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The Transportation Security Administration is testing and plans to expand a program in which airline passengers will be asked to remove books from carry-on luggage.
The plan has been discussed by TSA for several weeks now, but it attracted attention this weekend when the American Civil Liberties Union released an analysis of the proposal that noted concerns about passengers having to reveal what they are reading. Some academics object to the idea on the principle that what they read should not be anyone's business. But many others are worried about what could happen to those reading Arabic or other foreign language literature or books whose covers indicate a point of view that is critical of the Trump administration.
TSA officials have said that their intent is not to judge passengers by what they are reading but to flip through the pages of books to see if anything is hidden there.
But many in academe know the stories of students and faculty members delayed or detained for some combination of their appearance and what they were carrying with them. There was the Pomona College student who was detained over his Arabic flash cards. And there was the Italian-born professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania whose flight was delayed after security officials interviewed him based on the complaint of another passenger. The professor was writing out complex mathematical equations that his fellow passenger assumed were some sort of terrorist communication.