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Old Dec 30, 09, 11:14 am   #1
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Federal Agents seize travel bloggers computer

This was just posted on RunwayGirl's blog:

Moments ago, photographer and travel specialist Steven Frischling received a second visit from federal agents in less than 24 hours. But this time, he says, they removed his computer from his home.

Frischling is one of two noted writers, including Christopher Elliot, who over the weekend published a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security directive outlining the agency's new stricter security guidelines in the wake of a failed Christmas Day terrorist attack on Delta Air Lines flight 253.

Both men posted the directive as a means of public service to better inform a traveling public that was completely befuddled by the vague formal guidance being issued by the TSA. They were some of the few calm voices amidst the storm.

With tempers flaring over what appeared to many to be the TSA's misguided and knee-jerk reaction to the failed terrorist plot - and with confusion reigning in airports across the country - the agency early this week did an about-face and eased its guidelines before today's deadline.

Nonetheless, Frischling and Elliot are now paying a steep price for posting the TSA security directive on their respective web sites. Both have been served subpoenas by TSA special agents. In short, the agency is trying to discover who leaked the directive to Frischling and Elliot. And they are not messing around.

According to Frishling, federal agents this morning removed his computer for forensics analysis. He says he didn't see any other recourse than to hand over the equipment. "It was 'give it to us voluntarily or we will take every computer, blackberry and iPhone out of your house'," Frischling tells RWG.

But the TSA's effort to uncover Frischling's source may well prove a waste of time not to mention taxpayer's money.

Says Frischling: "The email came to me via webmail [which was checked yesterday by the agents]. There is literally nothing on my computer they can look at. I didn't seek out the source. I don't know who my source is. It is not someone I know or have a relationship with or cultivated. It comes from a free email account. For me, once I received the document, read it, and saw that Chris Elliot had it, there was no doubt in my mind that it was a real document."

Elliot is a noted travel journalist, who also happens to be National Geographic Traveler's Reader Advocate, writes a regular column for The Washington Post, and produces a weekly segment for MSNBC.

Furthermore, says Frischling, it begs reason why the TSA would assume such a document wouldn't be published or distributed. "The document says nowhere in there that it's not to be published publicly. It was sent to thousands of people - all airports and airlines that fly into the USA. It went to the airport in Islamabad and Hong Kong, for instance. Pakistan Airlines flies to JFK. Plus the TSA has about 50,000 people in the agency."

Lest you wonder whether Frischling did his homework before posting the directive, he says he did. "I contacted [TSA] public affairs multiple times via phone and text and they gave me absolutely nothing. I spoke to the TSA. They didn't call me back. Then I put something out on Twitter. I verified if off of [Chris Elliot's site]. I read the document. I'm not stupid. If the security directive was fake, they [federal agents] wouldn't be standing in my living room [last night and this morning]."

He also points out that several carriers, including Air Canada, provided more explicit details to passengers than even available on the TSA's own web site. (Personally, I found some carriers, like JetBlue and WestJet, to be extremely helpful and forthcoming, providing Twitter updates about the impact of the short-lived TSA guidelines on in-flight entertainment and connectivity.)

To read more about the drama unfolding around Frischling and Elliot, check out their blogs at http://boardingarea.com/blogs/flyingwithfish/ and http://www.elliott.org/, respectively.

A TSA spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 11:22 am   #2
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Disgusting actions by the government.

Seizing computers from persons who are not likely to be prosecuted and convicted for any violation of federal law on their part to-date is the kind of intimidation tactics used by tinpot dictatorships and autocratic regimes around the world.

Zimbabwe is notorious for this kind of behavior and we criticize it, but here is our government now doing the same thing?
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Old Dec 30, 09, 11:25 am   #3
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I assume the federal goons will be dusting off their waterboards, weird sounding cds and bright lights.

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Old Dec 30, 09, 11:26 am   #4
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Originally Posted by GUWonder View Post
Disgusting actions by the government.

Seizing computers from persons who are not likely to be prosecuted and convicted for any violation of federal law on their part to-date is the kind of intimidation tactics used by tinpot dictatorships and autocratic regimes around the world.

