TSA accused of searching phones and laptops on domestic flights


According to new lawsuit, airports are searching phones on some flights.
Photo: Apple

We’re all used to our bags being searched when we go through airport security, but a number of reports claim that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is also searching the electronic devices belonging to passengers on domestic flights within the U.S.

As a result, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against the TSA, requesting records gathered by the fderal agency.

“We’ve received reports of passengers on purely domestic flights having their phones and laptops searched, and the takeaway is that TSA has been taking these items from people without providing any reason why,” staff attorney Vasudha Talla told the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper. “The search of an electronic device has the potential to be highly invasive and cover the most personal details about a person.”

While the TSA has not officially commented on the lawsuit, a spokesperson for the organization denied that the TSA searches the contents of devices such as phones and laptops.

According to the ACLU, however, passengers are reporting being requested to unlock their devices so that text messages, social media accounts, photos and other private information can be reviewed -– without warrants or reasonable suspicion. “It speaks to a growing attempt by the government to investigate individuals not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, but perhaps based on impermissible factors,” said Talla.

One woman mentioned in the report told the Guardia that she has had her electronic devices searched twice while flying within California. While she was not asked to unlock her business and work iPhones, they were removed from her view for ten minutes. Another time, she claims that her laptop was removed under similar circumstances.

Airport security vs. tech gadgets

This is not the first time that security concerns surrounding gadgets on planes has been raised. Last year, the U.S. government instituted a ban on laptops and tablets in carry-on luggage from 10 different airports around the world, including Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

This was reportedly put into place originally following a foiled plot to smuggle a bomb disguised as an iPad onto a plane. Samsung’s ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 was also banned from flights after one handset caught on fire on a plane.

There is, however, a significant difference between examining electronic devices to determine whether they might cause physical harm to an aircraft and its passengers, and compelling the owner of a device to unlock it to have its contents reviewed.

We’ll keep you updated about this lawsuit.