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New TSA Pat-down Procedures

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

As we’ve discussed before, TSA’s screening procedures change regularly based on the latest intelligence. Pat-downs have long been one of the many security measures TSA and virtually every other nation has used in its risk-based approach to help detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives like the one we saw in the failed terrorist attack last Christmas Day.

Pat-downs are primarily used to resolve alarms that occur at a walk-through metal detector, if an anomaly is detected during screening with advanced imaging technology (AIT), or during random screening. If one of those situations arises, you will be given a pat-down before you're able to continue on to your flight.

Pat-downs are also given to passengers who opt out of screening by AIT or walk-through metal detectors.

There’s nothing punitive about it - it just makes good security sense. And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we’ve found during pat downs speak to this.

It’s worth mentioning that only a small percentage of passengers end up needing a pat-down. The best way to be prepared at the checkpoint is to remove everything from your pockets prior to screening. Also, if you have a hidden medical device, you may want to bring it to the officer’s attention before screening. We’ll be better able to help expedite your screening that way...

A few other points to keep in mind:

  • Pat-downs are conducted by same gender officers
  • All passengers have the right to request private screening at any point during the screening process
  • Anyone has the right to have a traveling companion present during screening in the private screening area.

Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team


Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob you say 'There’s nothing punitive about' pat downs. However I disagree. I am being punished because I happen to have surgically implanted metal in my body and choose to not expose myself to whatever unknown long term effects the AIT devices may have.

Submitted by Susan on

Bob, I would suggest that you do some traveling yourself and don't use your TSA ID for the vaulted ID check - then come back and tell us what happens.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If the aim of a pat-down is non-punitive, why are "enhanced pat downs" now directed at people who object to be virtually strip searched using whole body imaging machines?

Submitted by Michael Hyatt on

I think I have only commented one other time, though I faithfully read your blog via RSS.

I really do appreciate the effort you go to to explain your procedures. They make total sense. You guys are doing a great job keeping our country safe and secure.

May God bless you.

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

So, this item is titled "NEW TSA Pat-down Procedures". Care to actually share what's new?

Otherwise, if TSA isn't willing to discuss its "new" procedures, I guess I'll just have to rely on all the rumors I'm reading online ... which indicate that, contrary to your posting, pat-downs are being sometimes being conducted punitively, sometimes by officers of a different gender than the passenger, and sometimes for reasons other than those listed (e.g. wearing a dress).

Submitted by Anonymous on

Hey Bob, What's different about the new pat down procedures? You keep forgetting to mention that somehow!

Submitted by Anonymous on

For those who opt for the naked scanner instead of the "pat" down, here is my question:

What is the number of photons per unit area and time absorbed by the skin when someone is in the machine?

The government has never provided the answer to this question.

By the way, you TSO's should be asking your union this question rather than just blindly taking OSHA's assurances at face value.

Submitted by Anonymous on


Is what the Massachusetts ACLU saying regarding the pat downs true?

Women in tight skirts that don't allow an agent to feel the thigh area may be asked to remove the skirt in a private screening area and will be given a gown or towel to put on.

Submitted by Anonymous on


Honestly, You/TSA the gov ... could produce any number of security measures and safety would only be in the eye of the beholder. All of these steps which amount to simply being rude and perverse only make people want to fly less. Once I can find a job that does not require flight I'm done flying ever again. There is no service quality left in this service based industry.


Submitted by Djet Rhed on

Would it be possible to have all checkpoint screeners read this post? Because what we see at checkpoint and what is claimed in Washington are two quite different things.

Submitted by Anonymous on

So I have to remove my wallet? I have to remove a tissue or handkerchief from my pocket? Why is it that every story about the pat downs I read is punitive? What about the safety of the new radiation? There's a lot you're NOT addressing that needs to be addressed. This "Do what we say because we know better than you" attitude doesn't work in a democratic society.

Submitted by RB on

November 11, 2010 4:00 AM PST
Backlash grows over TSA's 'naked strip searches'

Read more:

"A growing number of airline passengers, labor unions, and advocacy groups, however, say the new procedures--a choice of full-body scans or what the TSA delicately calls "enhanced patdowns"--go too far. (They were implemented without much fanfare in late October, amid lingering questions (PDF) about whether travelers are always offered a choice of manual screening.)"

Submitted by DevilDog438 on

Why does the new standard "frisk" involve the requirement to reach INTO peoples clothing, as anecdotal reports have indicated? In those reports, people are stating that the TSO grabbed their waistband, pulled the clothing a significant distance away from the body, looked down the gap created and then felt around the circumference of the torso to the depths of their fingers.

