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US feds squeeze bloggers for posting TSA orders

Nigerian crotchbomber claims first victims

At least two bloggers who posted the latest Transportation Security Administration security guidelines have received visits from the feds. One had his laptop confiscated and was served a subpoena. The other just received the subpoena.

In case you've been recovering from a massive holiday bender and haven't viewed the news recently, on Christmas day a singularly inefficient Nigerian doofus attempted to blow up an airliner by setting his underpants on fire.

Well, the actual incident may have been somewhat more alarming than that - but the political, media, and security firestorm that has erupted in that event's wake has been far more impressive than mere flaming snuggies.

And now the federales have sprung into action - to intimidate a pair of travel bloggers who had the temerity to post the latest TSA Aviation Security Directive.

The Huffington Post relates the tales of Steven Frischling and Chris Elliott (no, not that Chris Elliott), both of whom were told to reveal their sources of the leaked security directive or face consequences.

The directive, by the way, instructs security screeners to conduct pat-downs of all passengers "concentrating on upper legs and torso." Barack and Her Majesty, however, will be spared from such indignities, since the directive explicitly exempts individuals who happen to be a "King, Queen, [or] President."

In addition, all passengers must remain in their seats during the final hour of each flight, and not have any "blankets, pillows, or personal belongings" on their lap during that hour. In addition, all "aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems)" must be turned off not only throughout the duration of the flight, but also "prior to boarding."

Also, it calls for an end to the traditional pilot's running commentary about pleasant sights to be seen out of the window of the side of the plane you're not seated on: "While over U.S. airspace, flight crew may not make any announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks."

This is information that the TSA apparently doesn't want you to know, seeing as how they're hot on the trail of whomever leaked the document to the two travel bloggers.

According to the HP, armed TSA agents came to Frischling's home to question him about his source. Unless he cooperated, they threatened to get him fired from his job as a blogger for KLM airlines; to confiscate his phone, computers, and iPods; and to get him declared an official security risk, which would land him on the shadowy "No-Fly List" - a career-ending eventuality for a travel writer.

In the end, they merely took his laptop and served him with a subpoena that carried a year in the slammer for non-cooperation. When they returned his laptop after checking it for clues, Frischling told the HP, "The operating system was not working correctly, sectors were corrupted, and the audio wasn't working."

And to add insult to injury, the agents told Frischling that shield laws don't apply to him because he's not a journalist. Just a blogger.

Elliott received much the same treatment, sans laptop confiscation. He has also posted the text of his subpoena on his blog. To be fair, he said that Special Agent Robert Flaherty "was very polite, and used 'sir' a lot," and that Elliott's cats and kids took a shine to the agent.

That's all well and good, but the subpoena includes the harsh notification that "Any person who neglects or refuses to produce records in obedience to this subpoena is subject to fines under Title 18, United States Code, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both."

Wired notes Frischling's analysis of the lunacy of the TSA's search for the source of the leaked document: "They’re saying it's a security document but it was sent to every airport and airline. It was sent to Islamabad, to Riyadh and to Nigeria. So they’re looking for information about a security document sent to 10,000-plus people internationally. You can't have a right to expect privacy after that."

"Rights," however, are among the first casualties when a state feels threatened. And didn't we just say that this morning? ®

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