Airport Security Update

It appears that the Transportation Security Administration has hit a wasp nest with its big stick. Two recent articles in AVweb have addressed the backlash from the aviation industry and highlight the issues for passengers as well.

AVweb: Owen JJ Stone, a radio personality known as Ohdoctah, appeared on the Alex Jones talk show in Austin, Texas, Tuesday and said a TSA airport screener put his hand inside his sweat pants and ran it around the full circumference of his body, pausing at everything along the way. Stone said he was told it was a new rule that applied to those wearing baggy clothing. Meanwhile, in Orlando, a Missouri man wearing shorts had a similar experience. At many airports, the alternative is a full body scan, which is supposed to take a “for their eyes only”  peek under the clothing of those who get the extra security treatment.

Eyes only? Maybe not. Some of those machines apparently have hard drives that will save at least 35,000 images, as recent visitors to the federal courthouse in Orlando are discovering. For whatever reason, U.S. Marshals saved the images, and they were available to gizmodo.com via a freedom of information request. They are low-resolution, but they were nevertheless retained despite assurances by security officials that there is no way for the machines to store or transmit the pictures and that they are deleted as soon as the subject has been cleared. The image shown here was used as a screen saver on a TSA computer in Indianapolis. So much for being truthful with the public.

Dave Bates, president of the Allied Pilot’s Association: “No pilot at American Airlines should subject themselves to the needless privacy invasion and potential health risks caused by the AIT body scanners.” The new scanners produce ionizing radiation, which can be harmful to health, especially when added to the high doses of radiation pilots are exposed to on the job.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is touring the country trying to sell this obscenity of an idea, insisting that the scanners are safe, necessary and asking for the public to “be patient.” Paul Bertorelli of AVweb: “That’s government speak for ‘drop dead if you don’t like it.’ If I’m patient while a stranger is fondling my private parts, will I eventually get used to it?”

And why should anyone believe Napolitano? Her insistence that the scanner images are deleted after viewing has already been debunked. That shouldn’t give us a warm fuzzy about her claim that radiation exposure to scanners is too low to worry about. People in government are experts at spin to soothe the masses. It’s the first item in their job description.

The alternative “enhanced pat-down” process has problems as well. To call it demeaning is an understatement. And for airline crew members, TSA’s logic is faulty in the extreme. Consider for a moment that airline pilots can legally carry a handgun when on duty. Then ask yourself, if a male pilot intended to commit a terrorist act, why would he conceal a “private-parts” explosive device on his person, knowing it would more than likely be found and prevent him from boarding the airplane? Why not go through security, perform his flight duties, and at 35,000 feet haul out the weapon and blast away?

The gist of challenges to the new procedures is that the searches may or may not be violations of the Fourth Amendment, but they are in any case, abusive, intrusive, ineffective and unnecessary. In principle, the courts have supported such searches under administrative search doctrine, but the scanner/aggressive pat-down procedures have not been reviewed in detail. Bertorelli reports that if you refuse the scanner and the pat down and decide not to fly, you are subject to civil penalties.

A recent poll by CBS news revealed that 80 percent of respondents support the scanner idea, 15 percent don’t. Bertorelli suspects the 15 percent are the ones actually doing most of the traveling, and some of those 80 percenters may change their minds after getting groped. A number of websites, the ACLU, the Association of Airline Passenger Rights, and Flyers Rights are actively involved with challenging TSA.

You may have seen the video of a little girl being physically restrained by her mother so that a TSA screener could subject the child to the joy of an enhanced pat-down while her father videos the procedure. Screaming “Quit touching me!” didn’t help the child. If this isn’t proven to be some sort of fake, and we as a nation don’t find that a totally unacceptable security tactic, then God help us.

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