Ever increasing numbers of airports have full-body scanners, euphemistically called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) in use by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While manufacturers tout their safety and eficacy, there is little empirical data regarding either. There are two types of scanners. Millimeter wave technology bounces electromagnetic waves—which TSA terms as harmless—off the body to create the passenger’s image. Backscatter technology bombards passengers with low level X-ray over the body to generate a reflection displayed on the monitor.
Electromagnetic radiation is the same radiation as in the somewhat controversial health concerns with cell phones. X-rays are ionizing radiation and there is no doubt they present a health risk. What’s under scrutiny is how much health risk does body scan radiation present. Increased dosage will represent an increased risk. On that basis, frequent fliers are more likely to suffer health impairment as a result of full body scanning. And, for pilots, it becomes an occupational hazard. But, ironically, those most at risk are the TSA agents who work around them all day.
For most people, the issue with the full body scanners is a privacy issue. TSA says they are secure and no images will be stored. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and the watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) disagree. EPIC says the machines are hackable, can have external storage devices attached, and agents could easily take cell phone pictures. Citing privacy concerns, EPIC filed a lawsuit requesting suspension of full body scanning with the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC.
Unions for two airlines advised pilots no opt out of scanning citing privacy reasons for their members. Pilots at US Airways and American Airlines, numbering about 14,000, were told to go the route of the “enhanced pat down” instead. Those who decline the scanners are subject to thorough pat down searches.
There is growing pushback to TSA’s intrusive screening measures. Last month, ExpressJet First Officer Michael Richards refused both the scanner and pat down. As a pilot, Richards has already had a through background check and he’s low risk at wanting to blow up his own plane. His fundamental concern, for which he intends to file a lawsuit, is violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
Yesterday, passenger John Tyner opted out of scanning. Tyner says he checked the TSA website before going to the airport to see if San Diego was listed as using the scanners. Even today, San Diego Airport is not listed on TSA’s site as using AIT. Tyner recorded the encounter with his cell phone. Many think TSA is heavy-handed and here’s what the TSA agent said at the metal detector:
Anything else in your pockets, paper, everything needs to come out…paper needs to come out, otherwise I’ll pat you down.
After the TSA agent explained the “standard pat down”, Tyner inquired if they were going to pat down his groin. The answer was an indirect affirmative, to which Tyner responded, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” While waiting for various levels of supervision to sort this out, the TSA agent said, “By buying a ticket you gave up a lot of your rights.” I don’t think there’s anything about buying an airline ticket that suspends provisions of the US Constitution, including it’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
An interesting side note is the similarities between Mr. Richards’ and Mr. Tyner’s cases, which took part at two different airports. They were both courteous and non-confrontational. Yet, in both cases, resolving their declination to abdicate their rights would be considered an unlawful detention. And, in both cases, as they were about to leave the airport terminal, they were subjected to yet another unlawful detention.
Some commenters have questioned Mr. Tyner’s motiviation for declining both virtual strip search and sexual molestation by TSA. His eloquent reply:
Every attempt to blow up a plane since 9/11 has been stopped by passengers after the government failed to provide protection for them. Every incident, however, has been met by throwing more money and less sensibility at the problem.
And each new effort to address the threat results in a further erosion of citizens’ rights. TSA maintains their right to full body scans or “enhanced” pat downs is lawful. The Fourth Amendment was intended to protect us from overreaching government intrusion.
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.
Stand up for your rights. Send a clear message to the US Government and TSA. Join the National Opt-Out Day, 24 November 2010. Either way, you should probably plan to arrive at the airport several hours before your flight that day.
Previously on security theater:
- Europeans Call for Curtain on Security Theater
- Pilot Says No to Security Theater of the Absurd
- Security Theater Leaves US More Vulnerable
- Epic Fail: Airport Security Theater
- The System Worked—Not
- Air Travel Security Hoops and Loopholes
20 Nov 2010
I have to retract my implication the use of full-body scanners and/or “enhanced” pat downs at airports represent a violation of the Fourth Ammendment. While I believe those procedures are invasive and their efficacy and health effects unknown, they are easily avoided by not flying. Travelers can choose any of a wide variety of alternate modes of travel.
That said, I still believe these procedures represent a further totalitarianization of the so-called Land of the Free. And while alternate methods of travel are available, the cost- and time-effectiveness of air travel make it the only practical choice in many circumstances.
A recent CBS News poll found 80% support full-body scanning. They may change their mind when it becomes their turn, but for now, the will of the people is clear.