TSA Watch: Did they really sexually assault his mother?

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By Christopher Elliott

Another day, another TSA screening video. This one came to us earlier this week from Ryan Miklus, who was flying from Phoenix to Reno with his parents for the Memorial Day weekend. The woman at the start of the clip is his mother, Carol.

Miklus claims she was groped by a TSA agent, and when she asked for a police officer, she was escorted from the screening area and missed her flight. She was screened the next day in Phoenix and traveled without incident.

The TSA has already weighed in on this dust-up with its usual statement.

I spoke with Miklus by phone yesterday to get his side of the story. I was particularly interested in the moments before he began filming.

“They had wanted her to go through the body scanner,” he explains. “She refused. She wanted to have a police officer present during her screening. They pushed through and did the pat-down, anyway.”

During the “enhanced” pat-down, he says his mother was inappropriately touched. Which is when she demanded a police officer.

“That’s when I got my camera out,” he says.

The rest of the video is pretty self-explanatory. There’s the airport worker and Southwest Airlines employee, trying to stop Miklus from filming by citing a law that doesn’t exist. There’s the police officer who in the end refuses to arrest him because he’s violated no law. And there’s plenty of yelling and screaming.

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One of the most interesting parts comes at the start when a screener says she’s warned Miklus already. That’s because this isn’t the family’s first run-in with the TSA.

His previous encounter with the TSA

Here’s his encounter with the TSA a few months ago. (Warning: strong language.)

Off-camera in the first video, a TSA employee accuses him of being a paid actor. Miklus denies it.

“I said, “Thanks for trying to dehumanize me,” he says. Do these pat-downs accomplish anything?

But the “paid actor” accusation has gotten some traction online, with many believing both these videos were staged.

I don’t think Miklus and his family are actors, but I’m not entirely unconvinced that they didn’t go to the airport looking for trouble, at least in the first video. They are certainly within their rights to film and to ask questions. We all are.

Many people chose to stay quiet after they have been humiliated at the airport. Interestingly, the TSA now says its photography rules are “under review.” I think that’s a positive development. TSA already films every checkpoint, and I think in the interests of transparency, it should actively encourage every air traveler to record their screening experience on camera.

Hopefully, TSA’s “review” will prompt the agency to remove the provision that they can stop you from filming if you’re interfering with the screening process. I mean, their agents have the necessary training to work around an iPhone that’s powered up — they shouldn’t let that get in the way of a thorough pat-down, right? (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

As for the latest video, Miklus hopes viewers will remember one thing.

“Envision that as your own mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter,” he says. “How many millions of people don’t say something when they’re touched. Even police officers have to have probable cause when they search you. This shouldn’t be happening in America.”

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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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