Airline passengers in America may be required to separate out books, magazines and papers from cabin baggage - but civil liberties campaigners have insisted that airport security staff should not be able to scrutinize and assess a passenger’s choice of reading matter.
New airport security procedures being tested by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) require travellers to remove paper products — as well as foods such as chocolate and cheese - from their carry-on bags. The TSA says it allow screeners to assess the contents of hand baggage more effectively. On the screens used at airports, such items appear dense and may obscure other items.
But Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has raised concerns about the possible human rights impact.
In a blog titled “New TSA Policy May Lead to Increased Scrutiny of Reading Material”, he says the move would lead inevitably to “greater scrutiny of passengers’ reading materials”, adding: “Someone reading Arab or Muslim literature in today’s environment has all too much cause to worry about discrimination.”
In 2009 a student travelling from Philadelphia to California was interrogated for five hours after airport security staff found some Arabic language flash cards and a book called Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions in his cabin baggage.
Mr Stanley said: “TSA checkpoints are not general law enforcement stops.” Besides the risk that someone might be suspected of being a terrorist, ACLU is also concerned about privacy.
“A person who is reading a book entitled Overcoming Sexual Abuse or Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction is not likely to want to plop that volume down on the conveyor belt for all to see,” said Mr Stanley.
“Even someone reading a bestseller like Fifty Shades of Grey or a mild self-help book with a title such as What Should I Do With My Life? might be shy about exposing his or her reading habits.”
The TSA currently employs several thousand “Behavior Detection Officers”, looking for passengers demonstrating “excessive fear or stress” and subjecting them to additional screening.