Notacon 2008: The TSA Bagcam

[algormor] gave one of the more controversial talks at Notacon. After receiving a few too many inspection slips and destroyed baggage he decided to find out what was going on behind the scenes. First, he purchased a cheap bag from Walmart with a zipable liner. To record the video, he purchased a SwannGUARD MicroDVR. It’s a palm-sized device that records 128×128 15fps video. It comes with a plastic cover that he mounted to the inside of the bag. A hole was cut for the video camera right above the badge holder. Since the camera is motion triggered, he could slide the badge up, covering the hole, to deactivate the camera. He’s taken the bag on at least four trips. So… what did the footage show?

Well, lots of conveyor belts, conveyor belts, and conveyor belts. Nothing really damning. It did show the the bag spend an uncomfortable amount of time in public after being checked and before security. It also spent time traveling through certain segments multiple times, being pulled off the belt for random periods of time, and then getting put back on. Audience members were concerned that he might run afoul of federal law because he was recording audio without people knowing. Surprisingly the bag has yet to be searched.

15 thoughts on “Notacon 2008: The TSA Bagcam

  1. Ah – it may not have been manually searched, but did it go through an x-ray machine? All international hold baggage is x-rayed and the automated varieties use some very smart algorithms to identify threats.

  2. I second the suckiness of the entry. Another thing though: considering a “palm-sized device” could potentially contain enough explosives to bring down an airliner, how come the bag passed all checks unhindered and wasn’t searched even once?

    I guess airport security is just what we all think it is: a big show to make people feel safer, but it’s really a big joke. You know, like MAC filtering.

  3. That’s a really good way to put it. Anybody with an IQ over 140 and sufficient resolve could easily get a bomb through security. In fact, they could probably bring down an airliner without having to get a bomb through security. But would someone with a slightly above average intelligence really want to bring down an airliner.

    Anyway, it really is just like MAC filtering.

    Now, if you want to see good security, look at Wall Street. You really can’t get into the exchange even with a full-on armed assault. It’s a little more like WPA2.

  4. I have a very interesting view of the TSA. I have been doing a lot of traveling lately for a company that i work for. Ive been caring most of my electronic gear in a backpack on carry-on. For the last month, I have set off 4 explosives sensors, and had my bag swabbed every time. I had no clue why my bag was triggering the sensors, and assumed it was some residue left on my bag after something I have done. Just this weekend I was coming home on a united flight, and carrying my T61, some cables and a box of business cards, and a terribly long roll of cat5 wrapped around the business cards (I know; terrible idea, but It was 4 in the morning when I rushed to the airport) It tripped the explosives sensor for the 5th time, and the box of business cards with 50ft of cat5 wrapped around it looked mighty suspicious to them. They ran the bag through the x-ray again and swabbed it. It passed, without even a search of the bag. While walking to the gate, my hand went to my shirt pocket instinctively which was covered by my backpack strap [which had a cellphone pocket on it]. The mystery of the explosives sensor was solved. I had 6 bottle rockets in the pocket. About a month ago this back pack was used to carry a but-load of fireworks, obviously spilling loads of gunpowder, and other explosives into the bag. I promptly tossed the bottle rockets in the next trash can.

    WTF, there was a legitimate reason I was setting off the explosives sensor. I never even had the bag searched. And its been through x-rays every time, what did the think long tubes [minus the stick somehow I broke them off and stuck them in the cell phone pocket] with fuses sticking out of them were?

    And even after my box of cards with wires wrapped around thema aroused suspicion they still let me go. I think the TSA’s strategy is not to sort out any dangerous people/devices, its more to intimidate you, with needless searches, and “ultra sensitive” machines, and numerous personnel. Now I’m not bashing the TSA, I am sure it prevents allot of “issues” that would happen on planes if we let everything imaginable on the plane, but it just seems that there technique is not methodical and straightforward, it is meant to intimidate. Something that just does not work, emotions can be overcome, There method needs to be methodical, so that we can actually remove what we are looking for.

