Travel Tech

TSA Communication may get your bag searched

Evan Roth's T.S.A. Communication project is described as art, and is funny at times. It may also be a problem.

Evan Roth's T.S.A. Communication project is described as art, and is funny at times. It may also be a problem.


Message Plate: This Will Get Your Bag Searched

A new "art" project called T.S.A. Communication has sprung from the mind of Graffiti Research Lab co-founder Evan Roth. In short, TSA Communication is something like what happens when a fourth-grader shoots a spitwad at the teacher every time her back is turned. As a friend of mine working on an education degree explained, teachers should never turn their backs on their classes.

Roth's concept is simple and elegant; he takes a metal plate and cuts sections out of it to produce a message. In some cases, the message is a picture, like a US flag. In others, it may be words, such as "NOTHING TO SEE HERE". Then, he slips his plate into the bottom of a carry-on bag, packs the rest of the stuff he wants to take with him on top of it, and goes to the airport.

The bag passes through the X-ray machine and, in theory, hilarity ensues. My favorite TSA Communication plate is the one that says "T.S.A. RICK ROLL!!!" and sports an image of Rick Astley.

The description of the project provided by Roth says:

T.S.A. Communication is a project that alters the airport security experience and allows the government to learn more about you then just what's in your backpack. Thin 8.5 x 11 inch laser-cut sheets of stainless steel comfortably fit in your carry on bag, simultaneously obscuring the contents you don't want the TSA to see while highlighting ideas you do want them to see. Change your role as air traveler from passive to active.

He has tested his TSA Communication plates several times, not only dealing with the TSA but also with customs officials in a number of other countries. He even provides a gallery of images, including both photographs from a number of airports and template images you can use to reproduce his TSA Communication plates.

Paul McNamara of NetworkWorld.com's Buzzblog traded emails with Roth about this project, and in one of them, Roth explained some of his motivation:

I fly all the time, and a big part of doing this project is simply so I have something to look forward to when I go to the airport. I hate flying, I hate airports, I hate security, I hate wasting time, and most of all I hate being forced to play a role in the theater of security.

McNamara's reaction, both in his Buzzblog post and an almost identical New York Times article titled Airport 'X-ray art' courts TSA trouble, is predictable:

Roth says he doesn't like flying now? I'm thinking he's going to be liking it a lot less before long.

In comments on a Bruce Schneier mention of the project, others express similar ideas. One of them compares the TSA to a tiger:

Not perhaps a smart thing to do. The best attitude to the TSA is to say nothing and do nothing unless specifically told to.

http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/01/03/zoo-tiger.html

This form of communication is not for the faint of heart, it seems. A TSA blogger, in no uncertain terms, explains how and why TSA Communication plates will delay you:

Based on the preliminary examples shown on Mr. Roth's web page, the metal plate will get the passenger's bag searched every time. And no, it's not because of what the plate says, it's because the metal plate acts as a shield and conceals items below it. If an officer can't get a good look at what's in the bag, it's "bag check" time. Fair warning: there are detailed procedures on how to search this type of bag and it's not one of our quicker searches.

It gets worse:

1) You could be cited for interfering with the screening process by deliberately causing a distraction.

2) If there is a prohibited item concealed underneath the plate, you will be cited for artful concealment of a prohibited item.

3) If the message on the plate could be interpreted as a threat, you could be responsible for the closing of a checkpoint, not to mention the inconvenience you've just caused your fellow travelers.

Bruce Schneier and countless others have pointed out some of the stupidities in TSA procedures and policies in the past. All together, it adds up to what many call "security theater". Most of the security measures enacted by the TSA are for show, meant to convince the public, the politicians, and even perhaps themselves, that "something is being done" about airport security. Most of it is largely ineffective. It appears to be this sort of pointless shenanigans that motivates Evan Roth.

I don't blame him for reacting this way. It's certainly tempting, at times, for most of us to do something equally smart-alecky. As "Bob" the TSA blogger points out, though, you should be aware of the possible consequences of your actions and willing to deal with them if you succumb to that temptation. I personally just avoid airlines as much as reasonably possible, to the extent that on a trip almost halfway across the US earlier this year I drove -- and in another planned for the near future, I'll be driving again.

