Forget Priests, Therapists, It’s TSA Screeners That Know Our Deepest Secrets

The TSA can rifle through your luggage at will and will pull sex toys out of your bags in front of other passengers. You walk through machines that take naked images and screeners get to fondle you if they find you attractive.

TSA even had a program to follow ordinary passengers and mark down when they used the bathroom. But perhaps there’s nothing more intimate than having your pancake mix obsession revealed as the price of domestic travel.

Other passengers are sharing to social media the personal elements of their lives that come out from under wraps at the security checkpoint.

Even your most intimate preferences get shared, debated and lectured by the TSA.

Perhaps the only agency that competes with TSA for your intimate details – besides the NSA, perhaps – is Customs and Border Patrol. Within 100 miles of a border is more or less a ‘constitution-free zone’ and they’re they’re creating a central repository to store traveler emails for up to 75 years.

(HT: Paul H)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Come on, Gary
    …”You walk through machines that take naked images” is not true and shouldn’t be a part of the intro

  2. I’ve never understood all this “heavy petting” of elderly pax. The likelihood that person has started a jihad is less than zero. Don’t the Israelis have a system based on profiling
    (for lackof a better word) that’s very successful? And they need to focus
    on their core mission of finding weapons and bombs and forget about money and drugs. Those last two are not their remit. All this harassment of ordinary Americans is absurd. And they’re going to keep our data safe? Uh huh…..

  3. If only the Founders had thought to include something about “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated” in the Constitution…

  4. Well when you have an organization saying that the good old USA is a “homeland” (a militarized/nationalistic term if there ever was one) what can one expect? It used to be a point of pride here that we didn’t have an “Interior Department” (i.e. national police bureau) like a lot of nations. No more. The system runs itself, and as noted below plenty of people profit from it both as things are and how they can be expanded.

    I’ve done a little tracing on the nude scopes (and shame on Americans for putting up with them) and it appears Obama got a nice campaign donation for okaying them, or at least he traveled with the president of the manufacturing company just before doing that. And apparently some members of Congress have invested in the companies that make them. Definitely stimulus money was used for the Malaysian company that made these chambers of horror.

    Look, we have a very profitable military-industrial-security state that loops contracts from programs okayed by Congress through bureaucrats to representatives’ districts and then takes some of the profits and gives it back as campaign contributions. For those in the system it is quite irrelevant whether any of this long-term bankruptcy inducing spending actually helps the U.S. beyond its minimum needs. And so too is any concern that Americans are getting conditioned to living in a nation that has more and more of the characteristics of a police state. A subtler and lighter form than a place like East Germany was, but singing about being “brave and free” is turning into a real joke. Why expect anyone living within this complex to question it, or the poor schnooks at the bottom to consider the implications of what they are doing? If they do, they leave.

  5. I’ve wanted to declare as a women to see who would pat me down but never had the balls.

  6. Don’t worry Doug the right wing nuts on the SCOTUS will be repealing that soon.
    Then they’re going to rule that the Founding Father’s really meant to not have “the rabble” have any say in choosing a president and install
    The Great Orange One as president for life because, reasons…..

  7. @Gary – You’re pretty free with your criticisms of the TSA. Sure, we all have our pet peeves but maybe instead of relentless criticism, suggesting viable changes might have a better chance of moving the needle. I think that you’d be hard pressed to find someone who actually likes the TSA. It’s a lot like the IRS in that it does a vital job that by nature makes people’s lives more unpleasant. I would genuinely like to hear your practical ideas on what can be done to improve the TSA.

  8. Christian, here are a few ideas:

    Use the body scanners only as a secondary system. Nobody needs this kind of abuse.

    Stop asking for IDs for domestic flights. Americans should not have to show internal passports. Anyway, the airlines do this already.

    Speed up work on the shoe fetish machines. Ones are being developed to avoid taking them off. And is this really necessary anyway?

    Hire people only after rigorous testing for psychological compatibility with the public. And take complaints (theft, rudeness, etc.) extremely seriously. And professionalize the system; morale is awful and people are often in it only to move to a better policing job, such as ICE or CBP (if they can be called “better”). Some airports seem to have good cultures for getting along with the public, others (Phoenix at least was a notorious example) do not. Know that and work towards all of them being operated by people with intelligence and good sense.

