Backlash grows over TSA’s ‘naked strip searches’
By Declan McCullah|CnetNews
Two months ago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the federal stimulus legislation would pay for the purchase of hundreds of controversial full-body scanners.
“Through the Recovery Act, we are able to continue our accelerated deployment of enhanced technology as part of our layered approach to security at airports nationwide,” Napolitano said at the time.
Since then, the number of scanners has roughly doubled since Napolitano’s announcement and are now found in 68 U.S. airports, and the Transportation Security Administration says the controversial devices have proven to be a success.
“We have received minimal complaints,” a TSA spokeswoman told CNET yesterday. She said that the agency, part of DHS, keeps track of air traveler complaints and has not seen a significant rise.
A growing number of airline passengers, labor unions, and advocacy groups, however, say the new procedures–a choice of full-body scans or what the TSA delicately calls “enhanced patdowns”–go too far. (They were implemented without much fanfare in late October, amid lingering questions (PDF) about whether travelers are always offered a choice of manual screening.)
Unions representing U.S. Airways pilots, American Airlines pilots, and some flight attendants are advising their members to skip the full-body scans, even if it means that their genitals are touched. Air travelers are speaking out online, with a woman saying in a YouTube video her breasts were “twisted,” and ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts emerging as an instant hero after he rejected both the body scanning and “enhanced patdowns” options and was unceremoniously ejected from the security line from Memphis International Airport.
These privacy concerns, and in a few cases even outright rebellion, come as an estimated 24 million travelers are expected to fly during the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday season. One Web site, OptOutDay.com, is recommending what might be called strict civil obedience: it suggests that all air travelers on November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, choose “to opt-out of the naked body scanner machines” that amount to “virtual strip searches.”
Normally, that kind of public outcry might be enough to spur TSA to back down–after all, in 2004 it relaxed its metal detector procedures to allow passengers a second try, and a year later it relaxed its rules to allow scissors in carry-on bags. Plus, the U.S. House of Representatives (but not the Senate) approved a bill saying that “whole-body imaging technology may not be used as the sole or primary method of screening a passenger.”