Security staff in US airports have reportedly been demanding passengers clear all the reading material out of their hand luggage into a separate bin during safety searches so that staff can search for items made of paper.
According to the Telegraph, airport officials began searching through passengers' books under a pilot scheme launched last month.
The searches have taken place in Missouri and various other airports including Los Angeles, Boise, Colorado Springs, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Boston Logan, Lubbock, Munoz Marin in Puerto Rico, Las Vegas McCarran and Phoenix Sky Harbour.
Passengers were asked to take all reading material and food out of their carry-on bags and place them in a separate bin before staff fanned through each book’s pages.
There are concerns from some that this marks an infringement of privacy and that certain types of reading material will raise red flags unnecessarily. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the increased scrutiny, which is planned to be rolled out nationwide, raises "privacy concerns".
A senior policy analyst of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project added: “Books raise very special privacy issues… there is a long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one’s reading habits in the United States, not only through numerous Supreme Court and other court decisions, but also through state laws that criminalise the violation of public library reading privacy or require a warrant to obtain book sales, rental, or lending records."
According to the Sacramento Bee, Transportation Security Administration officials said the new process is because carry-on bags are getting so full that screening agents at x-ray machines are struggling to see what is inside and so cannot search for items effectively.
Readers have taken to Twitter to voice their frustration with the new searches. Cid Stoll tweeted: “Portland, ME airport. Had to explain to TSA why I had so many books in my bag. ‘Maine has great used bookstores.’ They examined every one.”
US feminist author Roxane Gay tweeted about her refusal to participate in the checks on 1st March. She said: “Today at the airport TSA said we have to remove books from our carry one and put them in a bin. I. Refused.”
According to the Telegraph, John Kelly, the Department of Homeland Security Secretary, told Fox News on Sunday that the extra searches are likely to be rolled out to airports nationwide.