We’ve all heard of the no-fly list, now TSA has a no-jerk list

by Charlie Leocha on May 28, 2010


The public just found out about a top secret list maintained by TSA, perhaps more secret and subjective than the classified lists maintained by the FBI. TSA is making a list of passengers they consider jerks. Is a list too far?

According to a USA Today story, the agency has been maintaining this list for three years.

Am I irritated by this discover or surprised? Irritated, yes, and surprised, no. I look at the list as a testament to how well-behaved the American flying public is while being subjected to the current version of security theater and being searched.

After three years of clandestinely collecting names of jerks in the air, TSA has a total number of 240 names. So, with about 800 million passengers moving through U.S. airports each year, having only 240 TSA-certified jerks is amazing. I think that comes out to .00003 percent.

Now, or course, there is the question about what the heck is TSA doing collecting this kind of minimal information? And from privacy advocates it raises serious questions, like what other kinds of secret databases are being kept of airline passengers?

According to TSA, this is only a form of self defense.

The database was created in late 2007 as the TSA launched a program to prevent the nation’s 50,000 airport screeners from being attacked or threatened, agency spokeswoman Kristin Lee said. At the time, TSA officials voiced concern about passengers disrespecting screeners, and they began issuing new uniforms with police-style badges pinned to shirts.

However, of the 240 incidents that have been collected on this no-jerk list, “only 30 incidents involve people such as passengers or airport workers attacking or threatening screeners.”

What, you might ask, is the TSA definition of a jerk? According a TSA report the following reasons for recording names, names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, home addresses and phone numbers of people.

Incidents in the database include threats, bullying or verbal abuse, remarks about death or violence, brandishing a real or fake weapon, intentionally scaring workers or excessive displays of anger such as punching a wall or kicking equipment, the report says.

But nothing is carved in stone when it comes to this database and who might find themselves listed. I’m not even sure why it is maintained. It is strange that TSA doesn’t maintain any kind of list of what passengers have repeat secondary screenings, but would keep a list of passengers that irritate them.

Photo by Leocha

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  • Frank

    Incidents in the database include threats, bullying or verbal abuse, remarks about death or violence, brandishing a real or fake weapon, intentionally scaring workers or excessive displays of anger such as punching a wall or kicking equipment, the report says.
    ====================================================

    This type of behavior doesnt belong in anyone’s place of business, let alone the airport or a airplane. There should be a three strikes and you’re grounded rule.

  • Jeff L

    If the database is more like an incident log (as it sounds like it contains details of what a person did), it can legitimately be maintained for the purpose of providing data if the person repeats and is charged criminally. In that case, its perfectly legitimate.

    If it is used as a screening tool, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

  • Hapgood

    The appropriate response would be for travel bloggers to create a database of TSA screeners who are jerks. Like the TSA’s list, the criteria would be arbitrary and completely subjective, but would likely include bullying, arrogance, and ignorance that exceeds even the abysmal standards we accept as normal for the agency. Unlike the TSA’s secret databases, the jerk screener list would be as visible to the public as possible.

    Presumably because “Security” it its middle name, the TSA has exempted itself from the oversight and accountability required of other agencies that spend our tax dollars. So maybe this is a way to bring a small measure of much-needed accountability to the TSA. If the TSA can grant itself the authority to maintain a secret list of passengers that irritate its employees, I think it entirely appropriate to maintain a public list of screeners who irritate passengers beyond the normal procedures of security theater designed to irritate.

    Frank is absolutely right that violent behavior is inappropriate in any place of business; and those who perpetrate it should be held accountable. But “officers” who behave like petty tyrants and treat passengers as enemies should also be held accountable for their inappropriate actions.

  • MeanMeosh

    I don’t really have a problem with maintaining logs of people who legitimately create trouble for a screener (while I’d certainly pay money to see someone kicking equipment, it’s not something that should be tolerated). And anyone who repeatedly ends up on a list for abusive behavior should be blacklisted.

    My issue is with the often arbitrary and capricious manner in which the TSA acts. I don’t know that their definition of “abusive” behavior always rises to that level. There are too many horror stories of people being subjected to abuse from TSA employees for merely politely questioning what a screener tells them to do, which is a far cry from destroying equipment or physically assaulting an employee. Not to mention, someone who ends up on the “list” probably has no recourse to get off of it, since the government will ALWAYS side with the employee who claims to have been abused.

  • Matthew in NYC

    I travel reasonably regularly throughout the world, and I can’t recall any security screeners or airline employees that have behaved like jerks towards me, but then I do try and be as pleasant as possible so that my journey is as pleasant as can be expected. Behaving like a jerk anywhere doesn’t usually produce positive results.

  • Joel Wechsler

    @Hapgood Hear! Hear!

  • Frank

    Matthew in NYC May 28, 2010 at 1:38 pm
    I travel reasonably regularly throughout the world, and I can’t recall any security screeners that have behaved like jerks.
    ====================================================

    @ Matthew, Hear! Hear! I travel some 400 flights per year. The TSA has been around for almost ten years and I have yet to be treated unprofessionally.
    The “attitude” is one sided. The crap they put up with is unbelievable. The self entitled traveler who thinks he/she shouldnt be told what to do, to get through the screening process. They snap at the slightest instruction. The no jerk list happened for a reason. They exist.

