TO THE many invasions of privacy that have become commonplace in air travel—the pat-downs, the hand swabs, the shoe removal, the endless rummaging through luggage by security agents—one more may soon need to be added: the examination of reading material.
Last month, America’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) ran tests at airports in California and Missouri that required passengers to remove all books and magazines from their carry-on bags and put them in plastic bins to be x-rayed. John Kelly, the homeland security secretary, said that the agency “might and likely will” impose that requirement at all airports. “What we’re doing now is working out the tactics, techniques, and procedures, if you will, in a few airports, to find out exactly how to do that with the least amount of inconvenience to the traveller,” he said.
But the big worry is discrimination. Passengers carrying the Koran, or perhaps any Arabic title, could be singled out for additional screening. In 2010, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a student, Nicolas George, who was on his way back to college when he was detained at Philadelphia International Airport because, according to the organisation, he was carrying flashcards for his Arabic class and a book that criticised American foreign policy. Mr George was interrogated, handcuffed and locked in a cell for five hours. He eventually won his case. The ACLU also reports that a government database that tracks international travellers has included notes on controversial books they have carried.