to the song they're playing on the radio. On any given weekend, you can find her with her camera at area festivals, concerts, and car shows, shopping at flea markets, or taking an adventure on the open road. See more articles by Rebecca.