Is the TSA going to start rifling through your books and magazines?

The (fabulously named) Robert A. Cronkleton at the Kansas City Star wrote at the beginning of May:

Passengers at Kansas City International Airport say they recently have been asked to remove all paper products from their carry-ons while going through security screening checkpoints.

That includes all books, loose-leaf paper, Post-It notes and files. They’ve been told by screeners that the new procedures are part of a pilot program that is being rolled out nationwide.

When Cronkleton pushed, the TSA said they were not going to start screening paper products nationwide. It's kind of a confusing situation, like everything related to the TSA. Especially since Tony Bizjak at the Sacramento Bee reported earlier this week that the TSA is checking books and food at other airports, including in Boston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles:

Some everyday items, including books and magazines, can look similar to explosives when going through the X-ray machine, federal security officials said. Screeners may “fan” through books to see if anything is hidden, TSA official Carrie Harmon said, but Harmon said screeners are not checking to see what people are reading.

Uh-huh. And I'm sure if you happen to be carrying a Koran in your luggage the TSA agents would handle your case with the same fair-handed treatment that they offer everyone else.

When I go on vacation, I tend to bring a lot of sci-fi with me. And there's a book that I've considered bringing with me on the last three or four vacations. It's by Lavie Tidhar and it's titled Osama. It's a Philip K. Dick-style thriller about an alternate earth in which a private detective is on the trail of a fictional character named Osama bin Laden.

Every year, I put Osama in my pile of books to bring with me. And every year, I pull it out of the pile, because it occurs to me that if the TSA comes across the book, I might have a rather large hassle on my hands. Reasonably, I know that nothing is likely to happen, but I already hate flying so much that I try to avoid any kind of friction.

And then I beat myself up for not bringing a book that I really want to read with me on a flight because someone might possibly bother me for exercising my right to read whatever the hell I want to read. And then I think about how I have the privilege to avoid conflict in most cases because I'm a clean-cut white guy, while most people don't get that choice. And then I get really depressed.

Anyway. My point is that I'm already censoring myself because I don't know how the TSA would act if they came across my reading material. I hate to think what kind of psychological effect it would have on people if the TSA were to start actively rifling through every single book they pack in their carry-on.

Is this really the image of our country that we want to project to visitors? Welcome to America — now let us probe every single page of your reading material?