Tuesday, 11 November 2003

"Key escrow" with TSA for airline luggage locks?

In a story apparently slated for general release tomorrow, Joe Sharkey gives advance notice in his column in today’s New York Times that the USA Transportation Security Administration will cooperate in a program to sell special luggage locks to which the TSA will have either master keys or a master combination provided to all TSA inspectors.

“All will be geared around a uniform technology allowing them to be opened by T.S.A. inspectors using a combination of secure codes and special tools,” the Times quotes the founder of the company set up to sell the locks as saying.

The main purpose of the scheme is undoubtedly for the companies making and selling the locks to make money. For the TSA, however, there’s another motive: to the extent that the new locks are used, it will be harder for passengers to tell if their baggage has been opened, and thus harder to press claims against airlines or the TSA for damage or pilferage by TSA inspectors.

Currently, the TSA claims that it isn’t liable to passengers for damage to locks or luggage when it breaks into bags. That’s generally true, but that doesn’t mean passengers are out of luck, or that the TSA isn’t liable to the airlines.

It works like this: In most cases it’s the airline, not the TSA, who accepts the bags from the passenger and is responsible for them until they are returned to the passenger in good condition. Passengers whose bags are damaged, or locks broken, should pursue their claims with the airline, in small claims court if necessary, even if the airline says that it isn’t responsible because the damage was done by the TSA.

If a passenger consigns their bag to the airline, and receives it back damaged, the airline is liable to the passenger. Whether the airlines can collect from the TSA in such cases remains to be litigated, but but that’s not the passengers’ problem, and doesn’t affect the liability of the airlines to passengers for the damage.

Whatever its purposes, such a key or code escrow program is also idiotic and insecure: the tools or codes needed to open the special locks will be available to thieves (even those thieves who aren’t also TSA employees) almost as soon as the master keys and opening instructions are disseminated to tens of thousands of TSA inspectors.

[Update: The scheme has been named Travel Sentry .]

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 11 November 2003, 20:44 ( 8:44 PM)

I wonder if they are getting a cut of the profits.

Adam Studnicki
Injury Lawyer
Studnicki, Jaffe & Woods, PLLC

Posted by: Adam Studnicki, 6 December 2003, 02:30 ( 2:30 AM)

My checked baggage was broken into by TSA in June of 2003 and my bifocal contact lenses as well as a prescription inhaler were removed and replaced with a printed note telling me these items had been confscated as hazardous materials.

I filed a claim with the airline, who denied it saying the government was responsible. TSA acknowledged my claim but a year later, has yet to settle it or contact me further.

Posted by: Grandma, 16 August 2004, 13:37 ( 1:37 PM)

I had locks cut off my suitcases and contents damaged during an inspection in Seattle over a year ago. I filed a claim with Alaska Airlines who referred me to TSA and they acknowledged my claim and apologised for any delay in settling it but even though I have a reference number they do not respond to my request for a progress report. Any suggestions ?

Posted by: John Velletta, 1 September 2004, 10:15 (10:15 AM)

"Photos of the TSA"s master keys leaked online and now anyone can 3D print their own copies" (by Rob Price, BusinessInsider.com, 10 September 2015):


High-resolution images of each TSA master key:



Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 10 September 2015, 09:19 ( 9:19 AM)
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