posted by Customs & International Trade Law Blog April 6, 2010 5 Comments

I just returned from a wonderful trip to both Italy and Israel, and I can’t help but compare our Transportation Security Administration (TSA) procedures to that of other countries.  In both Italy and Israel, I did not have to take off my shoes or follow the all too familiar 3-1-1 TSA enforced liquid policy. Yet, on April 2, 2010, Department of Homeland Secretary Napolitano announced another set of security measures that hassle passengers who travel by air.

As you may recall, TSA implemented the 3-1-1 policy in response to the thwarted liquid explosive bomb plot in the United Kingdom in August of 2006. The current TSA 3-1-1 rule for carry-on bags is that liquids and gels must be in a 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume) , put in a 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag, and that there is only 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. I would really like to know the scientific basis for why 3.4 ounces, and why a 1 quart-sized bag?  Who comes up with this stuff at TSA or DHS? And if it is so necessary to protect the traveling public, why does neither Italy or Israel follow the same rules since they both have far more experience with terrorism than the United States?

I am a customs and international trade lawyer, not a security expert. I don’t pretend to know the difference between a millimeter wave or backscatter body imaging system, I just am not thrilled about taking my shoes off or separating my liquids in my carry-on bag when going through TSA if it is not absolutely necessary (as it is not in both Italy and Israel). Civil libertarians are opposed to the new, anatomically revealing technology on all travelers, and consider the body scanners an invasion of privacy that is akin to a strip search. The devices detect objects concealed under clothes and can produce detailed images of the body.  According to Jay Stanley, public education director for the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he sarcastically announced that "We would certainly all be safer on airlines if we all flew naked."

I am all for TSA’s risk management approach to aviation safety, and I sure like to know that when I get on an airplane, it will safely take me from one city or country to another.  In Israel, I saw exactly the same x-ray machines as we have in the United States, but I did not see in Israel or Italy any canine teams or the use of the very controversial advanced imaging technology that the TSA is now promoting in the United States. So, I ask the question again, why does the TSA think they know better how to handle aviation safety than the law enforcement agencies in Italy and Israel?

You may also like


Calvin Marshall April 6, 2010 at 8:46 am

Interesting blog entry. A couple of questions —
1. What type of scans did you have to go through in Israel and Italy?

2. Given that Israel likely must deal with assorted terrorist threats, what types of airport security do the Israelis employ in the absence of limitations on liquids or shoe removal? Certainly, Israel has to be on permanent “high terrorist alert”.

3. In your opinion, what might TSA learn from Israel or Italy?

Given the incidence of air travel in this country, along with the massive size of our country versus Israel or Italy, we’d likely have many times the amount of air travel hence much more chance for a “breakdown” in the system. The laws of large numbers allow for a greater chance of the outlier meaning that there’s greater likelihood that an incident could happen or that an issue could occur. Perhaps this is the rationale for greater scrutiny of travelers. Thoughts?


Albert Saphir April 6, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I too just retruned from a trip to Germany and can report, that in Germany, France and the Netherlands the same 3-1-1 rule is stricktly encforced. Shoes only have to come off if the walk-through detection goes off (I persoanlly prefer the TSA method as it is a simple SOP and faster overall), but instead all belts must be removed and sent through the x-ray. I found security in Germany, France and Netherlands as strict or good as here, actually in Amsterdam there was an additional 100% pad-down after the portal walk-through for the US departing flights (it was of course the origin of the latest 12/25 security incident).

joan senator February 7, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I just read your entry and am an infrequent flier, so was checking the tsa regulations. I agree that some of this does not make much sense. I know that Israel profiles, which of course our “politically correct” country doesn’t do, except for hispanic looking people in Arizona.
While looking through the regulations, I wondered if some of those were to benefit the concessions that sell food and drink in the airports past the security check. This got me to thinking that what would stop a determined terrorist from getting a job at a concession, and then passing on forbidden terror liquids, creams, or etc. to a fellow conspirator.
Thanks for posting your experience.

Greg March 2, 2011 at 11:57 am

Does anyone know the specific TSA Rule number (or CFR) for the 3-1-1 quart size bag rule? Or the directive number. I am not talking about a brochure but the “official” rule source?

Peter Quinter December 13, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Ah hah! Now that the European Union has officially banned the x-ray technology widely used by the TSA at airports in the United States, finally the U.S. public is waking up to the fact that not only are the scanners not making us any safer, but they are causing cancer to the passengers they were supposed to protect. I ask the same question, why does the TSA think it is smarter than the aviation officials in Italy and Israel?


Leave a Comment