Letter From a Passenger: “What Really Happens in the TSA Private Room?”

GFTB asks:

“Tell us, please, what really happens in that private room and why the TSA does not want it seen in public nor recorded.”

Dear GFTB,

I can only speak from my personal experience on this blog, as well as from second hand accounts from screeners I knew in my time at the TSA; screeners whose stories I consider to be quite credible, from many different angles. Though there are many claims in the news about outrageous things happening in the private screening rooms (such as this one last year) I’ve never seen or even heard of anything malicious, illicit or illegal happening in the private screening room, depending, at least, upon what one’s personal definition of “illegal” may be, per the Fourth Amendment, in regards to TSA policy in general (and yes, I’m familiar with U.S. vs Davis 1973 for you TSA apologists reading this, your perennial go-to rejoinder). The reason the TSA generally wants to shield the “enhanced security screening procedures” that transpire in the private screening room is because, of course, if the ever-present, ever-lurking, American-way-of-life threatening terrorists out there were to ever get the specifics on those state of the art procedures, then why, by God, they would possess the very key to defeating TSA’s highly-sophisticated, multi-layered anti-terrorism defenses! Great googly moogly! We would all be in grave danger! And it’s not like the passenger could immediately leave the private room and, say, just tell everyone the specifics of the private screening procedures.

Sometimes passengers request a private screening, so in all fairness, the TSA is sometimes actually accommodating the passenger’s wishes.

All in all, though, the TSA has a decent system in place for private screening, where two officers must be present, and passengers are given the option to bring their own witness in, as well. This means that if a screener were to have any unlawful plans for that private screening room, it would require the other screener to be absolutely complicit in the plan, as well. And we all know the saying about what it takes for 2 people to keep a secret (one of them must be dead). This system of TSA’s does in fact limit the opportunities for bad actors to carry out any naughty deeds in a private screening room, especially with the unpredictability factor of a passenger requesting a third party witness.

Now, the I.O. Room (the image operator room, where your nude images are viewed at airports that still use the backscatter x-ray full body scanners), that, my friend, is a whole different story. In the image analysis room, no one is permitted to leave or enter without ample warning (part of TSA’s promise to the public that officers “would never see the passenger whose nude image they just viewed,” although I did occasionally witness this being violated, see Confession #1) and, like the private screening room, recording devices of any kind are prohibited. So in summation: what you have are one to two to three TSA officers locked in a room, viewing nude passenger images, with a guarantee that no one can barge in on them, and that no surveillance cameras can legally be present.

Just use your imagination on the stories among TSA officers of what has gone on in the I.O. room.

Personally, in the I.O. room, I witnessed light sexual play among officers, a lot of e-cigarette vaping, and a whole lot of officers laughing and clowning in regard to some of your nude images,  dear passengers.  Things like this are what happen (at the very least) when you put people who are often fresh out of high school or a GED program (although there are actually a few TSA screeners with PhDs, which I guess is sad on so, so many levels) with minimal training and even less professionalism, into the position of being in charge of analyzing nude images of people in a hermetically sealed room.

The most ridiculous thing is that these I.O. rooms even exist, to begin with. The backscatter machines are useless, as I and many, many others have previously pointed out. They should never have been put into use to begin with; TSA officers should never have been viewing nude, radiation-rendered images of passengers in those private rooms, period. That’s why there are federal lawsuits pending against TSA (Ralph Nader, Bruce Schneier, et al) and why TSA is trying to backpedal and sweep the radiation scanners under the rug away from oversight committees and the public at large, as quickly as possible, right now. The entire thing was, as usual, a hare-brained, tax payer money-wasting,  disaster of an idea.

And I’ll leave it that.

Hope that helps,


Email all questions to takingsenseaway@gmail.com. I’ll do my best to answer them.

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