TSA: Taking Pictures Of Our Dogs Is Illegal!

I’m told that this picture is very illegal.  TSA K-9 handler at JFK T1 immediately before ordering me to stop taking pictures.

On Friday, I flew out of New York’s JFK T1 after experiencing what was the longest airport security line I have ever seen. It literally stretched from the zig-zag queue at the center of the terminal to the far end of the terminal, and then around the corner. The TSA, of course, knows that terrorists now target security lines, rather than airplanes, and doesn’t seem to care that they are putting us at risk, but I digress.

After finally reaching the front of the queue, I spotted, for the first time, the TSA’s new experiment with bomb-sniffing dogs. Interested in finally seeing the TSA put a far better solution in place for the detection of non-metallic explosives than the body scanners, I snapped a few pictures, including the one here.

But, of course, the TSA can’t leave well enough alone. “You can’t take pictures!” barks the dog’s handler. I can’t? Well that’s news to me, and I consider myself pretty up-to-date on aviation security law. 🙂 I soon spot an STSO (supervisory transportation security officer — the “3 stripe” blue uniform people) and ask her to clarify, but she tells me she doesn’t have time to talk to me. Eventually, I spot her boss, the TSM (transportation security manager — always wearing a suit), a very friendly South Asian woman who is cheerfully tells me that my First Amendment right to photograph has been suspended:

Jon: Are you the TSM by chance?

TSM: Yes.

Jon: I have a question for you.

TSM: Sure.

Jon: What’s the policy on taking pictures in line?  The person with the K-9 told me I was not allowed to take pictures.

TSM: Yes, that’s a screening process, what he’s doing there, so you’re not allowed to take pictures.

Jon: OK, so that’s a federal regulation?

TSM: Yes.

Jon: Not New York state, that’s a TSA…

TSM: No, not New York state, it’s federal.

Jon: Ok, so if I ask the TSA, because I’m a civil rights advocate, and my job is to sue the TSA, if I ask them, they’re going to tell me that I’m not allowed to take the pictures, and that’s official TSA policy?

TSM: You have to specify what you were doing.

Jon: Taking a picture of a K-9.

TSM: You can’t.

Jon: OK.

TSM: Because that’s a screening process.

Where legal, I generally record my interactions with the TSA, and New York being a 1-party consent state (any party to a conversation may record it), I got an audio recording (.mp3).  (As a side note, a reasonable argument can be made, and some courts have held, that audio or video recording of government officials while working in public is constitutionally protected even in 2-party consent states.)

Why is this a “big deal,” some may ask: Any time the government restricts our ability to take pictures, they are reducing their accountability to the people. Thousands of times per day, law enforcement in this country violates the rights of citizens, but only occasionally is it caught on camera, and only then is it punished (sometimes).  By removing our ability to document their actions, they are insulating themselves from consequences for wrongdoing, and this a free society cannot stand.

I’ve asked the TSA’s Civil Rights Office to comment as to whether this is official TSA policy and await a reply, but expect a new lawsuit to be filed soon either way.

29 thoughts on “TSA: Taking Pictures Of Our Dogs Is Illegal!

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  1. Great job! I’ve avoided flying for about 3 years now but need to again soon for work and a family trip. Not looking forward to it.

    But how far off are we that they will suspend all of this last remaining civility surrounding rule of law. I’m already making plans to leave the us. Where are good discussions going on where to move to that has a free society?

  2. You are a bit confused. It was not TSA that objected to taking a picture of the dog, it was the dog who objected. As a part of its dog sniffing contract, the government had agreed the dog had the constitutional right not to be photographed, petted, hugged, kissed, butt sniffed or licked,, or otherwise have his dog constitutional rights violated. As a practical matter if the dog notices that its picture is being taken, and that picture could be publish, if stops concentrating on his job sniffing duties and thus could allow some 5 year old cat lover onto an airplane.

  3. OK, you can photograph and video a pat down, which is a screening procedure, but you can’t photograph a sniffer dog that is performing a screening procedure (or maybe just standing around). Am I the only confused about this?

  4. I know you want to push the constitutional issues, but I think you should also push the fact that the TSA’S OWN RULES allow video and photography. What is a JFK TSM doing on the job without knowing the rules of her employer?

    1. It sucks when the TSA doesn’t follow its own rules, but that by itself doesn’t usually create a reason for a court to intervene. Courts only intervene when the TSA breaks the law (statutes, federal regulations, constitutional provisions, etc.).

  5. TSA Releases New Body Scanner Document:

    The Transportation Security Administration has released a document describing the technical capabilities of the airport body scanners. EPIC previously obtained documents from TSA revealing that body scanners can record, store, and transmit digital strip search images of airline passengers. Last month, the TSA issued a regulation on airport body scanners, nearly five years after a federal appeals court ordered the agency to “promptly” undertake a rule making.

    Click to access 12-09-26-TSA-FOIA-20160411-Production.pdf

  6. Congress Stops TSA Plan to Search Passengers A Second Time After They’ve Landed:

    Our Heather Caygle has an inside look at Congress’ efforts to quietly quash a TSA program that would have allowed the agency to wait until after passengers land at their destination to screen them for weapons.


