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TSA clarifies why tablet computers aren’t screened like laptops

News reports questioning why laptop computers have to be removed from their bags at TSA airport checkpoints, while tablet computers don’t, have prompted the agency to clarify its reasons for the disparity.

An April 4 article in The New York Times raised the question about why laptops had to be taken out of their cases and placed in a separate bin for X-ray, while smaller tablet computers, like the iPad don’t have the same requirements.

Basically, said TSA’s “Blogger Bob” Burns on the TSA Website on April 10, it all really boils down to size. Although Burns said TSA has provided an answer to the laptop screening question on its Website since April 2010, he went on to explain in more detail in his April 10, 2012 blog post.

The 2010 post said electronics the size of a standard laptop, or larger devices like Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo game systems, full-size DVD players, video camera that use video cassettes have to be removed from carrying cases. “Removing larger electronics helps us get a better look at them and also allows us to get a better look at the contents of your bag,” said the post.

Burns provided more detail in his update, saying that  tablet computers, netbooks, and e-readers are less dense than typical laptop, so it’s easier for the X-ray operator to inspect the bags that contain them. Larger laptops and game consoles, he said, appear more dense and need to be removed from their bags in order for the X-ray operator to get a good look at the bag itself. Burns added, however, that tablet computers, netbooks and e-readers will sometimes have to pulled out if a transportation security officer can’t get a good look at the bag or if they see something out of the ordinary in it.

“The larger the laptop, the more stuff you can hide in it,” said Burns. “Items have been found concealed in laptops in the past, so we have to be able to get a good look at them,” he said. “Our officers have about 3 seconds to make a call in order to keep lines moving, so the less clutter, the easier it is to clear your bag and get you on your way.”


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