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Protesters Plan To Fight TSA Body Scanners

By Carol Cavazos, CBS 11 News
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A TSA agent waits for passengers to pass through a magnetometer at Los Angeles International Airport on November 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

A TSA agent waits for passengers to pass through a magnetometer at Los Angeles International Airport on November 22, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - They’re mad as heck and they’re not going to take it anymore. Protesters are planning to hit airports across the country on Wednesday – including DFW International Airport – and it could mean long lines at security checkpoints. Some passengers might even miss their flights.

One North Texas couple is among those trying to convince travelers to help put the brakes on body scans. Justin Oliver and Katy Hamilton are prepared for a big day at the airport. “We’re going to have the National Opt-Out Day,” explained Oliver.

“Protect your privacy. Opt out,” said Hamilton, reading one of her protest signs aloud.

“We’d like them to opt out of the body scanners,” Oliver said.

The body scanners take about 30 seconds per passenger, compared to two or three minutes for the new, enchanced pat-downs. Travelers have a choice between the two methods. The purpose behind National Opt-Out Day is to have passengers select the pat-down. Take that two or three minute process, multiply it by hundreds of travelers on the busiest travel day of the year – the Wednesday before Thanksgiving – and there could be massive delays.

Hundreds of activists are expected to be at 27 airports across the country, according to an internet-based group called We Won’t Fly. “If 99 percent of people normally agree to go through scanners, we hope that falls to 95 percent,” said 39-year-old organizer George Donnelly. “That would make it a success.”

More than 40 million people have plans to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to AAA, with just over 1.6 million of them planning to fly. That is a 3.5 percent increase from last year.

Interest in Wednesday’s protests exploded after a California man named John Tyner resisted a body scan and groin check at a San Diego airport by saying, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” Cell phone video of the incident went viral and Tyner’s words became famous, spawning shirts, bumper stickers and underwear emblazoned with the words: “Don’t touch my junk!” A Google search of the phrase on Tuesday registered 4.2 million hits.

Those taking part in the nationwide protest plan to use flyers, shirts and even a Scottish kilt to highlight the controversial security scans. Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that his agency is “fully staffed” to deal with problems, but travelers should expect some delays. “I just feel bad for the traveling public that’s just trying to get home for the holidays,” Pistole said.

The full-body scanners show a traveler’s physical contours on a computer. Critics say that they amount to virtual strip searches. About 70 airports nationwide have more than 400 of the refrigerator-sized imaging units. Only around 20 percent of travelers are asked to go through them.

Hamilton hopes that the protests send a message to airport officials. “Can’t see London, can’t see France, without seeing down your pants,” she said, reading another protest sign.

“I don’t want anyone to see those images,” Oliver said.

“The body scanners are criminally invasive,” added Hamilton. “They’re borderline pornography.”

Speaking on “The Early Show,” Pisole urged travelers to “be prepared” for the scanners, and reassured them that the images can’t be relayed elsewhere. “If you go through [a screener], it’s a blurred image seen by a security officer in another office,” Pistole told CBS News. “The images are not capable of being stored or transmitted.”

At a checkpoint in Atlanta on Tuesday, a few passengers grimaced before stepping through the scanners, while others seemed more bemused than annoyed. Of 30 people asked to pass through within a 30 minute period, only two people opted for the pat-down. Karen Keebler said that her main concern was low-level radiation emitted by the scanners, which the TSA says is not a health risk. “I just think the less radiation the better,” Keebler said. “If you can opt out, you need to.”

Robert Shofkom of Georgetown is planning to wear a traditional kilt – sans skivvies – during his flight out of Austin on Wednesday, to display his outrage over the body scans. “If you give them an inch, they won’t just take an inch. Pretty soon, you’re getting scanned to get into a football game,” the 43-year-old said.

Shofkom was momentarily disheartened to learn that the Austin airport does not yet have body scanners, but he is wearing the kilt anyway as a show of solidarity with fellow protesters who have taken to Facebook and other social networking websites, touting plans for similarly revealing travel outfits.

Tired of the invasion of the body scanners, protesters like Oliver and Hamilton would like to have a different screening method used. “That protects our safety, but freely travel and freely move without feeling like our privacy is infringed on,” Hamilton explained.

In the meantime, airline passengers like Roya Youssefia, who was traveling with a friend from Italy, remain apprehensive about the full-body scans. “I don’t know. I’m going to try to get past it,” Youssefia told CBS 11 News. She decided that the body scans were the lesser of two evils. “I don’t know. First time for everything. Let’s go! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!”

 

Pat-downs are still performed at random, and when passengers set off the metal detector. You can ask to be patted down privately, or to have a witness be present. You can also complain to the TSA if necessary, but most people are probably just trying to board their flight and begin their holiday travels.

(©2010 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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