“I cried through the whole experience”

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By Christopher Elliott

You were right. Last week, several readers reported an intrusive, new screening procedure being used by the TSA — activity the agency suggested was not new at all.

But this week, I received fresh reports that the TSA is stepping up its aggressive — and some say illegal — searches.

Here’s reader Deedee Mac, who was flying from Chicago to Richmond, Va., recently. A TSA officer approached her in the terminal.

I was pulled to the side, and asked to open my handbag, and carry-on bag for search. I had not exited the secure area since going through security in Chicago.

I was not given an explanation for why — except, “TSA requires it.”

Again, random stationary checks before boarding are not unusual or new. But roaming searches are. They essentially give TSA agents the ability to ask anyone in the terminal to be subjected to an ID check and search at any time. Even when you’re waiting, or having lunch, or God forbid, in the restroom.

Perhaps the most disturbing response to my story came from a reader named Moe. He asked me not to use his last name, for reasons that will become apparent in a second.

Moe was flying from Seattle to Phoenix last week, when he was pulled over for a secondary screening. To say it was a thorough search would probably be an understatement.

As they went to the room, a rather large TSA officer who let them in says to them “have fun”. I must say, as shameful as it sounds for an almost 56-year-old man, I cried through the whole experience.

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The one man watching held his head down low as he watched realizing what this experience was doing to me. The other continued with what I considered an illegal sexual molestation of my body.

After that, they took their gloves and ran them through a machine and found nothing and said I could get the rest of my things on and go. There is nothing that an X-ray can show that would need this sexual pat down to run gloves through a machine.

Could things get any worse? Yes. This week brought even more evidence that the TSA is out of control. Last week several readers reported an intrusive, new screening procedure

Unsafe scanners

TSA is in trouble after admitting reports about the radiation levels in its full-body scanners included “gross” errors. “If TSA contractors reporting on the radiation levels have done such a poor job, how can airline passengers and crew have confidence in the data used by it to reassure the public?” asked Maine Senator Susan Collins. Bottom line: Despite TSA’s claims to the contrary, we just don’t know if the full-body scanners are safe.

Ban scanners

Remember that lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center that I mentioned a few weeks ago? The group wants to stop the TSA from using the scanners that show a naked image of a passenger’s body as a primary means of screening. Well, they had their day in court last week, and it didn’t go well. You can read the whole account here. It looks as if no court is willing to tell the government to stop these allegedly illegal screening practices.

TSA ‘cooks the books’ on federal screeners?

TSA misleadingly claimed that the cost of the privatized screening program is at least 17 percent higher than the cost of using screeners who are TSA employees, according to Rep. John Mica, the Transportation Committee chairman. “In essence, it cooked the books to try to eliminate the federal-private screening program,” he said. TSA Administrator John Pistole has made no secret of his disdain for private screening programs. But cooking the books? C’mon.

More states move to stop TSA

Texas is the latest state to propose measures that would stop the TSA’s screening practices. The Lone Star State joins New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania — all of which want to limit or stop TSA from illegally searching their citizens. Maybe the states will act if the courts won’t. That could be interesting.

Interesting week. And very disturbing, if you ask me. (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

How do you think this is going to end? Will the TSA prevail, and will its invasive new screening techniques become the new “normal.” Or do you think the lawsuits and legislative measures will push the agency back?

This was a close one. But the TSA wins.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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