I guess Evan Roth has his way to avoid being a "passive participant", and I have mine. I guess the TSA blogger evidently agrees with me about the Rick Roll plate, though:

By the way, I thought this one was pretty funny.

About

Chad Perrin is an IT consultant, developer, and freelance professional writer. He holds both Microsoft and CompTIA certifications and is a graduate of two IT industry trade schools.

57 comments
mauited2004
mauited2004

TSA,Too Stupid for Anything! When going through TSA In- Security,Grab your ankles and kiss their asses! My recent experience in the Aluquerque Sunport showed me that intelligence is not a prerequisite for checking for possible threats. Biggest threat in my life are the MORONS that we are forced to pay to Allegedly protect us. Houston, We have a problem!!!

mdiaz
mdiaz

I hate seeing old folks set aside to be "screened." I think security in US airports is a bad joke. Guess what? You can have guys with machine guns everywhere, but if you fail to screen passengers EFFECTIVELY, the bad guys will penetrate security - easily. The level of arrogance I've seen from TSA baggage screeners is enough to really piss me off. There are no passenger inerviews (see: El AL), there are no bomb sniffers, the metal detectors are ineffective against many kinds of explosives or non-metallic weapons. Overall, I'd rate airport security a D-.

bstiff929
bstiff929

Any chance you can find something that panders less to the lowest common denominator? This might appeal to the same folks that think script kiddies are clever, but I'd be tempted to land myself a Federal arrest by crushing the face of the jackazz that launches one of these exploits in line in front of me, thus wasting my time, and the TSA's. Get a life.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Just as My other car is a Bentley bumper sticker. 'My other bag is a Prada 'Wrong bag, my other one is the one you want" 'Hello and welcome to the inside of a bag scanner' 'My parents went through a TSA check and all they got me was this stupid metal plate.' 'I can see you!' 'In loving memory of..." or 'this bag is dedicated to the memory of...' 'We thank you for not smoking in this bag' 'My other bag is a piece of sh1t too' 'The next guy's bag has a bomb in it' 'This bag is under 24hr surveillance' 'Beware of attack dog' 'Protected by TSA' or have a picture of KillRoy (used in the war to show that solders had been through an area). Yeah I'd have fun with that alright, but its a pretty stupid idea in this day and age.

cpudoc
cpudoc

Thousands Standing Around (TSA) is a waste of resources. They will search grandma's bags but not the person that fits the profile -- oh wait, they cannot "profile".

networkguyinsavannah
networkguyinsavannah

TSA is got to be the biggest JOKE the FED gov't has come up with to date. During one flight, I was in uniform ( I am a naval reserve officer ) I was pulled and given the "special search" while a gent of Middle eastern accent and features, walked thru cursing the TSA officials for delaying him and speaking about 9-11 being a "day of deliverance". when I asked about this, i was told "we have procedures" and warned that a protest would "delay" me.

dogknees
dogknees

We need a luggage maker to create a line of bags with this stuff embedded in them. Or even better, a line of luggage called, and prominently labelled "Bomb-bags".

advanracing62
advanracing62

The TSA is a pile of rubbish- You can't put anything of value in your bags without having it taken from you like your first lolly. I am glad someone is poking fun at this behemoth of a government finger- they are corrupt and dishonest, and truthfully make me more afraid of flying than any person ever could. Keep up the good work!

apotheon
apotheon

Does anyone out there have any ideas for other ways to demonstrate the absurdity of the Theater of Security Administration -- preferably ideas that won't get travelers in trouble?

pgit
pgit

quote: "The level of arrogance I've seen from TSA baggage screeners is enough to really piss me off." I think that's the point. Conditioning people to be pushed around by flat-head minions. It'll hit the streets one of these days, soon. Even the US Army is being deployed "domestically" now. Gotta wonder what they're expecting, eh? dialectic...

