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Can TSA search personal items that pose no security risk??

Can TSA search personal items that pose no security risk??

Old Sep 9, 20, 12:08 am
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Can TSA search personal items that pose no security risk??

I often travel with a fairly big plastic wallet/card holder in my carry on. I know it is unusual but I use it to store a variety of cards than are useful when travelling. This ranges from my membership cards with different hotel chains and car rental companies, to my health insurance cards, priority passes, and oyster/octopus cards etc. I also use it store my credit cards that I am not actively using, I am a moderate card churner and have about 15-20 different credit and debit cards and it is just easiest for me to store the ones I am not actually using in there in case I need them. (Although many of them I have cancelled and I just haven't cleaned it out.) I also keep some of my other half's credit and membership cards in there for him.

My bag was pulled aside as DEN today for additional screening and they took out this wallet. The TSA agent leafed through it for a while. She called over her supervisor. She told her supervisor that there were cards in there under two different names. The supervisor and her spent some leafing through all of the cards and whispering to each other and then asked me for my ID. I gave my ID and then she asked if these cards were all mine. I said that most of them were mine but some belonged to my other half and I pointed at him(he was travelling with me). She asked his name and then took another 10-15 seconds leafing through them and -almost reluctantly - said I was good to go and gave me back my ID.

I as curious and so I asked why this wallet was being investigated and the supervisor replied that when they can't determine what something is in the x-ray they have to investigate.

TLDR; I have no problem them investigating an unrecognizable object but I don't understand why the TSA would spend so long rifling through a personal item which they would immediately see posed no security risk. They clearly were suspicious about why I had so many credit cards and in two different names but is that the TSA's job? I guess they could have been wondering if I was travelling under a false identity, but my giving my ID should have resolved the matter immediately. Basically it just felt like they were being nosey.

It probably didn't help that DEN was dead and they all seemed really bored. Anyway my question is: Can TSA search personal items that pose no security risk? Do they also have a duty to investigate potentially suspicious items not related to flight/airport security?
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Old Sep 9, 20, 12:47 am
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Originally Posted by Enigma368 View Post
Can TSA search personal items that pose no security risk?
Yes.

Originally Posted by Enigma368 View Post
Do they also have a duty to investigate potentially suspicious items not related to flight/airport security?
Except FAM, TSA are not LEOs. So they do not exactly have any investigative authority. However, when it looks suspicious, they can refer to proper authority.

The real question is - would you rather talk to a TSO or an actual LEO, either local or federal, after detention?
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Old Sep 9, 20, 7:19 am
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Originally Posted by Enigma368 View Post
I often travel with a fairly big plastic wallet/card holder in my carry on. I know it is unusual but I use it to store a variety of cards than are useful when travelling. This ranges from my membership cards with different hotel chains and car rental companies, to my health insurance cards, priority passes, and oyster/octopus cards etc. I also use it store my credit cards that I am not actively using, I am a moderate card churner and have about 15-20 different credit and debit cards and it is just easiest for me to store the ones I am not actually using in there in case I need them. (Although many of them I have cancelled and I just haven't cleaned it out.) I also keep some of my other half's credit and membership cards in there for him.

My bag was pulled aside as DEN today for additional screening and they took out this wallet. The TSA agent leafed through it for a while. She called over her supervisor. She told her supervisor that there were cards in there under two different names. The supervisor and her spent some leafing through all of the cards and whispering to each other and then asked me for my ID. I gave my ID and then she asked if these cards were all mine. I said that most of them were mine but some belonged to my other half and I pointed at him(he was travelling with me). She asked his name and then took another 10-15 seconds leafing through them and -almost reluctantly - said I was good to go and gave me back my ID.

I as curious and so I asked why this wallet was being investigated and the supervisor replied that when they can't determine what something is in the x-ray they have to investigate.

TLDR; I have no problem them investigating an unrecognizable object but I don't understand why the TSA would spend so long rifling through a personal item which they would immediately see posed no security risk. They clearly were suspicious about why I had so many credit cards and in two different names but is that the TSA's job? I guess they could have been wondering if I was travelling under a false identity, but my giving my ID should have resolved the matter immediately. Basically it just felt like they were being nosey.

It probably didn't help that DEN was dead and they all seemed really bored. Anyway my question is: Can TSA search personal items that pose no security risk? Do they also have a duty to investigate potentially suspicious items not related to flight/airport security?
My opinion would be that that search exceeded TSA's authority which is to search for weapons and such. I would file a complaint with TSA and the DHS OIG.

