Deborah Newell Tornello (aka Litbrit) has excellent (detailed, specific, exhaustive) information on knowing and exercising your rights when dealing with TSA personnel at airports. The key is to do your homework in advance and to be clear in your own mind where you draw the line between convenience and your personal freedom and dignity:
Clearly, the vast majority of travelers are interested in getting to their destination (and out of that crowded, hectic airport!) as quickly and smoothly as possible. Thus, the TSA dangles the carrot of convenience over our heads: “Just go through the scanner; it’s much quicker!” or else “If you refuse to answer more specifically, we’ll have to send you through secondary screening, which is currently backed up and could take…oh, another forty-five minutes to an hour, at least”.
To my mind, the best (and perhaps most difficult-to-follow) security-related travel advice of all is this sentence: Protecting yourself from invasive searches requires only willingness to abandon your travel plans and make new ones.
Which means, research other flight options well beforehand, if possible, and plan your day accordingly. …