santeewelding
santeewelding

You can spell it, "jackass". I don't think anyone will accuse you of pandering to a linguistic lowest common denominator, or appearing to avoid doing so with an ersatz spelling. I guess I am in that denominator. Your comment was directed to the audience of which I am a member. Your life would consist of?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Hehe.. oh how I want to wear that shirt to work but not until after they get to know me better. Great list in your post though, I'm going to be giggling over that one for a week. (It doesn't apply to the TSA topic but it's one of my favourite lines from a shirt.

glgruver
glgruver

Don't mess with the Feds. Most of those guys do not have much of a sense of humor when it comes to their jobs. TSA may be bad, but the scariest guys to deal with are from Secret Service. When I am working with them on a project, we can joke around a bit, but when they are working a VIP security detail, they are all business.

b372028
b372028

I am somewhat supportive of this type of civil disobedience, especially when I read about armed enforcement experiences. But consider this - In an effort to highlight the minimal effectiveness of TSA procedures, slowing down the current inspection process will only give the union a reason to ask for even more of the jobs-for-life TSA people.

cowen80194
cowen80194

I went to the airport with a working wifi usb card and logged in to find my ticket at the counter. I went thru the line asked for a "HAND Search" which is supposed to prevent the scanner and be more thorough and swabbed more for "Things" in all the compartments in my computer bag. The TSA refused threw my bag into the scanner and when I got it out the other end I booted up waiting for my flight and found half of my drivers were wiped out and my wifi dongle no longer has an IOS flashed on it so it wont work. I went to complain and file a claim against the TSA and Airport for the damage and was TERRORISTICALLY Threatened with Jail and Fines if I filed. as it started out they told me nothing ever happens and "They" scan hundreds of billions of items and nothing is affected by the x-ray scanners. That 100% of manufactures scan 100% of there products just to make sure its airport safe. Oh really its because you Terroristically Threaten anyone who's items are affected with Federal Prison and Fines if they DO file. No Rights for Anyone who flies any more even if you are RIGHT! I contacted CISCO and receive a disclaimer from them on the WIFI Finder USB that said it WAS NOT X-ray safe. When I presented it to the TSA warlord I was told I should have known that and had it "HAND Checked" or not brought it. That was what I needed to do my job at the other end of the flight and you would not check it any other way, and you said 100% safe for electronics. I did not check it because your signs say DO NOT check electronics. T.S.A. needs to go A.W.AY. instead of checking who is getting on planes check who is getting off planes.

thomas
thomas

There was a time which I can remember boarding a plane without any inspection at all. Then metal detectors arrived as a response to DB Cooper and a rush of malcontents wishing a better life under the watchful eye of Castro. Every time a criminal is successful circumventing security, there is another layer of harrassment the 7 9s of us must be subjected to. I have had it. I used to fly if the trip was over 500 miles. I drive the car now. So far there have not been any Gustapo road blocks checking for my papers on the Highways. There is in town though. Started out as DUI checkpoints. But mission creep has them checking for any old thing now. The only solution I have to offer is to stop licking the hand which feeds us and vote freedom first.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

>:) I really am, and if they get impatient and decide to do something untoward.... MUHUWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHH!!

