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U.S. Clarifies Security Rules for Air Travel

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The U.S. government says that all passengers must now remove their shoes during airport security screening, again. That requirement was back in force yesterday as part of rules on what travelers can carry onto airplanes.

This all follows the discovery of an alleged plot to blow up airliners en route from Britain to the United States. NPR's Allison Keyes explains.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

The Transportation Security Administration had originally banned most liquids on flights inside the U.S. and those leaving this country. The exceptions were breast milk, baby formula, and prescription medicine. Yesterday it modified the rules.

TSA spokesman Christopher White says the ban on all liquids has been eased a bit.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER WHITE (Spokesman, Transportation Security Administration): Liquids that are non-prescription medicine, that do not exceed four ounces, will now be allowed. In addition, liquids or gels for diabetics that do not exceed eight ounces will be allowed.

KEYES: Whites says the TSA believes that the changes will make it easier for passengers to navigate checkpoints, knowing exactly what they can carry, and also that it can safely allow such small amounts of liquid without decreasing security.

Gel deodorant is still prohibited, but solid sticks are not. The same goes for liquid versus solid lip-gloss.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday, he doesn't think there needs to be a total ban on carry-on baggage, because the restrictions on liquids and the extra training given to screeners means passengers can be protected without stopping them from bringing anything on the plane. But he told NBC's Meet the Press, the threat of an attack on airlines remains.

Mr. MICHAEL CHERTOFF (United States Secretary of Homeland Security): And its only been a couple of days since we've had the takedown. We have a lot of material to go through, so until we've completely got our arms around this we're going to assume that we have to keep looking to flesh out this scheme.

KEYES: Chertoff says the U.S. should consider changing its laws to allow quicker action in possible terror cases, and the detention of suspects for longer periods. A new British law allows the government there to hold terror suspects for up to 28 days without charge.

Chertoff told ABC's This Week, the flexibility of British law helped the investigation into this alleged plot.

Sec. CHERTOFF: I don't think there's any specific authority I would suggest we need now. But I certainly think preserving the maximum flexibility in surveillance of transactions and communications is going to continue to be a critical element if we're going to prevent these attacks.

KEYES: Chertoff said, despite the easing of carry-on restrictions, heightened airport security would remain in place.

Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Keyes is an award-winning journalist with almost 20 years of experience in print, radio, and television. She has been reporting for NPR's national desk since October 2005. Her reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition Sunday.