Secondary Security Screening Selection

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Boarding pass of passenger selected for secondary security screening.
CIA Assessment on Surviving Secondary Screening

Secondary Security Screening Selection or Secondary Security Screening Selectee, known by its initials SSSS, is an airport security measure in the United States which selects passengers for additional inspection. People from certain countries are subject to it by default.[1] The passengers may be known as Selectee, Automatic Selectee or the Selectee list.[1] The size and contents of the list fluctuates and is a secret, although the Transportation Security Administration has stated there are tens of thousands of names on it.[2]

The Selectee list has been cited by civil liberties groups to be infringing on privacy rights and potential for racial and ethnic discrimination.[3]

Procedure when selected[edit]

Passengers who have been selected for secondary screening will have the letters SSSS or *S* (all capitals) printed on their boarding passes as a signal for the need for a thorough search at security checkpoints.[4] In the case of Southwest Airlines, secondary screening selectees may have a "checkerboard" pattern printed on their boarding passes.[5]

SSSS passengers will go through a more intensive screening process which may include enhanced pat-downs.[clarification needed] Their carry-on luggage may also be inspected by hand. In the case of film or other items that cannot be X-rayed, the agent may perform a test for possible explosive materials. The screener may also use a hand held metal detector to search the passenger for metal objects.[1]

Selection criteria[edit]

Neither the TSA nor the airlines publish the criteria that are used when boarding passes are issued to identify passengers who will be given extra screening or be denied boarding.

Some criteria are:

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has insisted no minors are listed on the No Fly List or the Selectee List. One minor was placed on this list in 2014 and, as of July 2017, minors with similar names to those on the lists still have difficulty in obtaining boarding passes and are subjected to additional screening.[10][11]

Critics of the George W. Bush administration, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, Rep. John Lewis, feminist Naomi Wolf, peace activists Father John Dear and Sister Virgine Lawinger, Center for Constitutional Rights lawyers Barbara Olshansky and Nancy Chang, and Green Party activists Nancy Oden and Doug Stuber have been pulled aside for enhanced screening, leading activists to believe that some selectees were being harassed for speaking out against government policies.[12][13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "TSA Leaks Sensitive Airport Screening Manual". Wired. December 2009.
  2. ^ a b ACLU. "Frequently Asked Questions About the No-Fly List". Washington State. Archived from the original on February 12, 2014. Retrieved August 7, 2015.
  3. ^ "ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging The 'No Fly List'". July 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Associated Press: "Women complain about airport patdowns"". NBC News. Retrieved July 27, 2008.
  5. ^ "Gilmore v. Gonzales". United States District Court, Northern District of California. July 18, 2002. Retrieved October 24, 2015. Southwest... clerk tore up the boarding pass, printed out another one with a checkerboard pattern on it... you become selected for secondary screening...
  6. ^ Singel, R: "How to Get Off a Government Watchlist" Archived July 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Wired, April 16, 2007. Accessed January 8, 2008
  7. ^ Women voice objection to intrusive searches at US airports DailyTimes, December 1, 2004. Accessed January 8, 2008
  8. ^ a b Merino, Isidoro (April 12, 2023). "SSSS: Four letters you never want to see on your boarding pass". El País. Archived from the original on April 13, 2023.
  9. ^ a b Halpern, Ashlea (January 11, 2022). "What to Know If an SSSS Code Shows Up on Your Boarding Pass". Condé Nast Traveler. Archived from the original on March 4, 2023.
  10. ^ "Mom says TSA agents at DFW Airport traumatized son with 'horrifying' security check". March 30, 2017.
  11. ^ Are These Kids Terrorists?
  12. ^ Sherwood Ross. "Bush Restricting Travel Rights of Over 100,000 U.S. Citizens". Archived from the original on August 14, 2016. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  13. ^ Naomi Wolf (September 2007). The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. Chelsea Green Publishing. pp. 93–94.
  14. ^ Dave Lindorff (November 22, 2002). "The No-Fly List: Is a federal agency systematically harassing travelers for their political beliefs?". In These Times.

External links[edit]