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18 November 2010

What you can do to change the TSA's full body screening and enhanced pat-down policies

In recent days, the TSA's policy of using advanced screening device along with enhanced pat-downs of passengers to help deter bomb attacks has come under increasing opposition by the flying public, with several organizations and individuals taking actions to force the TSA to alter or eliminate some of these new procedures. There are several ways that an individual can take action, and those are described later in this article.

Public opposed for several reasons
There are several reasons why the traveling public and key parts of the airline industry are opposed to the advanced screening technology and security procedures, including the radiation risks from some of the scanners, potential losses of personal privacy, the techniques used in the pat-down procedures, how people are chosen for the new screening, and because TSA personnel may have backgrounds that make them totally unsuitable for these tasks.

Risks from new screening technologies
The new full-body scanners, currently in use in more than 60 US airports, use either x-rays or millimeter-wavelength radio waves to see if a passenger is concealing explosives, weapons, or other dangerous items. While TSA relies on FDA claims that the amount of radiation exposure is low, and that the machines are safe. However, two major airline pilot organizations have come out against it because of potential health effects from multiple exposures.

Advanced imaging systems are an invasion of privacy
Both the millimeter wave and x-ray advanced imagining systems produce images that can reveal weapons and other other contraband, but it also has the potential to reveal medical conditions and other information that the TSA has no need to know and that most passengers would prefer to keep private for personal, professional, or religious reasons.

Pat-down procedures are intrusive and inappropriate
If someone does not want to use the full body scanner, the TSA has mandated that their security officers use an aggressive pat-down procedure that includes extensive touching of the breast, buttocks, and genital areas of passengers. These new procedures were launched without any opportunity for the public to make comments or suggestions about the procedures. The initial public reaction was so negative that TSA quickly changed their policy in one area--children under the age of 13 will still be subject to a full pat-down search, but one that is modified in ways that the TSA has not yet specified.

While extensive pat-down searches, or even body cavity searches, have been used on passengers for decades, it has usually been under two conditions, that there is evidence that a passenger is suspected of hiding prohibited or dangerous items on their person, and that an appropriate and highly trained law enforcement or customs official was conducting the search. TSA transportation security officers may dress like law enforcement officers, but they lack the training, experience, and authority of police officers. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security recently released report that pointed out serious deficiencies in the training given to TSA security officers.

Use of the screening and pat-downs is excessive
The advanced imaging technology and enhanced pat-downs are designed to find articles hidden under a person's clothes. Rather than being used on persons who have been identified as being high risk based on their behavior or on specific information provided by security or or law enforcement agencies, passengers and airline crew members are being randomly chosen for advanced screening. While the TSA believes that this process is effective at deterring acts of sabotage or terror, for many the intrusive nature of the scanners and pat-downs is not justified for use on someone has has done nothing to arouse suspicion.

TSA screeners may have inadequate background checks
The process by which TSA personnel were screened is another reason that these procedures may be highly inappropriate. As was described in an earlier article, it is possible that the ranks of TSA's screeners may include people convicted of rape and other serious sexually oriented crimes. It is highly unlikely that the average passenger would consent to a very intimate physical search conducted by a convicted sex offender, and at the very least would want the TSA to state for the record whether such people are currently employed in any capacity at TSA.

Actions you can take to change these policies
If you object to the TSA's advanced screening or enhanced pat-down policies or procedures, or feel that you have been victimized in some way because you have been subjected to these techniques and technologies, there are several things that you can do to help change what the TSA is doing:

Related Resources
WTOP interview on November 16, 2010 with Dr. Todd Curtis about these new TSA procedures (5:12)
Teri Schultz article on European approaches to security


  1. Please do not refer to these TSA Screeners as "Security Officers." They are not. They're wannabe guards or cops. They are poorly trained and have no professional security experience. They are a disgrace.

    Perhaps it's time to listen closely to Isaac Yeffet, world recognized expert in airline security. He has been preaching the interview and interaction method for years. It must work...El Al and the Israeli Airlines have not had problems.

    We are so totally reactive, PC, and spend money like drunken sailors, on equipment and programs that are failures.

    Let's change this mess now

  2. Although I strongly believe we should secure borders (something like Germany for example!) and stop those lunatics from ENTERING our country, neither actions shold be used. In the worst case, I would rather do full body scan than being humiliatied by some low rent "security officer" who barely speaks English sticking her hands up my crotch, touching me, and breathing her germs in my face!!!!

  3. I believe that Israeli security experts have been consulted. One must remember that Israel has only one airport to deal with. The interview and interaction method would be chaos given the volume of travelers that need to be processed in the U.S. I would like to know what Israeli consultants have recommended, and whether we are listening to them. Perhaps there is no substitute for interviews, and perhaps these machines are our best alternative. I'm no expert and no expert researcher, so I can't comment.