This is an invasive search that goes well past the "reasonable" test and for which law enforcement officers would be required to prove probable cause. However, TSA is claiming the power to do it just based on the purchase of a ticket for common carrier air travel.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This new procedure as well as the new scanners are a perverse, and outrageous abuse of TSA's authority. Can you site any studies of the health effects of frequent doses of this level and type of radiation? How about long term? What assurance do we have that the machines are even operating at the frequency and dose that the manufacturer specifies?

Submitted by Bubba on

Pat downs are not punitive?

If not, why are they of a special kind of invasiveness if the person happens to out out of being viewed naked by an unseen stranger?

If not, why do they include removal of tight skirts?

If not, why do they include repeatedly sliding hands and bumping into the genital area?

Submitted by Anonymous on
I looked at the 09:57 post and see just effective crowd control. It is not unusual to remind people in a group of their proper place so that they may be processed. A little intimidation works wonders. We see that in schools, the military, places of incarceration, businesses. If the TSA people don't get cooperation, the passengers would behave as a herd of cats. The passengers would never get loaded on the aircraft.

The TSOs are just doing their jobs.
Submitted by Anonymous on

How is the 'same' gender screener determined for people in the process of, but who have not yet completed, gender transition (colloquially, a sex change)? How can people in the process of transition be assured that their privacy and safety will be maintained during the screening process?

Submitted by Anonymous on

What ARE the new procedures, Bob? Are they "enhanced"? What does this "enhancement" consist of? Are your screeners reaching into childrens' clothing, Bob?

Submitted by Adrian on

I have yet to see someone go through a whole body imager without also getting frisked, usually after getting scanned two or even three times. It's much faster to opt for the pat-down to start with. I'm usually through the checkpoint ahead of the two or three people who had been ahead of me in line. The only people who get through faster are the ones who luck out and get the metal-detector-only line.

Submitted by Anonymous on

What happens when the next incident involves hiding items inside folds of flesh and other cavities?

Do all TSA policy makers undergo this level of pat-down?

Submitted by Anonymous on

(1) Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...

(2) A policeman could not stop me on the street and frisk me without probable cause.

(3) Traveling on an airplane is not probable cause.

(4) If I were to stop someone on the street and brush their genitals with my hands, I would be guilty of committing sexual assault.

Conclusion: Having no reasonable suspicion of guilt on my part, a TSA employee attempting to touch my "private areas" is guilty of violating my Constitutional rights as well as criminal statutes forbidding sexual assaults. Any such encounter will be immediately terminated by me. The TSA employee will be placed, by me, under citizen's arrest and will be detained until the police arrive.

You have been warned.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The ACLU has posted this:

TSA says that during the new standard pat-down, a screener of the same sex will examine your head, shirt collar area, and waistband, and may use either the front or back of his or her hands to feel your body, including buttocks, around breasts, and between the legs, feeling up to the top of the thigh. Women in tight skirts that don't allow an agent to feel the thigh area may be asked to remove the skirt in a private screening area and will be given a gown or towel to put on.

Is this correct?

Submitted by Kaekae on

I am a very modest woman (think Mennoniteish style dresses). Almost every time I fly, I get frisked. and the reason given is because they can't see my legs. Even if I raise my skirt to knee-length they still do it. and they also do my front/back. Now before it was just annoying - they didn't touch any areas that are off-limits. (and it has been women) Now I won't fly, because I won't go thru the naked picture machine nor will I allow anyone male or female to touch my how should i put this "bad touch areas"
and all because I wear full skirts.
I hear that they are doing this to small children and I am furious.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why has there not been a description of the new pat down procedures? Is it because the description would make it clear how offensive these new pat downs are? Don't tell us it is because of security reasons, because anyone could understand what the new pat downs involve by spending a little bit of time observing at a checkpoint.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anyone objecting to procedures designed to keep some nut case intent on blowing up the aircraft I (or wife/kids)are traveling on, is infringing on my rights to fly safely. If you object to these measures, don't subject yourself to them! It's a free country and you have every right to find an alternate means of travel.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anyone objecting to procedures designed to keep some nut case intent on blowing up the aircraft I (or wife/kids)are traveling on, is infringing on my rights to fly safely. If you object to these measures, don't subject yourself to them! It's a free country and you have every right to find an alternate means of travel.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Blogger Bob: Just as you will meet people who believe things no matter what you say, it is obvious you actually believe what you write here. Saying something, even writing something, does not make it true. Your claims are so out of touch with the reality of what thousands, (perhaps even millions) of passengers are reporting, that you have as close to zero credibility as it is possible to have. Your quest for absolute power has absolutely corrupted you.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anon said:
Anyone objecting to procedures designed to keep some nut case intent on blowing up the aircraft I (or wife/kids)are traveling on, is infringing on my rights to fly safely. If you object to these measures, don't subject yourself to them! It's a free country and you have every right to find an alternate means of travel.

