TSA's Blogger Bob and the many angry comments

A lesson in blogging: Report that a passenger was charged with crimes and omit his acquittal, and expect to be roasted.

The Transportation Security Administration's "Blogger Bob" learned a lesson about public perception with an entry he wrote on Jan. 28 about a criminal case. A traveler named Phillip Mocek allegedly refused to cooperate with TSA screeners in the Albuquerque airport, and ended up in court on four charges: trespassing, disorderly conduct, refusing to obey an officer and concealing identity. A jury later acquitted him on all charges.

Blogger Bob neglected to mention the acquittal in the initial entry, but recounted the incident that led to Mocek's arrest: "Mr. Mocek had a boarding pass, but would not produce ID when asked. As I've said before here on the blog, if you don’t have an ID, TSA will work with you to verify you are who you say you are. On the other hand, if you refuse to provide information, you will not be permitted to fly," he wrote. "This process had begun with Mr. Mocek, but was not completed. Without an ID that matches the individual holding the boarding pass, we can’t be sure the passenger has cleared government watchlists."

Blogger Bob also noted that Mocek allegedly tried to use a camera during the screening. "As [transportation security officers] were talking to Mr. Mocek to verify his identity, he was holding a camera up to film them and appeared to be trying to film sensitive security information [SSI] related to TSA standard operating procedures on ID verification. Such behavior interferes with the ordinary course of business at the checkpoint and may well delay other passengers," he wrote. However, he added, TSA does not prohibit photography at checkpoints as long as it doesn't interfere with the screening process.

That initial entry evoked a firestorm of critical comments. One anonymous commenter quoted a paragraph recounting the allegations, and said: "The jury did not see it that way. That is why he was found NOT GUILTY on all four charges. Why do you lie about this? It only puts you in the same company as the Information Ministers of other tyrants."

Another asked: "Why are you repeating the allegations as if they were fact, when in reality he was found not guilty? You are misleading your readers into believing that Mr. Mocek's behavior was illegal. A jury found that it was not."

Another honed in on the photography rule. "How long did it take you to write that spin? Attempting to "film sensitive security information related to TSA standard operating procedures on ID verification?" That's probably the most ludicrous statement I've heard about the case," the commenter wrote. "Are you trying to claim that the contents of the question-and-answer game TSA plays with no-ID [passengers] are SSI? Or that SSI paperwork is just laying around at the [checkpoint] waiting to be filmed?"

And a commenter named Bruce added: "The notion that he was trying to film 'sensitive security information' is absurd. The screener testified that Mocek 'might' have picked up a form containing his own information on the videotape. Is that supposed to be secret? Good grief, you should be ashamed of yourself."

In all, the post has gotten 165 comments, some of which are from TSA blogger West trying to respond to some of the criticism, but most of which are critical.

Blogger Bob amended the original post on Jan. 30 to acknowledge Mocek's acquittal, but insisted the legal charges were not the point -- the TSA's procedures are.

"In so far as Mr. Mocek wants to fly in the future, like other passengers, he will still need to produce ID or work cooperatively with TSOs to confirm his identity," he wrote. "TSA verification processes must proceed quickly and without interference. Any passenger holding a camera in the face of TSOs as they try verify identification should not be surprised if asked to step aside so that other passengers in line can be processed expeditiously without further disruption."