Idiot Tested, Not TSA Approved


Several years too late, the Transportation Security Administration is simplifying the lives of travelers by approving the use of X-ray-friendly laptop cases. According to the New York Times:

Two problems with the existing laptop cases are that security officers have difficulty seeing inside them with X-ray equipment, and many of the cases are so crammed with extra gear — power cords, a mouse and the like — that the computer is obscured.

To solve these problems, Ron Davis from Pathfinder Luggage says that the company's cases will be made of "nylon and foam," because "the X-ray machine will see right through that."

As it happens, I've been using an Incase Neoprene Sleeve to hold my MacBook for more than two years now. I know that it's X-ray friendly because, A) it holds only my computer and no other accessories, B) Neoprene is a type of foam; and C) the last several times I've flown, I neglected to remove my laptop from its case on the conveyer belt, and not once did a TSA employee ask me to take it out and send it back in. Why? Because the case didn't obstruct the views on the monitor.

Yet the TSA is refusing to set up an approval process, or a list of minimum technical specs, because X-rayable features on laptop cases should be "self evident." As a result, companies cannot "state nor imply that the bags were certified or approved by the T.S.A. or use a T.S.A. logo on them," and customers will have to hope they guessed right before placing their zipped computer on the belt.

It will be immediately apparent if a laptop case is not properly designed for unobscured visual inspection because it will not give security officers a clear X-ray image, Mr. Hawley said. The case and laptop will be removed from the belt for a close look by security officers, he said.

The recap: The current TSA policy is to let no one send his laptop through the X-ray machine while still inside its case. The new TSA policy entails encouraging manufacturers to come up with new cases, which the administration can't and won't endorse. It will then test those cases by letting all passengers send their encased laptops through the conveyer belt, whether they own a new one or not (because not even TSA employees will be able to tell the difference), then removing all the ones whose contents are obscured. Fantastic policy, and fantastically late.

Editor Jacob Sullum wrote here about the TSA's nipple checking policy.