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When The TSA At Your Door…

Posted 1 Jan 2010 | Comments Off on When The TSA At Your Door… | 17,003 views

In response to the attempted Christmas day attack, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, published a secret directive of new airline procedures. The directive did not stay secret for long, and was published by Steven Frischling and Christopher Elliot. Both claimed to have received the directive from an anonymous source, which the TSA wants to discover. The TSA has subpoenad both bloggers to learn the identity of the anonymous source.

The tactics used by the government agents were reportedly overly aggressive and demanding. Frischling stated that the agents searched his Blackberry and iPhone and also confiscated his laptop. Elliot simply stated that he would need to contact his attorney first. The agents apparrently implied if they did not comply life would be difficult for them because they would be included on government watch lists and continuously monitored. Frischling and Elliot both blogged about their experience, and the TSA has since retracted the subpoenas because they are no longer necessary.

Their experiences should make people aware of a few things when publishing items that may draw the attention of goverment agencies. Firstly, Elliot was probably a bit more prepared. His statement to talk to an attorney bought him more time, and probably made the agents tread a little more carefully. Secondly, your hardware may not be in your possession for a while. It may be taken so that data can removed from any storage devices. It also raises a few questions.

  • What are your obligations if you regularly encrypt all your data? Are you required to provide them the passphrase or key to decrypt the data? Or are you safe just to let them image the encrypted drive?
  • What are your rights if the hardware is not returned in the same condition? Frischling reported that his laptop drive was returned with multiple hardware issues and a corrupt operating system.
  • Can you trust the laptop once it has been returned? Obviously once a third party has physical access to the hardware, they are in control. Has the hardware been modified? Has the BIOS been reloaded? Is it returned with any extra software?

The incident seems to be over for now, but as Frischling stated, he is clearly on their radar screen. Both of them may have that feeling of being watched for a while.

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