  5. yeah TSA is a over paid joke in my opinion. It does have the tech, and I have had an experience possibly setting off a radiation alarm (the backpack I used was a seek or two before used to carry Uranium Ore and some thorium lantern mantles, they didn’t say, but it looked like a geiger counter that the screener was holding), and they swabbed it and all, and I was allowed through (luckily, I remembered before hand that there was a small sample in a side pocket I keep forgetting about)… but I have gone through with SSSSSOOOO many things in my bag, and never even a second look (example of one trip: two ipods, two large Li-On backup batteries capable of 120V, which are restricted on planes apparently, two cellphones, at least ten AC adapters, books labeled Electronic Gadgets for the Evil Genius, volumes one and two, some homemade electronics, two PSPs, multiple lasers, DVD player, homemade 9V battery, laptop, a camera, and lots of drawings of schematics and other projects…
    just goes to show that their methods are pretty strange, many trips with the above never get extra screening, or a look inside… and I have to disagree with the notion that it is pure intimidation, as even this would be used as for that purpose, if they wanted intimidation, they would look at all such bags because then it at least SEEMS that they are doing their job…

  6. man, you are the luckiest people i have ever heard of. i set the dang things off everytime and have been recorded twice. the most recent time for a lighter for my uncle that was shaped like a revolver but was about half the size of a daringer. the best part was i was in uniform with a bunch of other army soldiers on my way home for 2 weeks from iraq. i have a pretty standing record with the TSA and am getting tired of getting selected for “special screening”

  7. I think the thing that we are all missing is that you aren’t trying to blow up a plane. The simple fact that you were ignorant of what you were bringing on and didn’t have ill intentions pretty much negates the fact that you would be searched. The TSA screeners are looking for more than just a bunch of tangled wires and batteries. They are looking at the people and their mannerisms. Notice the next time you go through that the only person looking at the X-Ray readout is one person. All the other TSA and security guards are looking at the faces of who are coming through. There is no way to be cool, calm and collected and be able to get through that place if you are trying to hide something. It’s the human condition.

    As for those that say there is no rhyme or reason to how and what they search: would you rather everyone know how they search and why they search certain luggage? It seems that by doing so it would make it that much easier for psycho’s blow up planes. Look at they guy they caught at Miami Inter’nl….

  8. @jon

    That seems like it would be a good way to work it, but it sure doesn’t explain how so many people who have absolutely nothing to hide (and therefore no odd facial expressions or mannerisms) get extra screening while I’m able to knowingly carry a concealed weapon on every flight? (OK, it’s just a little 6d nail I carry in my wallet for utility purposes, but still, I imagine I show a bit of apprehension. And I fly a lot, so you’d think they would have pulled me out by now.)

  9. The TSA isn’t really there to provide security. They are there to provide good happy feelings to cowardly people who believe in the TSA to provide security.

    You’re not putting 3 oz of liquid in a baggie because 4 oz might be enough to blow up a plane. You’re putting it in a baggie because some nutjobs in London claimed they were going to build a binary explosive — not that they did, not that they even figured out how, simply that they were trying. There’s no safety in the measure, just the pacification of some dumb-ass sheeple.

    Personally, I think the way to shorten the lines is to stop with the security screenings entirely. Those people who are then too afraid to fly will therefore stay the hell out of my way.

  10. I’m pretty sure that you all are talking out of your ass, considering none of you have any idea of how things work in the TSA. I’m a security screener at a pretty big airport, I know what a threat looks like, and I know when things need extra searching. I know what ipods, batteries, adapters, books look like and I don’t need to search your bag. For some reaosn a lot of people think their electric toothbrush is the reason we’re searching the bag, it isn’t. Putting your bags through the xray doesn’t set off any explosive alarms, it’s just an xray and we’re looking at images. Gun powder doesn’t set off an alarm either, btw, otherwise all the firearms we inspect would be alarming everytime. What’s funny is that golf bags tend to set of the alarm because of the fertilizer used on the golf courses, hehe. So clean your golf clubs!

    Many servicemen as well as crew members get selected for extra screening. It has nothing to do with the TSA it’s just a weird thing that happens with the computer setup when they print your ticket. However, if you’re a serviceman on orders and in uniform, the additional screening is waived.

    Oh and none of us have any kind of “radiation alarm” and nails aren’t considered a weapon.

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