Blog begets negative buzz, end of SFO security program

Scott Beale went to San Francisco International Airport on Jan. 31 trying to hop on an American Airlines flight to Dallas. He ended up starting a movement that thwarted a nationwide airport security pilot program.

Beale arrived at the security gate that morning and was told to empty his bag of all electronic items. His laptop, three cameras, cables and flash card reader all had to come out of his bag as part of a pilot security program by the TransportationSecurity Administration. The program required security to place each passenger’s electronic items, such as MP3 players, cell phones and DVD players, into a plastic bin for X-rays.

Frustrated by the experience, the 39-year-old San Franciscan did what he typically does when he needs to vent: He posted about the experience on his blog, laughingsquid.com. The TSA happened to launch its own blog, tsa.gov/blog, the same day.

Beale’s blog post generated buzz and ended up getting the attention of TSA bloggers. The security administration then researched the breadth of complaints and shut down its pilot program just one week after it had started, spokesman Nico Melendez said.

“Exposing all your stuff like that, it’s kind of an odd feeling,” Beale said. “That was such a bizarre thing. As soon as I got to the gate I was like, ‘I got to blog this.’”

There was no plan necessarily to implement the program nationwide if it had success, Melendez said. At SFO, the program was only in place for American Airlines passengers. Other airports that tested the program were Lambert-St. Louis, Philadelphia and Tampa international airports.

The TSA implemented the security plan to help agents who have difficulty checking bags through X-ray machines. It is often difficult to identify and analyze electronic items in bags through the mesh of wires, Melendez said. Nevertheless, the TSA will have to again use this strategy at all of its airports after the trial program failed.

Beale said his experience highlights the growing importance of citizen journalism.

“I encourage people to document this stuff,” he said. “It’s so easy to get stuff out there now.” 

mrosenberg@examiner.com  

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