Thursday, February 27, 2014

WARNING: The TSA is Looking for International Travelers with Bitcoins

Davi Barker writes:
Bill and his wife were sitting on a bench in the terminal waiting for me as I approached them. Then two men stepped between us, both wearing dress shirts, one orange and one blue. The orange shirt asked where I was traveling to. I replied “Earth.” This was not intended to be antagonistic. I usually reply that way when asked where I am from. It’s a product of my love for science fiction. He asked me to be more specific and I said, “The Northern part.” Admittedly snarky, but still not malicious. I didn’t know who these men were. I had already been cleared by security, and based on their attire and their forwardness I thought they might be other attendees of the conference on their way home. I was joking with them, like I do with most equals.

Then blue shirt said, “Just answer the question.”

Full stop. State speech is hate speech. I then noticed their name badges, but I didn’t have the forethought to commit them to memory. I responded, “Are you conducting some kind of an investigation, or do you have reason to suspect me of something?”

They identified themselves as “managers” and the orange shirt said he was obligated to inquire whether or not I was traveling internationally, which was not an answer to my question. I replied, “Am I obligated to answer your questions?” He replied, “If you are traveling internationally you are.” I replied, “Do you have any reason to suspect that I’m traveling internationally?” The orange shirt said “We’re the ones asking the questions here” and the the blue shirt asked to search my bag for my boarding pass. I told him that my bag was already inspected and didn’t contain anything dangerous, and that I didn’t consent to another search. He said until I was cleared by security he was free to search. I said I was cleared by security.

I was about to ask for my attorney, who happens to be my wife, when the orange shirt said, “What about Bitcoin?” I was flabbergasted. This was above and beyond any scrutiny I had ever received from the TSA, and a little frightening that they were looking for Bitcoin. I said I didn’t understand the question. He continued, “We saw Bitcoin in your bag and need to check.” I was incredulous, and asked, “Do you have a superior officer because I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.” The blue shirt replied by repeating that they were “managers,” but if I didn’t answer his questions he could call law enforcement and have me taken into custody. I asked, “Aren’t you law enforcement?” and he replied, “No we’re with the TSA.”

I turned back to the orange shirt and asked “What did the Bitcoin look like?” Bill chimed in and told the agent that what he was saying was impossible because Bitcoin is digital and doesn’t have have any physical manifestation. You can’t “see” Bitcoin. The orange shirt said they looked like medallions or tokens. I said I didn’t understand what he was talking about, and he simply repeated, in a child like way, that Bitcoins are like metal tokens. I told him that I didn’t have any tokens.

At this point I was beginning to panic and looking for a way out. Then the orange shirt said they needed to determine whether or not I was carrying more than $10,000, to which I asked how much cash he suspected I was carrying. I had about $300 in my wallet, 1.2 oz of silver in my pocket, and 4.20 Bitcoin accessible from, but not actually on my phone. I told them none of this. The orange shirt replied, “It depends how much Bitcoin you have.” I asked him what he thought a Bitcoin was worth, and he replied, “It fluctuates all the time.”

I was out of ideas. At that point I was certain I didn’t want to say another word. I thought they were ready to concoct some kind of money laundering charge. I began running scenarios in my head where I refused to unlock my phone for fear that they would construe my 4.20 Bitcoin as somehow worth more than $10,000. That’s when the blue shirt turned to Bill and his wife. He asked them if I was traveling internationally, to which Bill’s wife replied, “Not that I know of.” Then they turned and disappeared just as quickly as they had appeared.

I was shaking, and grateful that Bill and his wife were there, even just to bear witness. There were also other attendees from Liberty Forum in the terminal who came to observe, including one wearing a Bitcoin Not Bombs t-shirt. Once we reached our gate, and I calmed down, I began an audio recording as Bill and I recounted the events as best we could remember. During that time the orange shirt walked by appearing to be looking for me, Tinker, the agent who patted down Bill, was stationed away from the TSA screening area and was clearly keeping an eye on me, and two police officers with black flak jackets and sidearms were hovering around the gate until we boarded.

I didn’t fully relax until we were in the air, because I’ve seen cases of security pulling passengers right out of their seat.

Barker's full story is here.


  1. Wenzel, I am a little confused. Is this supposed to be another "Beware of Bitcoin" story. Or an endorsement of how awesome it is at crossing borders? Please clear it up for me.

    1. I view it as beware of bitcoin and beware of the state. The spouting whale gets harpooned. Governments are after bitcoin. They can tax, regulate and even confiscate bitcoin. When the bitcoin value is gone will people even remember ideas beyond block chain, hash tag and bitcoin conferences?

  2. Barker should just get with the program.
    Bannana Republic etiquette requires some sort of "fee" to ease the "process".
    When Fedcoats offer to "help" me, ..I offer BBs.
    I claim that they are Bit-Bitcoins.(It has worked twice).
    Otherwise,,booze or cigarettes suffice.

  3. Barking TSA goon:

    Do you want the naked body scan or the sexual assault?

    Libertarian bit-coiner:

    I'll take the sexual assault, thank you.

    TSA goon while stroking the libertarian bit-coiner's upper inner thigh:

    Is that a roll of bit-coins I feel in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?

  4. you don't travel with bitcoin, any more than you travel with a Swiss bank account. bitcoin is a ledger entry in your favor, accessible from anywhere you are if you know your address and key which can be memorized, printed on paper, stored in the cloud, emailed to your self . . .

  5. We saw Bitcoin in your bag and need to check.

    Conclusive evidence that this encounter was a joke. It is impossible for bitcoin to be in your bag. If the USG's understanding of bitcoin is at this level, they don;t understand the first thing about it.

    Have learned a new and serious problem with bitcoin conceptually, If someone loses their address or key their bitcoins in that wallet are "extinguished". They can never be transferred or spent or invested; they are lost to the real world. That means over time the supply of bitcoins will reduce; over a long period of time every bitcoin will disappear through natural loss of forgotten addresses and keys. In other words, someday there will be zero bitcoins in practical existance.

  6. Barker wears a Bitcoin T-shirt at the airpot and is indignant over government goons asking him if he has Bitcoins...I can't say he's very bright.