Zimbabwe is notorious for this kind of behavior and we criticize it, but here is our government now doing the same thing?
I find myself agreeing with you a lot. Well said!
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Old Dec 30, 09, 11:32 am   #5
 
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Unreal!
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Old Dec 30, 09, 12:58 pm   #6
 
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WOW, does the TSA have any truth in them. Looking at the subpoena language it makes it seem that if you refuse to comply with the subpoena the TSA will fine or imprison you. If you look at the statutes they use to claim authority it clearly states if you refuse to comply then they will get a court to compel you and then if you refuse the court's order the court will fine or imprison you.

Note to any TSA Special Agents aiming for my door. Save us both some time and go ahead and get the court order or warrant.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:09 pm   #7
 
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WOW, does the TSA have any truth in them. Looking at the subpoena language it makes it seem that if you refuse to comply with the subpoena the TSA will fine or imprison you. If you look at the statutes they use to claim authority it clearly states if you refuse to comply then they will get a court to compel you and then if you refuse the court's order the court will fine or imprison you.

Note to any TSA Special Agents aiming for my door. Save us both some time and go ahead and get the court order or warrant.
Didn't realize that TSA had subpoena rights. Oh, they don't? That right is reserved for the courts? Oh, my. Does that mean that these Inspector Gadget types might be putting themselves at risk of arrest? Hehehehe. Overstepping their authority again and again won't win them admiration in the hearts of US citizens.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:12 pm   #8
 
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Plain and simple this act by TSA is disgusting, trying to force reporters to give up legit sources, more than likely they don't even no the names of those sources themselves. We already know they spin their own propaganda machine x1000...just makes me mad, mad, mad.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:12 pm   #9
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I wonder when, if ever, the main stream media will pick up on this. I'm sure they are use to these tactics on a daily bases but I'd think it would be strange that the TSA is over steeping their bounds again in such a public manner.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:22 pm   #10
 
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Didn't realize that TSA had subpoena rights. Oh, they don't? That right is reserved for the courts? Oh, my. Does that mean that these Inspector Gadget types might be putting themselves at risk of arrest? Hehehehe. Overstepping their authority again and again won't win them admiration in the hearts of US citizens.
They do have subpoena rights, what they don't have is a mechanisms to compel you to honor that subpoena without going through the court.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:29 pm   #11
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According to the Things With Wings blog at Aviation Week this is the part that got them in trouble:

No other dissemination may be made without prior approval of the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration. Unauthorized dissemination of this document or information contained herein is prohibited by 49 CFR Part 1520 (see 69 Fed. Reg. 28066 (May 18, 2004).
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:31 pm   #12
 
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Originally Posted by Trollkiller View Post
WOW, does the TSA have any truth in them. Looking at the subpoena language it makes it seem that if you refuse to comply with the subpoena the TSA will fine or imprison you. If you look at the statutes they use to claim authority it clearly states if you refuse to comply then they will get a court to compel you and then if you refuse the court's order the court will fine or imprison you.
Hmm...which statutes are you reading? From what I saw, they don't seem to be making anything up. 49 USC 46313 seems pretty clear:

A person not obeying a subpena or requirement of the Secretary of Transportation (or the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security with respect to security duties and powers designated to be carried out by the Under Secretary or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration with respect to aviation safety duties and powers designated to be carried out by the Administrator) to appear and testify or produce records shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:33 pm   #13
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Hmm...which statutes are you reading? From what I saw, they don't seem to be making anything up. 49 USC 46313 seems pretty clear:

A person not obeying a subpena or requirement of the Secretary of Transportation (or the Under Secretary of Transportation for Security with respect to security duties and powers designated to be carried out by the Under Secretary or the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration with respect to aviation safety duties and powers designated to be carried out by the Administrator) to appear and testify or produce records shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
Problem is, TSA isn't part of DoT. It's part of DHS.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:33 pm   #14
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Didn't realize that TSA had subpoena rights. Oh, they don't? That right is reserved for the courts? Oh, my. Does that mean that these Inspector Gadget types might be putting themselves at risk of arrest? Hehehehe. Overstepping their authority again and again won't win them admiration in the hearts of US citizens.
What they try to do is convince or intimidate a target into granting them "consent" for a search and/or seizure. If consent is not granted by the target , they have to try to get a court to enable the search and/or seizure.

As a matter of principle, I would not consent to a search and/or seizure in the absence of a court order.
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Old Dec 30, 09, 1:39 pm   #15
 
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What about the TSA screening procedure MOP? They didn't bother going after everyone who redistributed that document even with security information attached.
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