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Seized and searched: the items passengers try sneaking past airport security

Posted on 18-Aug-2017 16:10:19

TSA_Seized and searched at airport security.jpg"The shackles are off. We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people's rights.”

Many of us have experienced it. That embarrassing scene at airport security where those items you thought were removed still made them into the bag, as weary-faced officals toss your possessions into the bin. Fear not, though, for those contraband cans of deodorant or tubes of toothpaste that hold up the line are small fry compared to some of the items border guards have found, with deadly weapons and even live animals nearly making it into the luggage lockers.

Border guards in the UK, America and Thailand have reported finding unexploded mines, a 10kg lobster and a sedated tiger cub among their haul, with the latter taking the risk to pick up a £2,000 payment for her efforts. UK and French border control have made searching for unexploded munitions part of the job, following a trend among some artillery shell collectors to bring them back from French flea markets.

It comes as US firm Stratos Jets, a private jet charter company, carried out research of 1,000 passengers to gain a more detailed picture of what have knowingly and unknowingly been sneaked past security, illustrating the complex job that security teams face. The survey returned some expected – and perhaps less than expected – results; from toiletry items and alcohol deliberately secreted by 1% and 6%, and 4.9% and 4.6% of male and female passengers, respectively, to a more worrying 0.5 percent of male and female passengers who unwittingly took firearms, ammunition or explosives through the gate.

However, even passengers with nothing to hide can find themselves being stopped, as concerns grow in airports and ports of terrorist attacks, leading to gel shoe inserts and snow globes joining the banned list because many contain more than the permitted 100ml of liquid.

Meanwhile, mobile phones that are allowed onto commercial flights across the globe are now in the sights of border agents, particularly in the US where passengers are increasingly being forced to unlock and their phones for inspection. In March 2017, according to AOL.com, two passengers had to surrender their phones on both legs of a trip from New York to Toronto, with one being physically restrained when asked a second time.

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Quoted in the same article, Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, said: "The shackles are off. We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people's rights.”

The measures in US have materialised because of President Trump’s so-called ‘extreme vetting’ policy that subjects travellers to the US to more stringent checks. US Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly, told a US Senate committee meeting that border guards will only carry out such checks when they think there’s a reason to do so. “The vast majority of people will not be questioned in that way,” said Secretary Kelly.

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of mobile devices have greatly increased, increasing in number by five times in one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

There are currently no plans to introduce similar US-style checks in the UK. 


Topics: AirportSecurity

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Dave Songer
Dave Songer