No, Anon, you miss the point. These measures violate the 4th Amendment and assume you're guilty until proven innocent. These searches are being conducted without warrants, under color of law by non-peace officers. Not to mention that none of it keeps us safe, and never has.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Multiple anecdotal reports indicate that opting out of an AIT screen immediately results in an "enhanced pat-down." This is the first indication I've seen that you can simply go through a metal detector instead. I don't think words are matching up with actions, here.

I've contacted the TSA about what procedures are in place for those with post-traumatic stress issues regarding being turned into porn (AIT) facing a choice of a complete stranger groping them. I'm sorry, but I have issues when my mother gets too close - don't tell me that having someone of the same sex is supposed to solve all problems. I've gotten nothing in return other than a few automated "we're looking into it" emails. The thought of either of these procedures makes me alternate between wanting to shake and cry, and wanting to vomit.

I suggest you delve into this, Blogger Bob, as I have to fly for work quite frequently, and an answer to this would be just swell.

Submitted by Anonymous on

It's obvious that the "pat downs" are being used to attempt to force more and more through the naked body scanners. Well, you won't see me putting my minor daughter through either of those. I guess when the airlines go out of business, we won't need the TSA any longer?

Submitted by Ari on

Bob, mention that those being screened have certain rights with respect to the pat-down, for example to have it done in private and to have a witness present. You also note that pat-downs are done TSOs of the same gender.

What if someone being screened becomes very uncomfortable with the nature of the touching after the pat-down begins and asks that it be stopped; us that person able to be escorted out of the sterile area, or would that person be required to continue to undergo the pat-down (with assistance of law enforcement if necessary)?

Submitted by Anonymous on

> Anyone objecting to procedures designed to keep some nut case intent on blowing up the aircraft I (or wife/kids)are traveling on, is infringing on my rights to fly safely. If you object to these measures, don't subject yourself to them! It's a free country and you have every right to find an alternate means of travel.

This would only be a valid point if it were possible for common air carriers to opt out of the TSA.

Then there would be a real choice, you would be free to waste your money and time on excessive paranoia; and the rest of us would be free to regain the (now lost) convenience of air travel.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps you would disagree, but the privacy of my own body is an essential liberty.

Submitted by Anonymous on

When you say that the naked scanners and enhanced pat downs are to keep us safe, could you quantify that for us?

You say: "it just makes good security sense. And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we’ve found during pat downs speak to this"

This statement implies that these new highly invasive measures have succeeded in thwarting intended hijackings or other attacks. If this is the case, please tell us about these success stories. The language is just vague enough to make me suspicious that you're referring to confiscated knitting needles and water bottles as evidence of success rather than some kind of actual threat.

What is the cost/benefit I get here? How many fewer terrorism related deaths per year should I expect now that these measures are in place? What do these machines cost? What is our privacy and dignity worth?

I suspect that an honest answer would be that these very expensive and intrusive measures provides very little or no measurable safety benefit.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Although you or I as adults may be able to emotionally withstand a prison-level patdown, how do you justify this type of physical contact on our kids? The message we are sending our children by allowing this injustice to continue is that "It's OK honey for some random person wearing a uniform to touch your private parts".

Submitted by Anonymous on

These checks are unlawful. How can you accept this type of groping of women and children that would rightfully put anyone else committing it, in prison!?

Submitted by George on

The fact is that there are a growing number of accounts of TSOs administering a humiliating and uncomfortable pat down, and then plainly admonishing the passenger that they should choose the scanner next time. Or else the passenger subjected to shouts of "We have a refusal!" or is otherwise subjected to embarrassing treatment as some sort of offender (or example). We can't be sure of the veracity of these accounts. But they're pretty consistent, and the number of them seems to be growing as the TSA rolls out the nude-o-scopes. And unfortunately, these accounts are more credible than any denials from the TSA, which has shown itself to be less than truthful about the scanners.

If the accounts are true, the pat downs may not quite qualify as "punitive." But they do show a pattern of treating "opting out" as something other than an routine alternative to irradiation that's supposedly available to anyone who asks. They certainly don't reflect the "professional work force doing what they're trained to do" as Bob portrays them.

