Please, Don’t Go In The TSA’s Private Room!

One of the more interesting (sometimes, disturbing) parts of “my job” is that I get e-mails from people across the country on a regular basis describing abusive TSA practices.  These accounts range from descriptions of the TSA’s usual pat-downs, of which the author was shocked to realize happen that way, to descriptions of clear violations of TSA procedure, thuggish attitudes, and down-right sexual assault.  There is one common theme beyond blue gloves: a high percentage of the time passengers feel abused, it is when they go to “the private room.”

For those of you who have had a TSA full-body pat-down, you probably know the speech they give you: a description of how they’re going to touch you, a note that they’ll be using the back of their hands on your “sensitive” areas, a question as to whether you have any injuries or medical devices, and finally, an offer to conduct the screening in private.

For the love of god, please do not take them up on this offer.

Three reasons:

  1. In the private room, there are no cameras, there is no supervision, and if you say the TSA screener inappropriately touched you, it is unlikely you will convince a TSA supervisor, a police officer, or a judge to believe you.  Every checkpoint in the country has many cameras, and you can actually request footage from them by Freedom of Information Act request.  If something goes wrong (well, more wrong than usual), this is your only hope for justice.
  2. Sometimes, the TSA will insist that they conduct private room screening. In particular, this will happen if you alert the explosive trace detector.  In this case, the private room screening will be even more invasive than usual.  They will literally be grabbing your genitals with the front of their hands.  Even if it results in missing your flight, do not go.  Even if the TSA insists that you must, refuse.  At some point, you have to draw the line — I urge you to draw it at this point or before.  Let them throw a fit, call the cops, or whatever it is they threaten you with, but at the end of the day, they have to let you go.
  3. Private screening allows the TSA to hide their pat-downs from everyone else, making it seem more rare and keeping the public less on notice of what may happen to them.  By forcing the pat-down to be in front of everyone else, you are taking a small stand.

If you think I may be exaggerating, here’s an example of the kind of e-mail I get (warning: graphic):

TSA Sexual Assault

This kind of sexual assault happens all the time, leading to a headline in 2011 where three different senior citizens in three different incidents accused the TSA of strip-searching them in the private room. But most of the time, stories like these get no media attention. The victim may file a complaint, and nothing happens.

Catching your flight is just not worth it.  Please help me get fewer e-mails like this and spread the word.

P.S. – One more suggestion, if I may: tuck your shirt into your pants before a pat-down.  If you do so, you won’t be asked to lift up your shirt, and you won’t feel their latex-coated hands on your bare skin.

15 thoughts on “Please, Don’t Go In The TSA’s Private Room!

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  1. Jon, I know are are a busy person but my question to you is do you know if like minded people
    (against TSA) networked and tired to combine dollars for shared private air charters, thus leaving the TSA out of the equation?

  2. Anyone who experiences a TSA screener’s hands, front or back, in their genitals needs to file a complaint of sexual assault with the police at the airport.

    TSA is too cowardly to use the word “genitals” when describing their new comprehensive pat down procedure. Instead, they use the word “groin”, which is a separate area of the body from the genitals, or, as Jon wrote, they use the phrase “sensitive area”. There is no part of the body known anatomically as “sensitive area”. Because TSA refuses to accurately explain to passengers how they will be touched, passengers cannot “consent” to a pat down if they do not know what it entails. If you do not consent to having your genitals searched, you have been sexually assaulted.

  3. Thank you for the post. I ask the “agent” matter how uncouth this is: Are you going to be touching or inserting my vagina? It makes me sick to have to ask but” fool me once….(you know the rest.)

  4. Assume your phone and computer will be searched:

    Defendant’s alleged fighting dogs and his cell phone were validly the subject of secondary border inspections in San Juan. United States v. Castro-Correa, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90966 (D.P.R. June 12, 2017).*

  5. CBP will implement long-mandated biometric exit at airports:

    A major problem was that with 200 million fingerprint sets and about a billion photos, the database containing the biometric information on foreign visitors would take 2-3 days to discover the identity of a departing passenger from a print or photo – a so-called one-to-many match.

    “That’s the way these systems have been architected … and they are old clunky legacy systems,” he said.

    When arriving passengers are checked, instead of a one-to-many match, the biographical data from the passport is used to pull the biometric data from the database and then the passenger’s identity is confirmed against their own biometrics — called a one-to-one match. The fingerprints are also run one-to-many against a much smaller dataset — the one consisting of prints of wanted fugitives and suspected terrorists.

  6. DHS Is Starting to Scan Americans’ Faces Before They Get on International Flights:

    Treating U.S. citizens like foreign nationals contradicts years of congressional mandates. DHS has never consulted the American public about whether Americans should be subject to face recognition. That’s because Congress has never given Homeland Security permission to do it in the first place. Congress has passed Biometric Exit bills at least nine times. In each, it has been clear: This is a program meant for foreign nationals. In fact, when President Trump issued an executive order in January on Biometric Exit, it was actually reissued to clarify that it didn’t apply to American citizens.

    Why should you care? Well, think of what could happen when DHS’s airport face recognition systems misfire. And they will. With an error rate that could be as high as 4 percent for the JetBlue system—and with countless people flying—false rejections will be a daily occurrence. That could mean missing your flight because the system fails to recognize you. The best research available indicates face recognition performs worse when an image is more than six years old. That’s a serious problem when your passport or driver’s license photo may be a decade old. Other research suggests that face recognition systems have a harder time matching the faces of African Americans, women, and children. When these systems make mistakes, will DHS subject you to the more intensive Secondary Screening? Will you be taken to an interrogation room? Will you be turned away altogether?

  7. DHS Will Begin “Heightened Screening” of Phones on All US-Bound Flights:

    The new measures include “conducting heightened screening of personal electronic devices,” according to the DHS, as well as “enhancing overall passenger screening,” and “deploying advanced technology, expanding canine screening, and establishing additional preclearance locations.” In other words: more officers, more dogs, new tech, and a lot more people’s phones being examined.

    Reports of American citizens having their phones confiscated at the border, without explanation, have increased over the last few months, and security has been formally increased following a string of terrorist attacks in Europe. In March, the US banned laptops and any electronic bigger than a smartphone from incoming flights 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa, including the following countries: Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

  8. My 16 yr old daughter was traveling with her older siblings. They missed their first flight yesterday and had to reschedule for today. But both days TSA pulled aside ONLY my 16 yr old for a pat search and hand swab. This morning she was taken into the private room without her older sister. They are still traveling so I haven’t gotten the rest of the story from them but I’m not happy about it. This does not seem right. She was wearing leggings. How can you not see that she’s not carrying anything?

  9. I felt very violated when I received the TSA Pat down at the Memphis Airport on Thursday. I’m a Grandmother-and i was so confused and angry. The woman did not tell me why she was doing it-just all the comments that everyone else talked about. Thankfully i refused the private room on instinct-i certainly had nothing to hide. But it was really demoralizing as she patted down my thighs and went into my genitals thru my jeans. And she took her time-with everyone watching. i left feeling humiliated and bitter. Certainly not the way i wanted to end my time with my Grandbabies-after not seeing them for 1 and 1/2 years because of covid.
    i appreciated everyone’s comments and i’m so sorry that anyone else had to endure this treatment too.

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