Don’t Touch My Junk

By | November 16, 2010

That isn’t the junk we’re talking about. The TSA has a new multi-pronged security measure.  If you’ve been missing the news, it has to do with the enhanced pat-down. We’ve spent a few days over here at Flight Wisdom wondering what to say about it.

The TSA issued a statement on its blog today. In it, they stated that the Advanced Imagining Technology(AIT) scanners are optional for everyone. Some 315 AIT scanners are currently in use at 65 US airports, according to the TSA. But if you opt out, you must undergo a pat-down. If you refuse both, you cannot fly. So, let’s review this in bullet form. Here are your choices:

  • AIT Scanner
  • Pat-Down that includes touching of sensitive areas such as breasts and genitalia
  • $10,000 fine

How did that third one get in there? Well, if you refuse the AIT scanner, the pat-down is mandatory. If you refuse the pat-down, the TSA refuses to say it will just let you go home. In fact, they say: “While TSA has the legal authority to levy a civil penalty of up to $11,000.00 for cases such as this, each case is determined on the individual circumstances of the situation.

Stories so far already indicate that people have been threatened if refusing both screening options.

  • One story is that of a six year old boy was subjected to an aggressive pat down by a female TSA agent.
  • Another woman recounts her experience, which she felt violated enough to classify as sexually assaulted, as she was not advised of the invasiveness of it.
  • The Consumerist interviewed Meg McLain, who said she was cuffed, her ticket was ripped up, and she was removed from the airport. The TSA disputes her account of events.
  • And of course, John Tyne, who told a TSA agent, “You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested.” He recorded the audio of his conversation with them, after which his airline refunded his ticket(which was nonrefundable), and then was told he couldn’t leave the airport at risk of a fine. (Here is the audio)

Lawyer Charles Slepian, founder of the Oregon-based Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center, a security consultancy, told the Washington Post full-body scanners and frisks are useful for discovering knives or other hand-held weapons but are less effective for detecting terrorist devices, such as chemical explosives. “It’s a better way to frisk, but we’re now subjecting the general public to the same frisking that police use with probable cause,” Slepian said.

Civil rights groups are, quite understandably upset about the policy, which they say violates civil liberties including freedom of religion, right to privacy, and protection against unreasonable searches. Elsewhere, New Jersey lawmakers are asking the federal government to review the practice, and want to press them to end it.

TSA Chief Joe Pistole addressed the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday, and advised that passengers who refuse to go through a body scanner and reject a pat down won’t be allowed to board. There will be no exemptions for religious beliefs, meaning that a section of the population will be completely unable to travel. Head of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asked for patience and cooperation with full body checks this holiday season.

Pilots, as a group, are not thrilled with the regulations. Remember, they have to go through this multiple times a day. Patrick Smith of Ask The Pilot recounted one story of how he sees the TSA’s methodology as absurd. Already the TSA has retreated a little after the flood of complaints, announcing that it has eliminated patdowns for children under 12 and will develop alternative procedures for pilots who are already subject to extensive security checks.

Despite this, a CBS News poll indicates that eight in ten Americans think airports should use the full-body X-ray machines. The same poll found that 52% of Americans are against racial profiling at airport security checkpoints, which is a reversal of January where 51 percent thought it was justified.

If you are against this practice, you can join National Opt Out Day, on November 24th. On that day, the idea is to refuse the AIT and have your pat down in full view as a form of protest. We don’t like this new practice for its dubious benefits. We are not flying on November 24th, however. The TSA needs to find a reasonable measure that doesn’t offend and invade the privacy of so many people.

Perhaps the SPOT program, which we’ve mentioned before, whose budget was slashed to increase the budget for these scanners. Even the TSA’s Blogger Bob was a Behavior Detection Officer. Of course, people being threatened with having their sensitive areas touched are most logically displaying signs of nervousness.