Airport workers, including TSA, raid unlockable luggage for valuables



99 times out of a hundred, when an organization says, “not liable,” an individual will give up and go home. After all, it wouldn’t be in an Official Letter if it wasn’t true - double for signs.

They’re usually liable.


Doubly true for signs, only if the sign is signed “The Management”.


With ‘having’ to use TSA-Openable locks, is there a reliable way to have TSA-OPENED-Evident (like tamper evident but for supposedly legitimate openings) attached to the locks? Something like stickers over the TSA-unlock mechanism. This might be a (all be it slight) deterrent to the quicker thinking agents.
It might not be though.


Consider the TSA’s raiding of “not locked to them” luggage a sneak preview of the NSA’s wished for “not locked to them” data.


I had a TSA lock that had something along those lines. If the TSA super-key was used, a red plastic slider came down over part of the lock’s clasp.


It seems to me that there is no way to make something reliably tamper-evident or tamper-resistant if it is designed to be tampered with under “legitimate circumstances” by the TSA. I’ve had my bag search, and the TSA left a nice note, which felt creepy, but less creepy than having my underwear fondled and not leaving a note. I’ve also had stuff stolen from my bag. The thief did not leave a note.

I say screw this TSA compliant lock rule. If the TSA has a real reason to get in your suitcase, they will cut off any lock you have on there, and probably leave a note and maybe even use a zip-tie to secure your bag after the lock is removed. A thief would have a harder time removing a lock that isn’t TSA compliant, so that’s what I use. Either get one that is a combo lock without a keyhole, or get one a combo lock with a keyhole and then fill that keyhole with superglue or epoxy. It’s not 100% effective, but it’s a hell of a lot more effective than putting a lock on your luggage that can be opened with a key that everybody can copy, or even just use a hairpin to open.


Does “TSA safe” mean the TSA can or can’t open the locks with a master key? I.e. is it ‘safe for’ or ‘safe from’?

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Do you fly much? My bags get searched almost every time I fly.


Also, I just got the dreaded “SSSS” screening on my way out of YTZ this past Sunday. It happens a bit too often to me to feel truly “random,” given that I only fly once or twice a year.

(For the record, I was given the option of the radiation booth or a patdown, and the inspector didn’t bat an eyelash when I opted for the patdown. He was rather polite, and explained each step of the process.)


A simple solution would be to use enough duct tape to cover the lock entirely so that it needed to be removed in order to unlock the lock. It’d be a PITA to mess with for every flight, but at the least you can be pretty sure the thing wasn’t messed with if the tape is still in place (and arranged as it was before).
Years ago my luggage got lost during an international flight, and ever since that point I tend to carry everything important (computer, keys, presents, a small change of clothing, overnight kit) in a carryon bag. So if TSA really, really wants to sniff my clean/dirty clothes, well that’s all they’ll find in my checked bag.

EDIT: Like @Abaronofsky, I generally get the “SSSS” code but I avoid the pornoscanners–the TSA folks doing my patdowns have all been professional enough that I don’t have any complaints.

For about a decade I had long hair (I’m a guy), and I got randomly selected for the “enhanced” screening pretty much every time I flew. In the 8 years since I’ve gone back to short hair, I’ve never been selected once. There’s nothing random about it.


I’d go for any kind of the common seals. A piece of string that has to be cut will do the job, a ziptie as well. Use a string or ziptie that is not common, or mod it to be unique in some way (serial number imprint, drop of paint or nail polish…).

Tamperproof is fairly impossible. Tamper-evident is relatively easy.

Another possibility is a microcontroller, e.g. Arduino, with a RTC clock chip and an opening sensor. This can be hidden somewhere in the luggage construction and run from a coin battery, and interface with the outside via e.g. AT24RF08 chip so you can read it from your NFC-capable cellphone and see the timestamps of luggage opening (or other tampering, or even the moments of extra-harsh impacts).


My wife covers her hair for religious reasons, and generally gets asked to either take her hat off (she asks to do so in private, which is usually accommodated to a greater or lesser extent), or gets a patdown over her hat. I just get asked to take off my yarmulke. Obviously, it’s because I’ve hollowed out my skull, and I’m hiding a hand grenade inside my head…


Something tells me that custom electronics might just be the thing to guarantee a tampering of the most extreme way (“We destroyed the suspicious package with a controlled explosion. We do not at this time think it was an explosive device.”) I say this as the last time I flew domestically (in Canada) I received extra screening due to travelling with a slightly non-standard laptop. It is a gaming laptop (dedicated graphics circuitry) which I’ve swapped out the optical drive for additional storage as well as a SSD for the OS. Apparently this was unfamiliar enough to the screners on the X-Ray machine that it was flagged for extra attention.

Reference link:


I wonder if a hidden camera that comes on whenever the bag is opened, records who did what (fish-eye lens?), and sends it off to a 3rd party site for storage would be at least a partial technological fix for this. Sure, you can open the bag with your TSA key, but as soon as you do your face, hands (i.e. identifying scars, jewelry, etc) are a matter of public record, and if something goes missing, well, now we have evidence of who did it when. I know that technology isn’t always the best answer to what is mainly a sociological problem, but it might be a start. But would it even be legal?


Make the battery small enough. The suspicious parts are a mass of something with a certain range of xray density. Batteries fit the bill. Electronics per se is heterogeneous enough.

Do it do it do it do it do it!
I can consult with the implementation.
The easiest way may be a small smartphone; the power systems and the wireless connectivity are already in place, and cracked-screen secondhands are plentiful and cheap.

Just do it and let the lawyers sort it out!


You should travel with a firearm. You are required to use a non-tsa lock and put it in a hard case (especially one that doesn’t have a zipper). They aren’t allowed to open it without having made a reasonable effort to have you watch the screening. FAA regs say that you, only you, and nobody else can have access to the gun case (ie your hard-shell suitcase). They are not allowed to open the case outside your presence. All you need is a flare gun or a starter pistol.

edit: this was actually covered by Cory on boingboing back in 2006:
(not sure why the page is gone now)


Instead of the passengers having to resign themselves to being robbed, why doesn’t the TSA screen all airport workers entering and leaving the secure areas? There were reports not long ago of employees leaving JFK with stuffed duffels and no questions. We know they’ve got the technology and we’re talking about a fraction of passenger numbers. No only will it stop petty luggage theft, but also documented smuggling methods and even possible terrorism.

Let me guess why not: a Union objects?


Thought. How could the passengers unionize too?