TSA Troubles

I received a rather troubling e-mail the other day from a wheelchair-user who experienced some difficulties with TSA employees at an airport security checkpoint. She alleges that after TSA employees insisted she have a private screening and refused to let her have a companion present, they went way over the line in the ?appropriate touching? department.

She reported the incident to the supervisor, who apparently brushed it off. She then asked to speak to another supervisor. When this supervisor began to dismiss her, she started to write down names. At that point the supervisor told her that if she made an official complaint about this matter, she would place her on the no-fly list and she would not be allowed to travel by air.

This prospect horrified the traveler, who has to travel many times a year for business.

So she wrote to me to ask me if I thought this was a credible threat. Could the TSA employee really make her life that miserable?

Wow. Good questions. What do you do when an employee threatens you if you make a complaint? Since this whole subject is a tad bit out of my area of expertise, I asked my colleague Edward Hasbrouck for his take on the whole matter. Edward writes frequently about consumer advocacy issues and more specifically about privacy issues and the TSA. He also pens a very informative blog at hasbrouck.org/blog/.

Who has the authority to add names to the no-fly list? ?In a national test case brought in San Francisco, the ACLU is suing under the Freedom of Information Act to get the TSA to disclose exactly that,? says Edward. ?;There?s no required timetable, but the ACLU lawyers say they expect a decision within a month or two, possibly sooner. For now, the TSA has not disclosed the answer to your reader?s question.?

Should the reader consider this a credible threat? Edward has some words of wisdom on that subject too.

Says Edward, ?In practice, the worst I can imagine is that someone might be placed on the ?permanent selectee? list, a separate larger list of names of people who are always required to go through a secondary screening (wanding, pat-down, shoe search, bags opened). Someone with a disability may already have to go through that every time they fly anyway, so that may not be such a terrible threat. It?s much harder to get on the no-fly list than the permanent selectee list.?

As always, Edward makes sense and gives good advice. I have to also add that if the events unfolded as they were related to me, they do need to be reported to the TSA in a formal complaint. It?s the only way to weed out the bad eggs.