Originally Posted by garykung View Post
Yes.



Except FAM, TSA are not LEOs. So they do not exactly have any investigative authority. However, when it looks suspicious, they can refer to proper authority.

The real question is - would you rather talk to a TSO or an actual LEO, either local or federal, after detention?
FAM's are federal law enforcement officers.
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Old Sep 9, 20, 7:45 am
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Per its sticky thread, the Practical Travel Safety and Security Issues forum is the place to request and receive practical constructive advice to help you travel safely and with minimal hassle.

Discussing the scope of TSA screeners duties,
commentary and opinions belong in the Checkpoints and Borders Policy Debate forum.

Please follow this thread as it moves there.

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Old Sep 9, 20, 11:36 am
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Originally Posted by Enigma368 View Post
I often travel with a fairly big plastic wallet/card holder in my carry on. I know it is unusual but I use it to store a variety of cards than are useful when travelling. This ranges from my membership cards with different hotel chains and car rental companies, to my health insurance cards, priority passes, and oyster/octopus cards etc. I also use it store my credit cards that I am not actively using, I am a moderate card churner and have about 15-20 different credit and debit cards and it is just easiest for me to store the ones I am not actually using in there in case I need them. (Although many of them I have cancelled and I just haven't cleaned it out.) I also keep some of my other half's credit and membership cards in there for him.

My bag was pulled aside as DEN today for additional screening and they took out this wallet. The TSA agent leafed through it for a while. She called over her supervisor. She told her supervisor that there were cards in there under two different names. The supervisor and her spent some leafing through all of the cards and whispering to each other and then asked me for my ID. I gave my ID and then she asked if these cards were all mine. I said that most of them were mine but some belonged to my other half and I pointed at him(he was travelling with me). She asked his name and then took another 10-15 seconds leafing through them and -almost reluctantly - said I was good to go and gave me back my ID.

I as curious and so I asked why this wallet was being investigated and the supervisor replied that when they can't determine what something is in the x-ray they have to investigate.

TLDR; I have no problem them investigating an unrecognizable object but I don't understand why the TSA would spend so long rifling through a personal item which they would immediately see posed no security risk. They clearly were suspicious about why I had so many credit cards and in two different names but is that the TSA's job? I guess they could have been wondering if I was travelling under a false identity, but my giving my ID should have resolved the matter immediately. Basically it just felt like they were being nosey.

It probably didn't help that DEN was dead and they all seemed really bored. Anyway my question is: Can TSA search personal items that pose no security risk? Do they also have a duty to investigate potentially suspicious items not related to flight/airport security?
They do this sort of thing; evidently they still think they're detectives. By concentrating on this sort of thing and on liquids they focus on something they can do, rather than:

1) devote genuine effort to finding guns, explosives, or other things that might endanger an aircraft

2) practice sufficient attention to hygiene and proper use of protective gear and spacing that they won't constitute an infection vector

On the spot like that, especially if you're not experienced in dealing with their nonsense, I'd do what you did, just answer their foolish and nosy questions as briefly as possible and try to get through quickly. They I'd complain later.

The ID checker's job is totally irrelevant to anything but that doesn't keep them from being officious even while failing to know the rules. Two times at JFK I got in arguments because the ID checker didn't know what a NEXUS card was and refused to look at the list of IDs, instead insisting on me presenting my driving license. One time there were 4 people, including a supervisor. (Another time, at BDL, I presented my NEXUS card, and the checker didn't know what it was but looked it up).

Another time I departed from JFK terminal 1 and presented my driving license because I couldn't get to my NEXUS card without holding up the line. The checker kept wanting to see my passport and I kept asking why because I know you don't have to show your passport to the TSA, international terminal or not. She didn't tell me why she wanted to see it, just kept asking for it, finally called for a supervisor. He called somebody on the radio, then took my driving license, looked at it, scribbled on my boarding pass, and sent me onward.

Right now I would just do what they want and complain later. You do NOT want to extend contact with them; you do NOT want to be in a position where your health is dependent on their proper use of masks, gloves, etc., one second longer than necessary.

Originally Posted by garykung View Post
Yes.



Except FAM, TSA are not LEOs. So they do not exactly have any investigative authority. However, when it looks suspicious, they can refer to proper authority.

