FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – Furor over airline passenger security checks has grown as more airports have installed scanners that produce digital images of the body’s contours, and introduced a more intrusive style of pat-down for those who opt out of full-body scans.
The scanners use “backscatter” X-ray technology to detect both metallic and non-metallic threats, including weapons and explosives, under a passenger’s clothing. They are now deployed at 68 airports in the U.S.
Some airports are now considering ditching Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents and using private security screeners instead.
At this time, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport has no plans to dump TSA agents in favor of private contractors, but airport officials say the topic has been discussed in the past.
But TSA Spokesperson Luis Casanova says private security companies would still have to follow federal standards. “The policies, procedures, equipment, everything remains the same, so people would still need to go through the advanced imaging technology or metal detectors,” explained Casanova. “They still have to submit to pat downs.”
This week Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act which he says is aimed towards protecting Americans “from physical and emotional abuse” by federal TSA employees conducting screenings.
Paul stated, “The solution to the need for security at U.S. airports is not a government bureaucracy. The solution is to allow the private sector, preferably the airlines themselves, to provide for the security of their property.”
A recent CBS News poll found that 4 out of 5 Americans approve of the use of full-body digital X-ray machines. But that fifth American is plenty mad.
Some travelers are using the Internet to organize protests aimed at the busy travel days next week surrounding Thanksgiving.
Brian Sodergren, 33, of Ashburn, Va., is calling for Wednesday, November 24, to be National Opt-Out Day, and urges all air travelers to opt-out of the full-body scanning, undergoing an enhanced pat-down instead.
The purpose, according to the optoutday.org website, is not to further jam up airports on one of the busiest travel days of the year (though that will surely be the outcome), but to allow Americans to see – and feel – the full impact of what the TSA’s new procedures mean.
The next step, the site says, will be for those outraged Americans to write their lawmakers to demand change.
“We have a right to privacy and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we’re guilty until proven innocent,” the site said.
Interest in the opt-out movement has grown since John Tyner, a California man who resisted a full-body scan and groin check at the airport, became an Internet sensation when a video circulated of him telling a TSA agent, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.”
His confrontation (which ended with his being thrown out of the airport Saturday after being threatened with a fine and lawsuit) spawned online sales of T-shirts, bumper stickers, hats and even underwear emblazoned with the words, “Don’t Touch My Junk!”
Wewontfly.com also urges people to refuse to consent to the TSA’s new procedures, or better yet, just don’t fly at all on November 24.
“We do not consent to strip searches, virtual or otherwise,” the site says. “We are not criminals. We are your customers.”
And as such, these customers are vowing not to fly until the “porno-scanners” are gone.
James Babb of Philadelphia, the group’s founder, told CBS Station KYW, “They’re feeling up old ladies and children and they’re calling it security, but it’s not security.”
When asked how airports could be kept safe, Babb replied, “One thing we could do is respect everyone’s right to bear arms.
“But the short-term solution for me and my family is just not to fly,” he added.
That, and selling “Pro-Dignity T-shirts,” which advertise such sentiments as “Stop Groping Me.”
World Net Daily, a conservative website, has instituted an online petition demanding President Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Congress end the enhanced airport screening procedures which it calls “massively unpopular, humiliating, immoral and subject to horrific abuse.”
World Net Daily also says the new body image scanners generate naked images of minor passengers, “arguably [amounting] to the creation of illegal child pornography.”
Many of the people who have little tolerance for airport security are the same ones who want the government to work aggressively to prevent terrorist attacks, Joseph Schwieterman, a Chicago-based transportation expert, told The Associated Press.
“I think Americans, in their hearts, still feel airport security is just a big show – form over substance,” said Schwieterman. “So they’re impatient with strategies they feel are just there to placate political demands rather the genuine security threats.”
As far as health safety, the TSA said radiation from one scan is vastly lower than from a single dental X-ray.
“We are confident that full-body X-ray security products and practices do not pose a significant risk to the public health,” officials from the Food and Drug Administration and the TSA wrote in a letter last month to White House science adviser John Holdren.
Yet ripples of concern have surfaced among some passengers fearful about excess radiation, among some flight crews already overexposed to radiation in the air and even among a few scientists.
“The thing that worries me the most is what happens if the thing fails in some way” and emits too much radiation, said Arizona State University physics professor Peter Rez.
The risk for failure is higher than in a medical setting because the machines are operated much more often, and by TSA workers without medical training, Rez said.
Anger over the screenings hasn’t just come from passengers. Two veteran commercial airline pilots asked a federal judge this week to stop the whole-body scans and the new pat-down procedures, saying it violates their civil rights.
The pilots, Michael S. Roberts of Memphis and Ann Poe of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., have refused to participate in either screening method and, as a result, will not fly out of airports that use these methods, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington.
Roberts is a pilot with ExpressJet Airlines and is on unpaid administrative leave because of his refusal to enter the whole-body scanners. Poe flies for Continental Airlines and will continue to take off work as long as the existing regulations are in place.
“In her eyes, the pat-down is a physical molestation and the WBI scanner is not only intrusive, degrading and potentially dangerous, but poses a real and substantial threat to medical privacy,” the lawsuit states.
At least one pilots union, the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, has issued new instructions to members to call in sick and not board flights if, after a pat-down, they are too upset to fly.
“If the pilot feels the groping is too much and they are stressed out – they are obliged not to fly,” union spokesman James Ray said. He insisted the new instruction is not meant as a protest, saying it complies with rules that pilots don’t fly if they feel they are not fit.
Despite the concerns about pat-downs, Ray said, the union recommends pilots avoid going through scanners out of concern that cumulative effects of low radiation could be harmful.
On CBS’ “The Early Show” this morning, TSA Administrator John Pistole said the new body imaging technology and pat-downs are aimed at the latest threats to airliners, as seen in the Christmas Day “Underwear Bomber” and the recent air shipment of explosive devices from Yemen.
Pistole also said the TSA has worked extensively with the pilots, “and think we have a good way forward with them.”
Of the controversial enhanced pat-downs, Pistole said, “Actually [a] very small number and small percentage of people will actually receive that pat-down, if they opt-out of the advanced imaging technology in those seven or so airports.”
He said there was “a lot of misinformation” about the scanners, and underscored that the TSA employee observing the images are located away from the screening area. “That security officer never sees [the] person, and the security officer with the person never sees the image,” Pistole said.
In an interview with CBSNews.com, TSA spokesman Greg Soule said that the body image scanning images are examined by a security officer and that, and, once the passenger is cleared, the image is deleted.”
Since the pat downs started back on November 1, the TSA has received some 700 complaints, but when you consider 34 million people have flown since then, TSA officials say, statistically, that number represents a very low percentage of travelers.
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