In recent years, air passengers in the United States have surrendered more than seven million items, such as small knives and scissors, to Transportation Security Administration officials, who are trying to keep terrorists from bringing dangerous items on board airplanes. Some of these items are showing up for sale to the highest bidder, on the auction website eBay.
Sharp objects and some tools have been considered too dangerous for passengers to carry with them onto airplanes, but where does the stuff go after U.S. officials seize it?
Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Andrea McCauley says Transportation Security Administration officials are only responsible for taking knives and scissors away from passengers.
"Well, once an individual surrenders an item to the TSA, it becomes TSA property," she said. "At that point, we do turn it over to our contractors, which we have hired state by state, simply because we cannot manage the overwhelming amount of items surrendered at the checkpoint."
Ms. McCauley says TSA officials deliver seized guns or serious weapons directly to local law enforcement authorities. But as for the hundreds of thousands of smaller items, she says, contractors can do whatever they want with them.
She says some vendors have chosen to melt down the items or donate things like scissors to schools. Other vendors, she added, have decided to sell things like knives, scissors and tools at auctions or on auction websites like eBay.
"We would like to be clear that the TSA itself is not selling those items, but it is managed by the state or the vendor that is chosen by the TSA," she explained.
Ms. McCauley makes a distinction between the vendors, saying most of them represent state governments. She says the TSA donates the items to those vendors, who are then free to sell the items to the public if the state's guidelines allow it.
The sole private company the TSA works with is SAIC, which has the nationwide contract to, in Ms. McCauley's words, "fill in the gaps" in terms of disposing of the items that don't go to the states. She says SAIC is paid by the U.S. government, but is contractually prohibited from selling any of the items for profit.
"We have made it very clear that they are not to sell those items on eBay or in any capacity," she added. "Their contract is strictly to destroy those items and remove those items."
Among the many items for sale on eBay are a three-blade pocket knife, which sold for $7.50, and a lot of 21 pairs of hair-cutting scissors, which sold for more than $30.
Ms. McCauley says the TSA has re-evaluated its list of prohibited items, and after December 22, will allow airplane passengers to once again carry some things, like small scissors and tools that had been prohibited.
"We spend a lot of our time focusing on those items that will no longer be prohibited at the end of December," she said. "So, this opportunity will give us the chance to use those resources toward looking at our main threat, which is explosives and other items along those lines."
When asked whether these new rules also will affect the type and number of items that show up for sale in places like eBay, she added "absolutely."