The TSA has begun testing a new rule that passengers remove books from their carry-on bags for inspection. The reasoning I could find after researching for this, vary from books being dense and therefore hard to distinguish if they include or hide explosives, carry-on baggage has become too densely packed and heavy and airlines would like to cut back on the carry-on weight, and the reading materials may be monitored for profiling. Security is believable, the weight issue doesn’t seem valid, and the idea of monitoring and making judgement assumptions is seriously questionable.
Removing books from carry-on luggage is much like we’ve been doing with laptops for years. From the reports I’ve read about the book concerns, the thickness of a book and densely packed paper would be a likely way to hide explosives when going through the TSA screening. This is a good thing, right? I would agree as long as there is a way to remove and screen our reading materials so they still remain private.
I personally don’t care who sees what I’m reading. I’m an “open book” kind of reader. But, what about those people who do not want their reading materials out in the open and out of their possession? This rule is not just about a physical book, but is also about densely packed paper. Does this also mean legal documents in a file will leave the possession of the traveler and be investigated? Will a book be judged by a TSA agent not qualified to make assumptions and therefore profile its owner? This rule opens a lot of issues that perhaps need more explanation to the public.
The books we read say a lot about us. Is the reader of Jack Reacher, Will Robey, and Jason Bourne going to be thought of as a potential spy or government agent? Will someone reading a book to get through grief or an addiction be watched for suicidal actions? And will the couple carrying on a 50 Shades of Grey book be watched for keeping it G rated on the plane?
If someone were to look at the books I’m currently reading, I don’t think they could make much of an assumption other than I read a lot. My current reading I would take on a trip would include Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance (my next book club meeting pick), Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (highly recommended by a friend who knows I love art and artists), and Called to Rise by retired Police Chief David O. Brown (which recognizes our very own Prosper Police Chief Doug Kowalski as having a profound impact on his career).
I am personally interested in how this book rule will play out. Will book sales inside the airport increase since we may be disinclined to take a book from home? Will we choose our books more carefully to take on a plane because we know they will be on display for anyone to see? Will those carrying confidential, legal, or sensitive papers be allowed some type of concession with their transporting of documents? Or, will people just not care because it’s one more chipping away of our privacy?
The ACLU and Unites States Department of Homeland Security each have something to say about this new rule. I personally believe the rationale is sound, but people deserve to know more and the soft trial they have begun is going to be confusing and treated with suspicion. Thumbing through our reading materials to search for explosives and sheet explosives is justifiable. Coming across materials that they, whomever they may be, have the power to determine is questionable or put under scrutiny may lead to unwarranted and illegal judgement. I encourage you to do a little research of your own on this topic. As a frequent observer of people, I’m looking forward to my next flight to see if books are in fact removed from luggage and the viewable reactions society has.
Leslie Scott is the Director for the Prosper Community Library.