At the airport checkpoint, is it the bag or the laptop?

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It’s not the bag. It’s the laptop. That‘s the lesson despite the great rejoicing at word that the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration that guards the nation’s airports, was prepped to approve new carry-on bags for laptop computers. If you use these new designs, you don’t have to take your machine out of the bag, put it in a separate tray and then repack it. The New York Times’ Joe Sharkey actually broke the news with brief interview with the TSA’s chief, Kip Hawley, in which the Kipster said it would allow new bags as soon as they come on the market. The reason why you have to take your computer out of its bag is that most people have so much other stuff in there – cords, mouse, mice, modem, q-tips, combs, etc., etc. – that the x-ray machine can’t get clear view of the laptop and its guts and so the screener can’t tell if it’s really a laptop.

The TSA issued a request for statements of interest in March asking bag makers if they could come up with a new design, and several said that they would offer a new bag that either a stand-alone protective sleeve or a fold-down sleeve that would contain the laptop itself. Targus, a major producer of bags, is planning to offer one this autumn, as is Pathfinder Luggage.

 


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But the change – which the TSA would have to test and in which it would have to train its officers – doesn’t address the real problem that business travelers face when they’re going through screening at international airports. And that‘s the fact that on flights coming in from foreign airports, the Feds have the right to search the contents of your laptop and take your computer for pretty much as long as the government wants. Without any guarantees.

A Senate subcommittee held a hearing on this last week, and a major case is pending out in California. ACTE, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, has led the way on this. But even the strongest supporters of the government’s traditional right to search people coming across international borders seem to agree that border guardians ought to have some standard rules and procedures before they just start snooping and take away your laptop- no matter what the bag.

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