It's certainly plausible that TSOs are being encouraged to "help" passengers "choose" the "option" that is most efficient and requires the least work for the TSOs. TSOs have every incentive to use the pat down as a "behavior modification" tool. Especially when they face absolutely no consequences for doing so, while they may face consequences for slow checkpoint transit times. Secret operating procedures and complete privacy for officers allow them to get away with that (and more).

Whatever the truth actually is about the "enhanced security," there is an increasing perception that the "pat down" is a punitive and humiliating attempt to force people into the scanners. The TSA won't correct this perception by responding with "No it isn't. Trust us." If they indeed want to dispel that perception, they're doing their usual inept job of it.

Alternatively, it's possible that the TSA leadership finds this perception useful. If passengers read stories of groping and humiliation, and then decide to walk unquestioningly into the scanner like good little sheep, that can only be a good thing for the TSA. It's also an excellent strategy of effectively enlisting critics to do what the agency itself is incapable of doing itself. This would be entirely consistent with the way the TSA apparently regards the public, as enemies.

Either way, the TSA may now have finally crossed the line of what people are willing to accept in the name of "security." If it results in action that forces change, the TSA's leaders have only themselves to blame. But I'm not holding my breath.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Anyone objecting to procedures designed to keep some nut case intent on blowing up the aircraft I (or wife/kids)are traveling on, is infringing on my rights to fly safely. If you object to these measures, don't subject yourself to them! It's a free country and you have every right to find an alternate means of travel."

Have you thought about the fact that the "nutcases" (failed shoe bomber, failed underwear bomber) that you refer to boarded planes outside the US? Nothing that TSA is doing inside the US is stopping foreign access, passengers on the two planes took matters into their own hands and saved themselves.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I guess the problem here is that when government incompetence and police incompetence are realized in the same place and the same time, the average citizen loses on many levels.

Thanks TSA. I'm ashamed to be American!

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Pat-downs are conducted by same gender officers."

Why is this? Is this required? I am much more comfortable being patted down by an opposite gender officer, can I request this? If not, why not?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Folks, stop wasting your breath. Arguing with a public-relations mouthpiece like "Bob" won't change anything. The official public story is to say anything (including blantant lies) to keep the policies in place. For those of you who don't believe that the new pat-downs are both overly aggressive and punitive, just go to an airport and watch. It really is that simple to prove Bob's assertions false.

But arguing HERE, in THIS forum is totally useless. Call your congressman, senator, your travel agent, or the airlines.

Tell them as much as you hate to, you'll be DRIVING to Florida this year, because you don't want your daughter groped on the way to Disneyland.

Arguing with "Bob" is useless. And arguing with a pre-brainwashed TSA agent at the airport is both futile AND stupid. Neither is willing or even able to change these policy.

Call your congressman, senator, or airline instead! Today! This must be stopped now, or it will only get worse tomorrow.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Does a passenger have a choice of which gender officer conducts the pat-down?

Submitted by Hoads on

The body scanners and "enhanced" pat-downs are flagrant violations of the 4th amendment. I was against the formation of TSA and it seems the TSA is just another stupid make work government enterprise who are now being used to condition the American people to some sort of police state.

Once we accept this level of instrusiveness, we embolden the government to wrestle away more and more of our freedoms under the guise of "safety", "greater good", "experts say...", etc.

I will never submit to a body scanner, will fly only if absolutely necessary and will work tirelessly to peacefully protest this and any other kind of government overreach.

National Opt Out Day 11/24/10!!

Submitted by Anonymous on

How about this, let's make it simple. Bob, yes or no:

Do the new procedures including the touching of the genitals, through the clothing, with the palm of the hand?

Just answer the question.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I suggest the president send his daughters through and use the opt out, lets then see the video of the pat downs and see if they are invasive?

Submitted by Bubba on


Explain this:

What is a "blurred groin"? And weren't intimate areas blurred anyways because of the resolution + privacy filters??

Or can these machines actually see genitals after all?

Submitted by Anonymous on

While these new procedures may help the job security of the person who came up with them, I really don't believe they add any more safety.

Freedom is a double-sided coin, and there comes a point where one has to be willing to take on certain risks in order to have that freedom.

Submitted by Anonymous on

How about the ability to watch your belongings during either the AIT or a patdown? Why is it acceptable for everything a person is traveling with to sit unattended at the end of a belt? You need to SOLVE this. Getting ripped off while at a federal security checkpoint should NEVER happen.

Submitted by Blogger Bob on

Hey all... Just wanted to let you know I'll be moderating later tonight. Your comments will appear soon.


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team