scarville
scarville

I had a co-worker whose black PVC tape was confiscated because "he might use it to tie someone up" while a bag of zip ties in his carry on was ignored. When he challenged the "rule" the airport police were called over and he was threatened with arrest and felony charges. Fortunately this person has experience travelling in Communist countries during the Cold War so he adopted what he calls the "Checkpoint Charlie Attitude" and was released. I passed thru a different queue and my PVC tape was never questioned. Many (maybe most) of the TSA agents are "clerks in a position of power" with all that implies and the limits of that power has not yet been tested. A TSA inspector can make up a rule on the spot and, remember, carrying contraband is a felony. So if you mess with one who is having a bad day or just doesn't like the color of your hair, or eyes, or skin he or she can get you jailed. Anecdotally, these ad hoc declarations usually seem to get resolved if the victims is sufficiently penitent and pays proper homage to the majesty of the state. IE, do the step'n fetch it and you might go home tonight. I fully understand the desire to belittle the TSA and there are things worth risking imprisonment and death for. However, most fliers these days are self-selected citizens from the high end of the conditioned to obey authority curve. They will likely cheer (but only if it is allowed) as you are taken behind the chemical sheds and executed. There are ways to fight back but this is not a good forum to discuss them. Too many quislings.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I fly, a lot, and the TSA does nothing but hinder the amount of time it takes to get from the ticket counter to the gate. Look, I didn't realize my travel sized toothpaste was 3.2 oz, not the required 3.0oz. I also didn't realize the rules changes from last week and now I can't bring nail clippers, but I can bring a lighter...Oh, the rules changed again and now I can bring nail clippers, but not a lighter...I'm sorry my backpack is full of training material, hard drives, USB sticks, usb cables, DVDs, CDs, and yes, I do need two laptops. ha. ha. ya the bag is heavy oh, I can't use my passport, it has to be my drivers license, but I'm traveling internationally DIRECTLY FROM HERE... Arg...The worst thing about the TSA is that it breaks down like this: 50% - Want to do a good job and think they are saving us from "turists" 25% - couldn't get into the police academy because they were too stupid and violent and now they think they are "Federal Agents." 25% - Just want a pay check and the government pension at the magic 72. So half the TSA is vaguely useful. How about scanning cargo? How about keeping the baggage handlers or your own TSA employees from stealing crap out of my bag or actually repacking my bag when you pull all the crap out?

santeewelding
santeewelding

First time I had to bare my pubis for the nice TSA lady under the explicit threat of a very nearby M16 with magazine seated was the very last time I flew. Now I drive. I get to carry things that way. And, Chad, tut-tut: "Most of it is largely ineffective." No way do your admittedly practiced English acrobatics get you out of that one.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

it would likely be hilarious to be in line behind Mr. Roth, I think he's begging for trouble. 'Authority' in the US, and likely other countries, appears to greatly lack anything resembling a sense of humor. The fact that we regularly get a good laugh out the authorities of the world is sheer happenstance. etu

Glastron
Glastron

Get a life. It takes long enough to get through security with out this childlike behavior.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

What a stupid idea to begin with, but the signs you could come up with are pretty funny.

Dr. Tarr
Dr. Tarr

I was working a conference where some folks who rated Secret Service details were attending several years ago. I unthinkingly walked up to a check point with a projection screenc in it's tubular case on my shoulder and carrying a projector in a Storm case. fortunantly they recognised me as the cleared AV guy, but for a few minutes I got to see just how humorless a person gcan get. You folks have fun with the nice agents, I'm going to have to side with the lemmings on this one.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]The only solution I have to offer is to stop licking the hand which feeds us and vote freedom first.[/i]" I'd love to, but my ballot is looking particularly dismal this year.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Another fellow hacked together a bagcam for when he flies. He's got some really interesting shots of baggage handlers in action, TSA scanning and such. I've also heard about a fellow that makes a point of travelling with a firearm. Sometimes it may be just an airsoft or in cases, just the chamber of a piece. Whatever the minimum he chooses, the point is that he has to declaire it at baggage check. They have to watch him comfirm that the weapon or part is safe then locked in the baggage. TSA scans it right away usually without needing to unlock it again and the service you get when you report a missing bag that was declaired; he's not lost luggage or things out of his bag since starting the practice. One of my favourite stories was a guy wearing an "I'm a security professional, not a Hacker" t-shirt that spent a few hours casing the airport while waiting for family to fly in. He basically walked around doing a complete audit of the airport finding a number of ways around TSA and even an unlocked bank branch with machines left turned on. The best bit was clearly discovering how inept the TSA agents where by talking to them. As for me, I don't travell enough really. When I do travell by plane, I do the minimum needed to get past the TSA and customs goons. I'm of no threat anyhow. Security Theater. No different than Street Theater or Stage Theater. Why provide real security when you can make people feel safe through the perception of it. Walking down the street is still more dangerous than flying but it's all about where the media points it's cameras.

apotheon
apotheon

What should I try to get out of? I can imagine having to disrobe while someone stands by looking menacing with an M-16 might be a strong disincentive to fly, by the way.

