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A new TSA screening procedure, introduced late last year, has continued to outrage Americans over what some suggest is a violation of civil liberties. Disgruntled passengers have been sharing their stories of humiliation and lawmakers are starting to hear the complaints.
The new body scanners have also been referred to as “porno scanners”, because the images displayed reveal the passenger as nude. These body scanners have caused many people to feel concerned over privacy issues. Transportation Security Administration states that the scanned images are blurry and black and white. They report that the images are never saved. However, the body scanners are able to save and send pictures. There are also health concerns. The body scanners deliver a low level of radiation to passengers. It is believed that they deliver 20 times more radiation than what was originally reported. Although the chance of developing skin cancer from the body scanner is very low, it would be higher in children and people with gene mutations. There are currently 134 body scanners at 38 airports in the United States. This year, TSA expects to add 1,000 additional units at airports all over the country.
For those that opt out of the scanner or for health reasons cannot use the scanner, the individuals must submit to an “enhanced pat-down.” These pat-downs seem worse than the porno scanners. TSA agents run their hands up and down passengers’ legs and into the groin area. Women’s breasts are pinched and groped. Those are the techniques that TSA admits to. Passengers claim that some TSA agents actually put their hand down individuals’ pants. TSA claims that same-sex agents take a passenger into a private screening room for the pat-downs but many passengers say this isn’t true.
Lawmakers have been reacting to the public outrage. In New Hampshire, a Republican state representative has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to touch or view someone’s private parts without their consent. In California, the district attorney in San Mateo County, Steve Wagstaffe, has stated he would take any complaints about the enhanced pat-down seriously. Wagstaffe has said that if his office receives any complaints about the screeners touching in an inappropriate way with “sexual or lewd intent,” he will prosecute. There have been other local and state efforts that have gotten nowhere.
TSA maintains that the procedures are necessary. A statement from TSA chief John Pistole said, “All pat-downs are done professionally and are designed to detect hidden explosives that could bring down a plane. Only a small percentage of passengers end up needing them. Pat-downs have long been one of the many security measures TSA and virtually every other nation has used in its risk-based approach to help detect hidden and dangerous items.”
The body scanners are also used on children. Last year, a 12 year old girl was leaving Tampa with a friend and her friend’s parents. The body scanner was used on her. The girl was traumatized when she returned to her home in Baltimore. In England, the body scanners are not allowed to be used on passengers under the age of 18 because it violates child pornography laws. Many sexual assault victims also have a difficult time flying any more. They must choose between allowing a person to see them naked or be pinched, groped, or prodded. The extra security is not working either. Just recently, a Jet Blue passenger was allowed to go through security with three box-cutters in his carryon luggage. That is right, box cutters—the very weapon used during the 9/11 hijacking.
TSA is violating passengers for no apparent reason. It doesn’t make us safer. It may provide the illusion that we are safer but in the long run, we are not.