The real question is - would you rather talk to a TSO or an actual LEO, either local or federal, after detention?
Having a lot of cards has nothing to do with aviation security. The TSA is not the Safeway Club Card police.

There is nothing about a sleeve full of cards that is suspicious. Falsely saying something is suspicious does not give the ID checker the right to paw through someone's belongings with no reason.

Really, everybody should raise an uproar (afterwards) whenever they experience, or learn about, any action that extends the interaction for no reason because it increases the chance of disease transmission.
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Last edited by Carl Johnson; Sep 9, 20 at 2:17 pm
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Old Sep 9, 20, 11:53 am
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Originally Posted by Carl Johnson View Post
Having a lot of cards has nothing to do with aviation security. The TSA is not the Safeway Club Card police.

There is nothing about a sleeve full of cards that is suspicious.
Exactly. This sleeve was actually flagged up once before at LAX and the TSA agent leafed through it for 2 seconds, saw it was not a security thread, and gave it back to me. This seems a more appropriate response.

I don't feel strongly enough to complain about this and am sure any complaint would fall on deaf ears but I do feel like the TSA overstepped the mark here. To me it is seemed outside their purview to investigate why I have a lot of credit/membership cards and to ask why they were in two different names. Asking for my ID to prove I owned the cards seemed like an over-reach for TSA also.

That said, maybe I am wrong and maybe TSA are told to investigate anything they see as suspicious even if not related to aviation security, for possible referral to LEA?
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Last edited by Enigma368; Sep 9, 20 at 12:06 pm
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Old Sep 9, 20, 1:27 pm
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The Officer and Supervisor likely exceeded their authority. But, what they likely should have done is not particularly better. E.g., noticed that you had cards in other peoples' names, so should have notified law enforcement rather than started questioning OP. The LEO who turned up could have asked some questions or more likely done nothing other than have smiled and sent you on your way.

To me it doesn't matter. There was an easy explanation, so I would rather have given my answer and moved on than stood on form and risked spending any appreciable amount of time saying the same thing to someone who is a LEO.
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Old Sep 9, 20, 2:11 pm
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Originally Posted by Boggie Dog View Post
My opinion would be that that search exceeded TSA's authority which is to search for weapons and such. I would file a complaint with TSA and the DHS OIG.
Originally Posted by Carl Johnson View Post
Right now I would just do what they want and complain later. You do NOT want to extend contact with them; you do NOT want to be in a position where your health is dependent on their proper use of masks, gloves, etc., one second longer than necessary.
Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
The Officer and Supervisor likely exceeded their authority.
FWIW - ACLU agrees with me:

https://www.aclu.org/know-your-right...ntain-a-weapon

Keep in mind - ACLU is a prominent organization challenging the status quo. If ACLU says something like this, even not authoritative enough, I would say it is sufficient to be pervasive.

So no - TSA did not exceed its authority.

Originally Posted by Boggie Dog View Post
FAM's are federal law enforcement officers.
I believe I did what I should do by pointing out FAM are not your typical TSA TSO.

Originally Posted by Carl Johnson View Post
The TSA is not the Safeway Club Card police.
Indeed. But FWIW - both of them can hold you temporarily until a LEO arrives. So TSO or LEO - it is entirely your choice.

But dealing with TSO - a few minutes delay of your purposed travel. LEO? Kiss your travel goodbye.
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Old Sep 9, 20, 2:56 pm
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If the cards were lined up, it can easily look like dense organic material. A block of dense organic material the size of a credit card? Bag check.

Leafing through your cards was unnecessary at best, but if they see a possible crime, they can hand it over to the appropriate authorities.
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Old Sep 9, 20, 3:40 pm
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Originally Posted by garykung View Post
FWIW - ACLU agrees with me:

https://www.aclu.org/know-your-right...ntain-a-weapon

Keep in mind - ACLU is a prominent organization challenging the status quo. If ACLU says something like this, even not authoritative enough, I would say it is sufficient to be pervasive.

So no - TSA did not exceed its authority.



I believe I did what I should do by pointing out FAM are not your typical TSA TSO.



Indeed. But FWIW - both of them can hold you temporarily until a LEO arrives. So TSO or LEO - it is entirely your choice.

But dealing with TSO - a few minutes delay of your purposed travel. LEO? Kiss your travel goodbye.
Not trying to separate pepper from other things but the statement: "Except FAM, TSA are not LEOs." is not completely true. Federal Air Marshals are full fledged law enforcement officers whose primary duties are aviation safety but can be utilized in other federal law enforcement tasking if needed.