  7. TSA Whistleblowers: Agency Has “Lord of the Flies” Culture With “Bully Bosses”

    “If you tell the truth in TSA you will be targeted. I call it the Lord of the Flies —either attack or be attacked” said Mark Livingston, a program manager with the TSA.

    “I am concerned that TSA employees responsible for transportation security, intelligence and analysis fear their supervisors more than they fear a potential terrorist threat” Livingston told lawmakers.

    1. Committee Hears About ‘Retaliatory’ TSA Culture:

      Jay Brainard, the federal security director for the TSA Office of Security Operation, told the House Oversight and Government Reform committee Wednesday morning that, between 2011 and 2015, the TSA staffed its leadership positions with “unprepared employees” who were chosen not for their qualifications, but because they were well-liked within the agency.

      “For years we had many senior executives, most of which completely lacked the experience needed for their position, run amok and make decisions or conduct themselves in an unethical manner which eroded our ability to complete the security mission and grossly compromised the integrity of our agency,” Brainard told the committee.

      He called these unprepared executives “the biggest bullies in government,” and said their past efforts to avoid punishment by coming down hard on employees who pointed out misconduct have left a broken, battered workforce with poor morale.

      READ MORE:

  8. Minnesota TSA Manager Says He Was Told to Target Somali-Americans:

    A TSA manager said he was instructed by his supervisor to provide the names of Somali-American leaders visiting the agency’s local office so they could be screened against national security databases for terrorist ties, a disclosure that quickly drew accusations of racial profiling.

    In a midyear performance evaluation, David McMahon, the supervisor of Andrew Rhoades, an assistant federal security director, wrote that he had advised Mr. Rhoades to check potential visitors to the agency’s offices with the field intelligence officer to determine “if we want them in our office space or meet elsewhere.”

    Mr. Rhoades, who works with Somalis in the Twin Cities area, said he considered the remarks racial profiling and reported the incident to the T.S.A.’s Office of the Chief Counsel and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

    1. Although it may have been profiling, I personally think such profiling makes more sense then just randomly pulling over 2 year old kids for investigation etc. And as long as the innocent profiled person is not really adversely affected one way or the other, and there is some logical bases for the profiling, I would go along with it.

  9. Lawsuit challenges TSA’s use of full-body scanners in airports:

    Two groups that say fear of airport security body scanners forces some would-be fliers to risk driving instead, have challenged their use by the Transportation Security Administration.

    Filing suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District on Monday, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the Rutherford Institute said “because car travel is much riskier than air travel, the net result could be an increase in overall travel fatalities.”

    The lawsuit stops short of calling for removal of all 789 full-body scanners now in use in 156 airports, but demands that the TSA take into account the higher risk of driving for those too frightened to endure the machines. The TSA published a new rule for full-body scanner use last month.

    “Yes, we do want these machines ultimately out,” said Marc Scribner, a research fellow at the CEI. “We don’t believe they are cost effective. We could put these security funds to much better use.”


  10. TSA wrongfully subjected wheelchair-bound US Olympian to full-body search:

    The TSA admits agents “did not follow correct screening protocols” with Colorado’s six-time Olympic gold medal winning swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen.

    Van Dyken-Rouen says TSA agents at Denver International Airport humiliated her.

    She took to social media Sunday to detail her experience getting through security.

    She said agents made her go through a full body search even though she has Pre check.

    “They go around your breasts, they basically go under your butt and the just grab things, not grab, they touch things that are not appropriate and it’s really embarrassing,” said Van Dyken-Rouen.


  11. TSA at MSP Airport failed 9 of 12 tests by undercover Red Team:

    Source tells Fox 9, TSA agents failed 9 out of 12 tests, passed two tests and one test was inconclusive. Sources say the inconclusive test involved the full body scanner, the one where passengers lift their arms, known as Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT). Those sources say the machine wasn’t calibrated properly and failed detect simulated explosive material that was strapped to an undercover agent’s leg.


  12. DHS Allowed to Search Phones at the Border Without A Warrant:

    “The post-arrest, off-site forensic search of defendant’s phone was instead a border search, which did not require a warrant supported by probable cause. The first search of defendant’s phone conducted at the airport was a routine border search that did not require individualized suspicion.”

    “Although the first manual search of defendant’s phone conducted at the airport was a routine border search, the subsequent forensic search of defendant’s phone conducted at the Homeland Security Investigations’ office in Sterling, Virginia was a nonroutine border search requiring some level of individualized suspicion.”

  13. Woman Sues for ‘Inhuman & Degrading’ Border Search:

    Border Patrol agents subjected a teenage U.S. citizen to seven hours of abusive and degrading searches and strip searches for no reason as she tried to walk home from breakfast in Nogales — then they lied about it, her attorney says.

    The “extremely petite” 18-year-old was never informed of her legal rights, nor was she allowed to call her mother. Nor did the agents or the dogs find any drugs. But that didn’t stop them from taking her to a hospital, in handcuffs, to be X-rayed and strip-searched more thoroughly, she says in the June 8 complaint in Federal Court.


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