TSA confiscates camera and deletes video shot at checkpoint
posted at 3:28 pm on October 2, 2012 by Howard Portnoy
Here is a list of things that agents with the Transportation Security Administration have waved airport security checkpoints: A passenger with no identification and a day-old boarding pass in someone else’s name, a stun gun, a dagger, a set of razor-sharp chef’s knives, and—pièce de résistance—two box cutters identical to the ones used to highjack four jetliners on Sept. 11, 2001.
And here is a list of things they have prevented from making it through airport security checkpoints and/or confiscated: A cupcake, insulin belonging to a diabetic passenger, a toy belonging to a mentally challenged adult and functioning as a security blanket, a handbag with a replica gun embroidered on its exterior, and a nursing mother with a breast pump in her luggage who has asked to demonstrate that the device was real.
Add to the second list a video camera belonging to a passenger in Puerto Rico who had recorded the goings-on at the TSA checkpoint. The website Pixiq reports that agents not only unlawfully confiscated the man’s property but deleted the footage he had shot, this despite an unequivocal statement at the TSA’s official blog that reads:
We don’t prohibit public, passengers or press from photographing, videotaping, or filming at screening locations. You can take pictures at our checkpoints as long as you’re not interfering with the screening process or slowing things down. We also ask that you do not film or take pictures of our monitors.
However… while the TSA does not prohibit photographs at screening locations, local laws, state statutes, or local ordinances might. Your best bet is to call ahead and see what that specific airport’s policy is.
This is not the first time individuals exercising their free expression have been stopped, interfered with, and/or harassed by TSA officers who claims they know the law better than the organization they work for. One of the best documented examples of the agency’s overreach occurred in July and when journalist Julio Rausseo was approached by a TSA officer a full week after his run-in with the agency and asked to provide identification.
The specifics of the most recent outrage are detailed in an email description of the incident by the individual who was hassled. Included are his exchanges with TSA personnel:
I was in the San Juan airport at noon (Sept 24) heading for St. Kitts.
I videotaped (Canon Power Shot) the podium where they make you show the passport/boarding pass, as I approached and then the next area with the X-ray scanners. It was busy. One TSA woman told me to stop from about 20 feet away. I didn’t.
They all seemed intrigued I wouldn’t follow their orders. A TSA guy soon approached me and said I had to stop. I kept the video going and said
‘Sorry, it’s a Constitutional right.’ He said ‘Okay’ and walked back, a little indignant, to the X ray area.
When I went through X rays they were waiting for me. Two uptight TSA ladies rolled up on a cart and approached me. I grabbed my camera and started rolling; I wanted to capture the conversation with them.
One of them approached me and violently ripped the camera from my hands. I was shocked and told her to give it back and lunged for my camera. They took my camera and passport and boarding pass and ran off to some corner to confer with one another.
A police officer approached and asked where I was from. I said California. The conversation went like this:
Me: ‘I’m from California. Why?’
Him: ‘Well, each State has its own rules.’
Me: ‘But this is TSA. A Federal agency. Therefore the State laws don’t apply. Besides, the First Amendment of the Constitution trumps state rules.’
Him: ‘This is an airport. You can’t just videotape people. You need permission.’
Me : ‘Nonsense, this is a public arena. There is not permission required or any expectation of privacy here.’
Him: ‘No, Puerto Rico is not like the States. There are local laws that have nothing to do with the way they do things in the States.’
Me: ‘Look, let’s just agree to disagree. I don’t accept anything you say. I want my camera back. See stole it. I want her to give it back right now.’
Him: ‘She didn’t steal it. She just confiscated it because you violated the rules.’
The TSA lady reappeared with my camera, passport, boarding pass. I took it and started to walk away (pissed off) when I noticed the camera would not go on. I looked at the cartridge slot and it was gone. They had stolen it!
I showed the cop and said, ‘Look I want my cartridge (with 200 or so personal photos) back or I’ll call a lawyer and 911 to get more cops.
This is outrageous!’ He seemed to be aware I was getting upset and the TSA ladies scurried off with the cop and came back 2 minutes later with the cartridge.
‘It must have fallen on the ground’ said the cop.
Yeah, right. Predictably all the videos of them giving me a hard time were deleted. The whole episode lasted about 10 minutes.
So far, the TSA has not responded to requests for comment.
UPDATE 10-3-2012, 12:40 p.m.: An official response from the TSA has been received. Their statement follows:
While TSA understands individuals may sometimes have trouble distinguishing our officers from law enforcement or other officials, the person who took the camera from the passenger was not a TSA employee. TSA did not tamper with the camera or erase any of its content. Additionally, the individual that appears in the video being circulated is not a TSA employee.
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