Opinion – TSA and Full Body Scanners

I have tried to remain silent with regards to the frenzy surrounding the full body scanners and the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) pat-downs in our airports, but with the recent media attention given to irate air travelers, I felt moved to write an opinion article on the subject. Following a cell phone video recorded by a passenger refusing to walk through the full body scanner, there has been increased outcry from those who oppose these scanners and the full-body pat-down if they should refuse to walk through the scanner. Some are even suggesting the TSA agents be removed from the security lines and private companies be permitted to employ security personnel in our airports to remove the Government element.

The full body scanners in question are one of two competing technologies: a millimeter wave or a backscatter x-ray scanner. While radiation exposure risks are one of the concerns of frequent airline passengers, experts are claiming that the radiation exposure is minimal, with the actual screening taking approximately 2 seconds and the additional time (14-15 seconds for the agents to view the images). The primary concern, however, has been the claims of “invasion of privacy”. A few media outlets, bloggers, and politicians have begun to argue that the full body scanners reveal too much of the body and the alternative advanced pat-down is too intrusive.

What I have found most interesting about these arguments is that despite the approval rate, 81% of people polled support the use of full body scanners, there is still a push to remove these scanners and TSA agents from the security lines in the airports. According to this article, Federal law allows airports to opt out of the TSA agents as screeners and hire screeners from the private sector instead. This seems to appease those who claim that the Government is getting too powerful and those under the delusion that having private sector screeners would reduce the risk of having someone “interested in groping them inappropriately”.  According to the Comcast article, Florida Rep. John Mica would prefer to see a reduction in the number of security agents in the airport security lines and would rather have privately hired security guards manning these posts. Translation: reduce the number of available jobs in airports and hire a different group of people to perform the same task. It is interesting to note that Rep. Mica has had some of his political campaigns funded by private corporations with a vested interest in private contractors at airports.

Another concern with the full body scanners is the possibility of the revealing images being saved by the screeners who are located at a remote location in the airport. According to this article, concerns have been particularly heightened due to images saved by U.S. Marshalls in a Florida Federal Courthouse were leaked. The TSA claims that the airport scanners do not have the ability to save images and the only machines capable of this are training scanners for airport security. Some are uncomfortable allowing their children to walk through the scanners due to the revealing nature of the images. Additionally, if they do not wish to have their child walk through the scanner, the child must submit to an extensive pat down.

So my question is this: If radiation is not our primary concern, why are we refusing these full body scans? The TSA and our Government are in a particularly difficult situation in that if they do not remain a step ahead of those trying to commit terrorist acts on our airlines, the public cries that they were not doing enough. If they try to stay a step ahead and use technology that can identify non-metallic objects (which are commonly being used in the development of explosives), they are attacked for invading our privacy. As an airline passenger I now have to remove my shoes, bag my carry-on liquids, and submit to a full body scan. Why? Because unfortunately we HAVE been one step behind. I remove my shoes because someone tried to hide explosives in their shoe, I bag my small amount of liquids because someone also utilized that method to develop a bomb, and most recently a man hid explosives in his underwear and tried to murder an airplane full of innocent people on Christmas. This is also an example of why full pat-downs are necessary if the full body scan is refused. Media outlets have tested airport security in the past, before the full body scanners, to see what they could get through. One man was able to wear a “beer-belly” and get through the metal detector with a full pouch of liquid on his stomach. A full body scanner could have caught this.

According to an article from CBS News:

Although some civil rights groups allege that they represent an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, Americans overwhelmingly agree that airports should use the digital x-ray machines to electronically screen passengers in airport security lines, according to the new poll. Eighty-one percent think airports should use these new machines — including a majority of both men and women, Americans of all age groups, and Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike. Fifteen percent said airports should not use them.

Approval Percentage for use of Full Body Scanners, Source: CBSNews

I am one of the 81% who want full body scanners in the airports, and if people are refusing these scanners I would hope they would have to submit to a full body pat down. Some are claiming it is paranoia stemmed from the Government; I say it is trying to stay one or two steps ahead of threats. Why are we considering removing these scanners from airports because 1 in 5 people are unhappy with this so-called “invasion of privacy”? Why are they comfortable putting their children on an airplane where every measure has not been taken to ensure their safety? Additionally, I wonder why they believe that they are “above” being scanned, as if they are treated like a criminal? I keep reading blogs about Karen Cummings, a woman who refused a full body scan and was subjected to a full pat-down, and was upset that she was treated as a “common criminal or drug-pusher”. People are now considering holding protests during the Thanksgiving travel week just so they can slow down airport security for everyone else all the while trying to weaken the very foundation of our airport security. No one is forcing people to go through this heightened airline security – there are bus tickets available for travel this holiday season. As for me, I will be willingly walking through the full body scanner at the airport.

2 comments to Opinion – TSA and Full Body Scanners

  • JD

    Here’s another take on the enhanced security currently being used by the TSA, written by Deirdre Walker. Ms. Walker retired recently as the Assistant Chief of the Montgomery County, Maryland, Department of Police. She spent 24 years as a police officer.

    Do I have a right to refuse this search?

    One thing to take-away from Walker’s post is that the “enhanced” or “modified” pat-down is anything but. The pat-down search has its definition in a 1968 Supreme Court ruling Terry v. Ohio. It is meant to be an open-hand search. The enhanced pat-down currently being conducted by the TSA on passengers either wishing to opt-out of the more intrusive full-body scanners or whose full-body scan reveals an anomaly is known in law-enforcement circles as a custody search. Reasonable cause is generally required by most police departments before a custody search can be undertaken.

    As for the recent poll finding that 81% of passengers do not mind the enhanced security of the TSA, it’s also important to remember that only about 1/3 of Americans fly at least once a year. So most Americans, never mind most of the 33% of Americans who do fly at least once a year, have never experienced either a full-body scanner or an enhanced (custody) search by the TSA.

    This will change during the holidays.

    Having undergone a custody search while an unruly college student, I am confident that many of those who will for the first time in their lives experience a custody search are in for a shock. And for parents watching their teenage children undergo this experience, it will be especially disturbing. I have no doubt that members of Congress will be singing a different tune than that of last week’s TSA hearing.

    There are court challenges currently underway claiming that the TSA’s full-body scanners and custody searches are a violation of passengers’ 4th Amendment Rights against unreasonable search. The legal community seems to be evenly split as to whether the SCOTUS will side with that argument.

  • Nonya Bidness

    I give you this:

    Amendment 4 – Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    You simply CAN NOT eliminate terrorism completely. A well planned terror cell could board a plain, WITH their liquid carry-on allotment, slip off to the bathroom, leave it in there. The last member of the cell collect all those items, assemble explosive device….*boom* hull breach.

    We have reached the point of invasion of privacy and surrendering our civil liberties…end of story.