Glastron
Glastron

So you think wasting TSA's time with his "art" is worth your time in line so be it. I would chose not to be behind such a person. It serves no purpose then to entertain him. As for dismissing my comment. You certainly typed alot for no reason then.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]I would hate to be behind this gentleman at an airport.[/i]" Whether I was amused or annoyed would probably depend on my own circumstances, to some extent at least. "[i]You can now continue with your condescending posts.[/i]" Did you [b]not see[/b] what you posted before my comment?

santeewelding
santeewelding

I had resolved to let your comment go. Of its two quick parts, I found the second about your impatience for "childlike behavior" understandable. I too could hurriedly dismiss the event as such were it not for the prospect of mass death. I found the first part -- about my getting a life -- also to be a hurried substitute for thought, and I dismissed it. Now, you are back.

Glastron
Glastron

While it is mildly amusing seeing it on a website I would hate to be behind this gentleman at an airport. You can now continue with your condescending posts.

apotheon
apotheon

Do you mean that of the TSA, or that of the guy putting messages on metal plates in his bags? Do you perhaps mean something else -- like people discussing the matter?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

50 blank sheets 1 laser cutter 1 diplomatic papers (.. for when they loose there sense of humour)

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

"Highly trained professionals." Blech. I mean honestly, do they really think they are federal agents? Do they think they are stopping anything? Do the TSA bosses really believe, or even understand, the SOPs handed down from on high?

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]A) Why would a turist wear a bomb OUTSIDE their shirt? B) Why would it have a course number on it? C) How does this look at ALL like a bomb?[/i]" A) If they wore them [b]under[/b] their shirts, the TSA would never catch them! Don't you know [b]anything[/b]? B) It's a clever disguise! C) You wouldn't ask that question if you were a TSA agent. They're highly trained professionals. I think you have to have a Bachelor of Arts in Security Theater to get that job.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

In the end, it's the government throwing money and poor implementation at a problem that didn't exist in the first place. Flight is no safer than it was before 2001's paranoia extrivaganza and is still safer than walking down the sidewalk in a "good" neibourhood. The problem is, how do "the people" express disatisfaction with the hemeraging of tax dollars used to support security theater at the airports? With polititions and the espianage community patting each other's balls lovingly over the success of blindsiding the public after decades of waiting for the opertunity.. what can one do besides point out the obsurdity of the thing. One person does it.. then two.. then four.. suddenly the US gov is reminded that it is in place because of the grass roots rather than the top-down corporate governance it's worked so hard to put in place.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

There are a couple of themes here. 1. TSA security measures work just fine to stop stupid attacks. 2. Security measures prior to 9/11 worked just as well to stop stupid attacks. 3. TSA security measures are not adequate to stop an intelligent, determined attack. 4. TSA security measures INCREASE the feeling of vulnerability. 5. TSA security measures decrease human rights. 6. TSA security measures increase the cost of travel, without a corresponding increase in value.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

While one person may get kicks out of playing games with TSA security, the rest of us that are also going through it either get delayed or just annoyed because someone's always got to have his or her fun (like the girl who wore a circuit board on her shirt and then pitched a fit because security nabbed her). I've got lots of names for people like that, none of which I can post here. Seriously...grow up. You're not in high school tweaking the substitute teacher anymore.

ChallengerTech
ChallengerTech

I think screwing around with airport security(TSA) is stupid and lacks imagination. Maybe he'll stop when he gets his first thorough body cavity search...or maybe that's what he's hoping for!

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]Do you refer to Chuck Baldwin? If you consider there's always a bag full of negatives, I would suggest his are the most benign, and he'd get nowhere with them anyway.[/i]" It probably looks like that sort of thing can't get anywhere when you live in New York. I had the same rosy view of separation of church and state when I lived on the Left Coast. Now that I've lived in a few other places, and seen the kinds of laws that are passed elsewhere in the country, I'm not so sanguine about the necessary triumphs of the separation of church and state. Unless you're in a state that's on the front lines of this issue, you probably live in a state where everyone believes the commonly held view in that state is destined for sweeping success -- no matter which side of the battle lines that may be. I've live in areas on both sides of the front lines, and the disconnect between them is jarring, to say the least. Now, I live in a state where the battle is being played out in earnest, and it has been leaning heavily toward theocracy for the last four years at least (I've only lived here for three). Things may swing around the other way, thanks to the current anti-Republican sentiment in this country, but I'm not holding my breath. Anyway, the upshot is that I don't think simply trusting that theocratic leanings will make no difference at all is a good basis for selecting a Presidential candidate (or a candidate for anything else, for that matter).