  • Carrie Charney

    More and more, I am seeing a kinder, gentler TSA. I have never been mistreated, but I did observe abusive treatment towards an elderly couple whose only offense was being hard of hearing.

  • Frank

    Carrie Charney May 28, 2010 at 8:41 pm
    More and more, I am seeing a kinder, gentler TSA. I have never been mistreated, but I did observe “abusive treatment”.

    those are strong words, what happened?

  • Patrick

    I think TSA should be out at the gates watching people be jerks. That is where all the threats, bullying and verbal abuse takes place.

  • Arthur Spear

    On a recent flight from Salt Lake City to Paris a couple of TSA officials were at the gate.They were quietly watching the boarders and checked a few carry on bags. No big deal.

  • Greg

    I have never had a jerk at TSA checkpoint. I did have an issue with
    a TSA screener who patted down my 81 year old mother in Dallas (including running her hands around and under the wig she wears due to thinning hair) without telling her she could have had that done in a private room. It was humilitating, and unnecessary to do in full view of other travelers.

  • Ituri

    While I accept that the TSA has a tough job to fullfill, and they have many stressors (including “jerk” passengers) to deal with while fullfilling that job, its worth stressing that this sort of behavior should not be tolerated by EITHER side, TSA or passenger alike.

    While flying after the Christmas incident in 09 I was leaving Indianapolis, which had recently installed the body scanners in question lately. I *politely* told the TSA screener I wasn’t interested in going through the machine. This was after he ordered I nearly strip in full public, which I also *politely* refused to do (my shirt is not dangerous, promise).

    Instead of simply regarding me with even a little respect, the screener (a male) rudely put me aside (very nearly pushed me, quite literally), then took his time calling in a female scanner to do a body search. She was polite about her job, thankfully, and I went on my way.

    My point is that the male screener expected to simply be obeyed. My small refusals, no matter what sort of reasonable objection I had, were simply in his way. I very well could go on some “jerk” list for refusing to be bullied into stripping and being invasively scanned. Add to this some threat of being “behaviorally scanned,” as a nervous person, makes me want to fly even less.

    On his side, he was probably stressed by the Christmas crowds and the recent terroristic incident, but this does not excuse treating passengers the way they sometimes do, as we ALL know they often do.

  • Sarah

    I travel frequently all over the united states and I regularly come accross TSA bullying. In the Miami airport I overheard a TSA agent say “its my line, they’ll move wherever I tells them to move ’cause I said so. I dunt care if they miss theys plane.” (no type-os in there just poor english). In Bemidji, MN my carryon was completely dumped out on the floor, my belongings rifled through, underwear exposed to all within viewing range. A paperclip was confiscated. I was then told I could pick my items up off the floor and be on my way. When I objected to the way I was treated I was told that it was regular TSA procedure and that if the TSA personnel wanted, they could hold me so that I miss my flight. I was also warned that if I missed my flight the airline would not refund me or put me on the next flight and I would be put on a “no-fly list”. In Kona, HI I had souvenirs that I had purchased on the island taken out of my bag and sent through the scanner twice. When I expressed that I was worried I would miss my flight (security line of about 50 people took 45 minutes) the TSA agent laughed and then said she had to check my carryon. She broke the zipper trying to open it. Then she said she had to send it back through the scanner but it would have to wait for a few minutes. I again expressed that my flight was bording and they were paging me as the last to get on the plane. She laughed again and said “they’ll wait”. I guess she thought having an entire plane load of people wait was ok. Funny that TSA in LAX didnt look twice at my bag or the souvenirs when I went through. In other airports I have been asked to “consolidate” my items when I have a laptop bag, carryon and small purse. In ORD the TSA actually made me get out of the security line to “consolidate”. The woman behind me had a laptop bag, diaper bag, car seat and two small suitcases….so is it the number of bags that is the security issue? I’m confused. I just put my purse inside my laptop bag and then remove it after I’ve gone through security. When you ask TSA security personnel “why” their answer is always that it is security policy. I assume they have no idea why rules are in place but they’re darn sure they’re there to enforce them. Blindly following rules set in place by some government entity, unable to question the rules due to fear of retaliation from said government entity….isn’t that what happened in Nazi Germany?!
    I do not think I am singled out in these experiences. I just travel so often that I have the unfortunate pleasure of interacting with undeucated, unqualified, surley TSA personnel on a weekly basis.

  • Jen

    @Sarah, I had the same experience at the Bemidji airport, twice! I travel every week and have never experienced such a thorough search. The first time, my backpack was declared “cluttered” and they pulled everything out, and ran the contents of my bag through the scanner in a bin. The second trip, they insisted on going through my suitcase because I had a small toolkit in it. They seemed determined to find something wrong with it, but all aspects met the standards for tools (under 7 inches, no knives or hammers, etc.), so they couldn’t do anything about it. It’s such a small town and small airport, I wonder if they treat locals the same way?

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