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Airport Security Asked People to Remove Books From Their Luggage

The Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) newest protocol might make you less bookish. As part of revamped security measures the agency announced it was testing in some airports -- requiring electronics larger than cell phones to be placed in separate screening bins -- it looks like TSA also explored examining another, far less conspicuous type of personal carry-on item: your books

The controversial practice reportedly required passengers to place their reading material -- as well any food on their person -- into security bins while passing through airport security. The idea, per TSA officials, was to declutter bags that might be too difficult for scanning machines to appropriately examine. Books, the agency said, can obscure the view inside of luggage and also conceal any illegal contraband, posing a problem for officers. 

The measure might seem culled from the pages of a George Orwell novel, but the agency claims it isn't concerned with what you're reading. Privacy advocates beg to differ, though, as Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union argued on Friday that the practice could indeed be problematic: "A person who is reading a book entitled 'Overcoming Sexual Abuse' or 'Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction' is not likely to want to plop that volume down on the conveyor belt for all to see. Even someone reading a bestseller like '50 Shades of Grey' or a mild self-help book with a title such as 'What Should I Do With My Life?' might be shy about exposing his or her reading habits."

The practice was regionally tested at airports in Detroit, Boston, and Phoenix, Newsweek reports, but TSA's Acting Director of Media Relations Lisa Farbstein said the book-screening procedure is no longer taking place at US airports

"In the past, TSA tested recommending that books be separated for screening to provide a clearer view on X-ray at two airports; however, we are no longer testing these procedures and passengers are not required to remove books for security screening," she said in a statement to The Hill. "At times, paper products do set-off alarms and procedures call for additional screening while maintaining passenger privacy.” 

TSA's purported interest in your books comes at a time of increased cautiousness and technological upheaval in the field of airport security. Passengers journeying to the United States from eight countries in the Middle East and Africa are currently forbidden from bringing large electronics as carry-on items, as part of a Department of Homeland Security measure instituted in March. TSA is also flirting with the idea of using fingerprint scanning technology to replace boarding passes, which could eventually upend the process of boarding an airplane as we know it. 

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Sam Blum is a News Staff Writer for Thrillist. He's also a martial arts and music nerd who appreciates a fine sandwich and cute dogs. Find his clips in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, The A.V. Club and Esquire. He's on Twitter @Blumnessmonster