pgit
pgit

Do you refer to Chuck Baldwin? If you consider there's always a bag full of negatives, I would suggest his are the most benign, and he'd get nowhere with them anyway. But his take on the monetary system is dead on. Seeing as the private monopoly federal reserve is the core of all problems in the news these days, Baldwin would be the right vote. Nader would be interesting, too. Talk about shaking things up. Monopolies and other fascists beware!

scarville
scarville

No matter whom you vote for the government always wins.

apotheon
apotheon

At least I had Badnarik to vote for, four years ago. This year, only two "people" are running for my district's Congressional seat, and of the sixteen mofos on my ballot for President, the only one that has two brain cells to rub together has abdicated half his reasoning power in favor of parroting the words of some subhuman preacher from his childhood. There's something desperately wrong when the so-called Libertarian candidate is a damned neocon, and a malignant narcissist.

apotheon
apotheon

. . . but I don't [b]want[/b] to vote for a lizard! Douglas Adams is dead. Long live Douglas Adams!

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

[i]I'd love to, but my ballot is looking particularly dismal this year.[/i]

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Between Politician A and Politician B.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The guy who does Bagcam did a talk at HOPE2008 so it's back to: thelasthope.org/talks.php and crtl+f for bagcam. I believe the other talk is called "firearms and the friendly skys" or similar. crtl+f "friendly sky" should find it. The fellow who kept himself amused with an airport audit wrote an article for 2600 Magazine so I'll have to look up the specific year and quarter it was published in.

apotheon
apotheon

Do you have any links for any of these things? More information, please.

Tink!
Tink!

I believe the TSA's point is valid, it's method is simply ineffectual to the actual cause. However, if we didn't have people like that disturbing the peace to get the message through, the path to addressing the cause would never be found. Someone needs to take their message and start looking for a REAL solution.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I don't want to get into the rest of this thread but to add a simple point; professionals will find a way. The villiage idiot is going to get caught by TSA and the average citizen is going to be delayed by TSA but the professional is still getting through. Those border gaurds make crossing into and out of the states a pain and delay the regular citizen but it hasn't even slowed down the number of low flying "cargo" planes bringing recreational pharmacuticals into the country. If anything, it's only helped justify the ubsurd level of imprissoned populartion, the FDA budgets and the criminal industry around pot. In all likelyhood, the next horrific attack on US soil will not be planes falling from the sky either; it's been done and using the same attack over and over is poor military strategy; eventually, the target is going to figure it out and adjust. (You can thank Robert Steele for making me think of risk management this way.) The point is, the amateur was stopped with old procedures just as well as they are stopped by the overcomlicated new aproach. The professionals will still walk through all the security theater like they where spiderwebs. Something should absolutely be done but something actually effective rather than something done purely for presentation value. The TSA is a fix for the simptoms not the cause.

apotheon
apotheon

I'm judging the effectiveness of the policy as a reasonable understanding of what it accomplishes as a filtering mechanism -- not whether terrorism will be conveniently suppressed by way of some bizarre statistical anomaly that is entirely unpredictably related to policies that seem designed specifically to be counterproductive. The difference is subtle but significant.

santeewelding
santeewelding

The disincentive in my case did work. And, for all you presumably know, I could be bin Laden's left-hand man. That challenges your "most" straightaway, not to mention your "largely" and your "ineffective". I only gave it a "tut-tut" in recognition of your having expressed a (personal) sentiment, rather than hard insider knowledge, to include your having infiltrated and polled all relevant terrorist groups. Thus your "mostly" and your "largely". They are as hairs to a beard. They are not the marks of serious comment. I'm growing a beard, by the way. Could be the mark of a serious adherent.

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