  9. Abolish the TSA. They routinely fail internal weapons screenings and routinely violate the civil liberties of the citizens they are allegedly tasked to protect. They are a lawless organization beholden only to the monetary interests and those who want to oppress us.

  10. What the heck Christian, here are a couple more: Strictly limit agents to only taking items that clearly pose an immediately threat, such as guns and knives. And also a very few strictly defined categories of illegal items such as smuggled drugs and child porn, should anybody be stupid enough to carry them. There have been a number of cases of people who quite legally carried significant amounts of cash that was confiscated. One case that a man had to fight in court involved a person who bought used cars from their owners. Things like this are completely outside of their mission.

    Periodically and publicly review its standards, and then seriously justify them. How is it that one person carrying one liter of liquid a potential threat but three people traveling together each carrying 1/3 of a liter are not?

    Abolish the no-fly list. It’s a million name mess of mistakes, overlaps and confusion. Actually there seem to be many lists and they all should be combined and abolished. Then start over with a few really carefully vetted names. Make them public and have in place an open and speedy procedure so someone on by error can challenge it. The airlines want to keep trouble makers off that’s their business, but it’s a separate issue from what the TSA is there for. And you know actually at bottom it says that the TSA can’t be trusted to do its screening job, so maybe they should rethink the whole concept anyway.

    None of this is likely to occur. Bureaucrats love power and this is after all a police/semi-military sort of thing, which is even worse for listening to criticism. But one has to try.

  11. @drrichard –

    My point was that just griping about something without actually offering ways to make it better doesn’t do anything constructive, not that any of us couldn’t come up with some ideas. That’s why I specified the @Gary part since he tends to go heavy on the criticism without spending much time offering solutions. I think that with his stature he might have a better shot on getting changes enacted if he started beating the drums on some focused reform ideas.

    You make some really good points. As to some of your specifics:

    I hadn’t realized that the TSA could actually choose the scanning equipment they want but I’d certainly rather have a body scanner than a simple metal detector or – even worse – the handheld metal detectors.

    You have to show ID to fly anyway so what does it matter that you need to show it to the TSA as well? It really is important that someone on the no-fly list for (for example) trying to repeatedly board with guns be identified before departure.

    I’m pretty much with you on the shoe machines.

    The hiring/quality of personnel is a huge can of worms. I think that management is simply awful and in far too many cases that ends up being reflected in people’s experience, even when the TSA people are really trying. Where to start: get rid of the rampantly sexist culture, make firing people much easier, increase pay while also holding them to high professional standards, have “secret shoppers” go through lots of airports to check for ability to spot dangerous objects as well as courtesy and professionalism, find a way to partially base pay or bonuses on speed and effectiveness, and lots more but those would be a start.

    Your confiscation statement is a little vague so I don’t know what you mean. As far as taking money based on nothing but a suspicion (civil forfeiture), I consider that theft and anyone committing that theft should be prosecuted accordingly.

    Interesting point about groups potentially carrying enough liquids to pose a danger. I’m not sure I agree but worth some thought for sure.

    I hadn’t realized that the U.S. has many no-fly lists. Could you elaborate? I do think that the no-fly list is pretty much invaluable. As an example, if someone tried to board a commercial flight with a gun then they should be placed on the no-fly list for a decade or two before being allowed an appeal. I bet you dimes to dollars that if you did that the number of incidents of attempted boardings with firearms would drop precipitously in a hurry. It’s unfortunate that you have to create a sufficiently strong incentive for people to stop “forgetting” that they’re packing a loaded gun while trying to board a plane but obviously our current system isn’t working.

    I’m not so sure that all this is strictly some bureaucratic love of power as much as that combined with a massive lack of oversight as well as inertia with a healthy dollop of ineptitude. I do admit to being a bit surprised that no recent president has even made a visible effort to initiate some reforms since that would be a cheap way to score political points.

  12. 20 years of TSA. By now it is simply part of getting to the gate. Most people on here have Clear or Pre-Check so interaction is limited. Stop crying about it. It just makes for a crappy experience the more you think about. You all probably still whine brushing your teeth or hair because your mom made you do it before you left the house. I will never understand why the privileged bitch more than those without.

  13. They always want to see and check my salt and pepper grinders!!I now leave them out of my carryon-put the in the plastic bucket,

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