November 16, 2010

Tighter airport screening angers many

Officials say the full-body scanners or rigorous pat-downs are for safety, but critics call them invasive.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Nearly a week before the air-travel crush for the Thanksgiving holiday, federal security officials struggled Monday to reassure rising numbers of fliers and airline workers who are outraged by new anti-terrorism screening procedures they consider invasive and harmful.

click image to enlarge

In this photo taken Sept. 1, 2010, Transportation Security Administration employee Anthony Brock, left, demonstrates a new full-body scanner at San Diego's Lindbergh Field, with TSA employee Andres Lozano in San Diego. The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the machines as a "virtual strip search." Across the country, passengers must choose scans by full-body image detectors or probing pat-downs. Top federal security officials said Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, that the procedures were safe and necessary sacrifices to ward off terror attacks. (AP Photo/San Diego Union Tribune, Eduardo Contreras)

AP

Man refuses scan, warns screener not to ‘touch my junk’

LOS ANGELES — John Tyner says he didn’t intend to make a fuss as he prepared to fly out of San Diego for a hunting trip with his father-in-law.

All he wanted to do was avoid undergoing a full-body scan at San Diego International Airport, wrote Tyner, 31, a software engineer who blogs as Johnny Edge. So when an airport screener pulled him out of line for the X-ray Saturday, he refused to submit.

He turned on his cell phone’s recording device, capturing his now-widely heard challenge to a male screener who tried to give him an alternative pat-down search: “If you touch my junk I’ll have you arrested.”

The confrontation triggered debate on whether the Transportation Security Authority has gone too far in adding body scans to the menu of screenings that passengers must endure on flights.

Tyner claims on his blog that he was prepared to walk through a metal detector when he was pulled out of line. If he had known the airport used backscatter X-ray machines, which show the passenger’s naked body, he would have chosen not to fly that day, he said on his blog.

After a standoff, Tyner agreed not to board the flight and his ticket was refunded. As he was preparing to leave the airport, another unidentified airport official threatened to sue him and fine him $10,000 if he left before completing a search.

Tyner left anyway. By Monday, his blog posts had gone viral on Internet websites. Tyner was being deluged by national media and did not return phone calls from the Los Angeles Times.

Kate Hanni, executive director of FlyersRights.org, a passenger advocacy group, said security officials “went over the line” in attempting to detain Tyner after he backed out of the flight.

And although Hanni suggests that passengers avoid airports that use scanners if they don’t like them, she praised Tyner for standing up for himself.

“He expressed his right not to have his genitals touched by someone,” Hanni said. “And they threatened to sue him because he didn’t complete the screening process. You should be able to turn around and change your mind.”

– Los Angeles Times

Across the country, passengers simmered over being forced to choose scans by full-body image detectors or probing pat-downs. Top federal security officials said the procedures were safe and necessary sacrifices to ward off terror attacks.

"It's all about security," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "It's all about everybody recognizing their role."

Despite officials' insistence that they had taken care to prepare the American flying public, the flurry of criticism from private citizens to airline pilot groups suggested that Napolitano and other federal officials had been caught off guard.

"Almost to a person, travel managers are concerned that TSA is going too far and without proper procedures and sufficient oversight," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group representing corporate travel departments. "Travel managers are hearing from their travelers about this virtually on a daily basis."

Jeffrey Price, an aviation professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, said two trends are converging: the usual holiday security increases, and the addition of body scanners and new heightened measures stemming from the recent attempted cargo bombings. Also, several airports are short-staffed, which will add to delays, Price said.

Homeland Security and the TSA have moved forcefully to shift airport screening from familiar scanners to full-body detection machines. The new machines show the body's contours on a computer stationed in a private room removed from the security checkpoints. A person's face is never shown, and the person's identity is supposedly not known to the screener reviewing the computer images.

Concerns about privacy and low-level radiation emitted by the machines have led some passengers to refuse screening. Under TSA rules, those who decline must submit to rigorous pat-down inspections that include checks of the inside of travelers' thighs and buttocks. The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the machines as a "virtual strip search."

Douglas R. Laird, a former security director for Northwest Airlines, said it's the resistance to these measures that will cause the most delays. The new enhanced pat-downs, an alternative to body scanners, take more time -- about 2 minutes compared with a 30-second scan. Delays could multiply if many travelers opt for a pat-down or contest the new procedures.

Beyond the scanning process, passengers will also be subject to greater scrutiny of their luggage and personal identification, and stricter enforcement of long-standing rules like the ban on carry-on liquids over 3 ounces.

 

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