TSA is limited to conduct a Limited Administrative Search for the sole purpose of finding Weapons, Explosives, and Incendiaries. Searching beyond determining if the folio contained WEI exceeded TSA's mandate. Nothing stated in the ACLU link provided suggests otherwise.

Another fallacy, TSA screeners cannot detain a person. They can exclude entry to sterile parts of an airport or call a LEO but they cannot physically restrain you. If they attempt to do so attempt calling for police yourself.

Travelers need to understand the limits of TSA screeners authority and respond appropriately when their civil rights have been violated. That is best done after the fact by involving the DHS OIG and other resources an individual may have.
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Old Sep 9, 20, 3:43 pm
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Originally Posted by MaverickSC View Post
If the cards were lined up, it can easily look like dense organic material. A block of dense organic material the size of a credit card? Bag check.
Definitely have no problem with them checking an unrecognized item.

Originally Posted by MaverickSC View Post
Leafing through your cards was unnecessary at best, but if they see a possible crime, they can hand it over to the appropriate authorities.
I would generally prefer to answer their questions than to have to wait around for a LEO. Although if I had lots of time before a flight I might enjoy the spectacle of them calling a LEO to report that someone has a lot of cards.

I still stand by the feeling that they were overzealous in looking for a crime that was not there. Sure, if during a routine bag search they find drugs or child pornography or something blatantly illegal, then call a LEA. But don't go searching for a crime to report to law enforcement just because something is slightly unusual and you are bored(my speculation on the last part).

Like I said, it just felt like they were being nosy rather than searching for a security threat. Definitely knew better than to make a deal out of it though.

Last edited by Enigma368; Sep 9, 20 at 4:00 pm
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Old Sep 9, 20, 3:53 pm
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Originally Posted by garykung View Post
FWIW - ACLU agrees with me:

https://www.aclu.org/know-your-right...ntain-a-weapon

Keep in mind - ACLU is a prominent organization challenging the status quo. If ACLU says something like this, even not authoritative enough, I would say it is sufficient to be pervasive.

So no - TSA did not exceed its authority.



I believe I did what I should do by pointing out FAM are not your typical TSA TSO.



Indeed. But FWIW - both of them can hold you temporarily until a LEO arrives. So TSO or LEO - it is entirely your choice.

But dealing with TSO - a few minutes delay of your purposed travel. LEO? Kiss your travel goodbye.
There is nothing in the ACLU pamphlet -- which is a pamphlet not a legal opinion -- at odds with what I and others have said. The Officer quite properly found the cards and could look through them. However, questioning OP was a law enforcement task. So, yes, both the Officer and the Supervisor exceeded their remit.

But, as noted, it gains OP nothing to be asked the same questions by someone else who does have the authority to ask the questions.

Further, you also could choose to say nothing to either.
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Old Sep 9, 20, 4:29 pm
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Thinking further, they may have done me a favor. I have travelled in various places with this sleeve the past 5+ years and never really thought about it. And this is the first time anyone has looked at it. But if it was to be searched in a country with less than stellar human rights e.g. Egypt, China, UAE etc. it may be harder to explain, especially with a language barrier. Also explaining why I have cards in my partner's name(who like me is male) might be impossible in countries with poor records on LGBT rights. So probably a good wake up call to maybe clean this out and put more thought into travelling with it.

Last edited by Enigma368; Sep 9, 20 at 5:28 pm
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Old Sep 9, 20, 6:38 pm
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Perhaps there is an unpublished mandate? I would not be surprised that a verbal directive exists in some form or another. I.e. monetary based items, even domestically. ...conversely, f cards all fanned up in their slots, maybe TSO saw lots of magnetic stripes and got curious. (mine are usually stacked on top of each other on two sides of wallet so not sure if that matters)....hunches...the best we can do in this situation....i do understand your annoyance!
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Old Sep 9, 20, 9:14 pm
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
The Officer and Supervisor likely exceeded their authority. But, what they likely should have done is not particularly better. E.g., noticed that you had cards in other peoples' names, so should have notified law enforcement rather than started questioning OP. The LEO who turned up could have asked some questions or more likely done nothing other than have smiled and sent you on your way.
One other person's name. It's not exactly earth-shaking for someone to carry stuff belonging to their romantic partner.
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