Imagine having your phone taken from you, out of sight, for ten minutes or more, while you travel within the United States. It could be happening now. The Guardian reports that there are a rapidly growing number of reports that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is searching electronic devices at security checkpoints for domestic flights within the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Northern California is suing the TSA to get the government to more fully divulge its policy for searching cell phones, laptops and other devices during domestic travel.
"We’ve received reports of passengers on purely domestic flights having their phones and laptops searched, and the takeaway is that TSA has been taking these items from people without providing any reason why,” ACLU staff attorney Vasudha Talla said to the Guardian. "The search of an electronic device has the potential to be highly invasive and cover the most personal details about a person."
The TSA declined to comment on the lawsuit, but told the Guardian that "TSA does not search the contents of electronic devices."
On international flights this kind of search, while still invasive, has occurred from Customs and Border Patrol (and increased in frequency under President Donald Trump). But domestically, there isn't precedent or any obvious authority for the TSA.
In October 2017, the TSA announced more strict screening procedures on US-bound flights from foreign countries. But if the many anecdotes the ACLU has reported (some of which the Guardian lists in its story) are true, it leads to questions about legality and a serious invasion of privacy for any traveler, many of whom are citizens.