Flyer Beware: Heavy Fines Assigned For Carryon Contraband
Hank Investigates: Flyer Beware: Heavy Fines Assigned For Carryon Contraband
Most passengers don't know it, but If you break the rules, you could face a hefty fine and have your name entered in a secret database.
Kirk Roth's business trip out of Manchester airport cost him much more than his plane fare.
First TSA Screeners discovered a utility knife like this in his bag.
"So I was a bit embarrassed that I had overlooked the fact that it was in the briefcase," Roth said.
But then the unexpected consequences: he was hit with a hefty fine and given a record with US homeland security.
Our investigation found he's one of thousands of travelers now caught by a little known TSA system to punish passengers who break the carry-on rules, not only with fines, but also with automatic placement in a secret government database.
According to the TSA, regular citizens cannot find out if their name is on that list.
"People cannot have any access to the lists," TSA Director George Nacarra said. "It's a very closed system at this point."
Here is how the system works: even after Sept 11, millions of prohibited items are still being confiscated by TSA's airport screeners
Those screeners can also write up identification reports on the passengers caught bringing them to the checkpoint.
And behind closed doors at TSA regional offices officials decide who gets a warning letter and who gets a fine. Those could range from $75 to $10,000.
"If its a very serious aggravated case they may end up with a substantial penalty," Nacarra said.
But TSA guidelines 7News obtained reveal the agency has far-reaching discretion on who gets a fine and why. Screeners may consider not only "degree of risk" but "artful concealment" and even "attitude of violator." That means the Swiss army knife or starter gun or bomb-shaped perfume that will get a person fined in one airport won't in another.
"We try to be consistent as we but we want to be reasonable as well," TSA official Ann Davis said.
This security expert says that's selective enforcement, and flyer beware.
"I think itís a nasty little way to enforce the law," air security expert Charles Slepian said.
Which airports issue the most violations? The TSA refused to give 7News those records, but they did reveal almost 500 people at Manchester and Logan airports have already been fined.
What's more, 7News found the penalties have not cut the contraband. 11,000 items a month are still detected by Boston screeners alone.
One reason is that most passengers are unaware of the fines.
What they also don't know is that every passenger written up for a prohibited item - thousands a year - will pay with their privacy. Names, addresses and social security numbers all go into a TSA database. Your own information, but off limits to you.
Officials say the system is necessary to track repeat offenders, but critics say a secret database can be more problem than protection.
"People have a right to know what information the government keeps about them," Marcia Hofmann of the Electronic Privacy Information said.
The TSA said their mission is to keep the skies safe. Now they may step up their passenger education. Roth, who paid his fine, wishes they'd done it sooner.
"More people need to realize this could happen to them," Roth said.
The Feds say it is easy to avoid carryon consequences, just make sure you don't bring prohibited item to a screening checkpoint.
The TSA has clear guidelines on which items are banned from carryons.