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Traveling in the US.

My plane ticket showed TSA precheck, so I was able to keep shoes on.

I put everything in my book bag/ carryon, and ever the paranoid person, asked my wife to go first and grab my stuff.

Sure enough I was picked for a random search. Here’s the question - does TSA have the right to ask to see my phone?

He did, and I told him I checked it in my bag, no way to get it. He wasn’t happy with that answer, but after repeating “so you have no possessions on you?” twice and me answering “no”, he swabbed my hands and let me go.

If I did have my phone, what exactly would he have done? Asked me to turn it on? Start looking through it?

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When you are randomly selected for additional screening (which is a core part of TSA PreCheck as well as TAS procedures in general), the additional screening applies to you and all of your possessions.

TSA knows that almost every passenger going through security has a cell phone, so when you didn't have one they queried that fact - if for no other reason than the fact that it was different to normal, which is one of the things they are trained to look for.

If you had shown them your phone, they would have likely, at most, swabbed it along with your hands. They would only have asked you to turn it on if they had specific suspicions about it not being a legitimate phone. Per TSA policy, they would NOT have looked through the contents of the phone.

In this particular case, you lied to the TSA official. That single action could have resulted in a very different outcome if your lie had been detected.

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    Per TSA policy, they would NOT have looked through the contents of the phone - as a side note, Borders and Customs officers can do that (cbc.ca/news/technology/usa-border-phones-search-1.4494371) – WoJ Jul 27 '19 at 13:35
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    When did he lie to the TSA official? – Barmar Jul 27 '19 at 16:33
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    "I put everything in my book bag/ carryon, and ever the paranoid person, asked my wife to go first and grab my stuff" - Being 'paranoid' and having someone else take your stuff through screening is a major red flag. – Jason Goemaat Jul 27 '19 at 19:03
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    @Doc The OP didn't say anywhere that his phone was in the carry-on that his wife was carrying. I agree that was likely the case, but you can't just state that as fact. – marcelm Jul 27 '19 at 20:00
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    @marcelm OK, so lets forget the phone. He clearly had other possessions, and a carry-on bag, that his wife had taken - and he stated he had nothing. That's a lie. – Doc Jul 27 '19 at 20:03

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