TSA Reportedly Searched Man's Luggage for Bitcoin

U.S. GovernmentU.S. GovernmentApparently, carrying lapel pins that look vaguely like the Bitcoin symbol through airport security was enough to provoke questioning from confused Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents.

A pair of steely government workers confronted Davi Barker, claiming they saw Bitcoin in his luggage. There is one obvious problem with this. Bitcoin is digital. It can't sit in luggage like a wad of cash or a handful of tokens. (Although Casascius coins has sort of become the face of the digital currency. Before being shut down by the feds, the outfit manufactured physical coins with a private key embedded. But generally it is impossible to encounter physically incarnated Bitcoin.)

Barker replied suspiciously, “What did the Bitcoin look like?”

“Like medallions or tokens,” one agent claimed.

It's not clear exactly what prompted the additional screening. Barker was wearing a hoodie with an image of an airplane unloading Bitcoin from the skies. He also had a container of Blockchain.info lapels buried in his bag.

The currency's misguidedly poor reputation in government circles might have spurred the additional screening. What little law enforcement officers know about Bitcoin is generally bad, and recently, authorities have been cracking down on the digital currency. Two men were arrested in Florida for money laundering last month. BitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem was charged with money laundering in late January. TechCrunch reports:

Whatever the legality or contorted logic of the added inspection, it appears there’s a knee-jerk negative reaction to the notorious currency.

Under money laundering laws, it is illegal to carry more than $10,000 internationally. Once finally determining that Barker was not flying abroad, the agents quickly abandoned the search.

When contacted by Forbes, the TSA gave a generic statement about safety and terrorism:

TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers. TSA’s screening procedures are focused on security and are designed to detect potential threats to aviation and passengers.

Davi Barker chronicles the incident in his blog here

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  • croaker||

    This should not surprise anyone. Half of TSA are ARC clients. The other half are their "helpers".

  • Hugh Akston||

    The Bitcoin-sniffing dog clearly indicated the presences of trace amounts of cryptocurrency, which justified multiple xray and physical searches of the suspect's rectal cavity for any Bitcoins he might be smuggling.

  • flye||

    And just in case, the agents carry extra bitcoin to "discover" on the perp during the search.

  • anon||

    I really want to see some idiot plant a "bitcoin" on someone to justify detention/arrest. Then again, I might just kill myself that day, because at that point what difference does it really make?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Also, if the TSA is going to have a logo, shouldn't it be a millimeter-wave image of an eagle?

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I fail to see how bitcoin is related to airline security.

  • Wasteland Wanderer||

    They were fishing for a possible violation of money laundering laws.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    I get that. But the TSA is not a law enforcement agency.

  • anon||

    Isn't money laundering CIA territory anyways?

  • Andrew S.||

    When traveling internationally with more than $10k, it's customs business, since you have to have a form (yeah, that's stupid, but that's another story). But either way it has nothing to do with the TSA.

    The TSA has a long history of looking for money when they shouldn't.

  • Wasteland Wanderer||

    Yeah, but they WANT to be one, so they play stupid games like this.

  • GroundTruth||

    And that has what to do with airline security?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    TSA’s focus is on terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers.

    We have always been at war with Bitcoinia.

  • Cyto||

    More to the point, once you have that many employees standing around poking into every traveler's luggage it is inevitable that someone is going to come up with the brilliant idea that as long as they are there we should conscript them into the drug war. And any other general law enforcement need.

    It is one of the most obvious places to find mission creep. Heck, mission creep here is a feature, not a bug.

    Every time we have an article about our current TSA and border patrol practices I can't help but think back to the way we ridiculed the Soviets and the Nazi's in my youth. "Give me you papers!" was universal shorthand for the inherent evil of those systems. And yet, here we are a mere 30 years down the road.

  • anon||

    And yet they wonder why we think all TSA employees are idiots...

    I've yet to see evidence to the contrary.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    If you rearrange and replace the letters in the word bitcoin you get tic-toc-boom. Think about it.

  • anon||

    Oh my god. It'll be like 9-11 ... times a thousand.

  • Andrew S.||

  • NL_||

    Bitcoin currency, whether a coin or paper, is really just account information. So although it's possible to transfer it by hand, that's not the accepted mode for transferring Bitcoin (the digital process effects the transfer). So traveling with physical bitcoin is really little different from traveling with a bank book or a listing of your banking information. It's just a stylized way of transporting lengthy strings of numbers.

    The old laws about transporting cash were intended to thwart physical attempts to sidestep wire transfer rules. But Bitcoin skips banks and their reporting from anywhere, with no need to transport physical anything or even leave your bathroom. So the cash rules don't make any sense for bitcoin and likely wouldn't apply.

  • anon||

    . So traveling with physical bitcoin is really little different from traveling with a bank book or a listing of your banking information.

    That's precisely the reason for the derision.

  • SweatingGin||

    And if you can memorize a reasonably long number, or encrypt it and store it online, no need to even take a phone, computer, or drive across the border.

  • Sigivald||

    Under money laundering laws, it is illegal to carry more than $10,000 internationally

    No.

    It's illegal to do so without declaring it to Customs.

    There's a difference, and a significant one, even if neither is really any of the State's business.

    (It's much like saying "it's illegal to sell a gun without an FFL!" when you mean "it's illegal to be in the business of selling guns without an FFL.")

  • GroundTruth||

    Excellent example of one bad law engendering three more bad laws.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Once finally determining that Barker was not flying abroad, the agents quickly abandoned the search.

    However, based on bound documents found in Barker's luggage, the DHS has instituted a nationwide manhunt for a mysterious individual known only as Waldo, who appeared to be casing a large number of locations of public congregation.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    "Bitcoin from the skies"

    Is this supposed to be some form of stimulus after it becomes the dominant currency?

  • Eitan||

    But generally it is impossible to encounter physically incarnated Bitcoin.

    What? No it's not. Casacius coins are just one example. It's pretty common to store bitcoin keypairs offline in paper wallets. I think it's actually much safer than storing them on a networked computer or even worse, in an online wallet. I think there are a few Gox customers who might agree.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Under money laundering laws, it is illegal to carry more than $10,000 internationally.

    I thought that applied only to US currency, not non-currency assets. I would think some Rolexes would then be illegal to have on an overseas flight.

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