TSA Screening

In mid-November, after the TSA modified their security screening procedures with the installation of full body scanners (hereinafter referred to as pornoscanners) and the enhanced patdown, I sent my senator and representative a note. I complained about what I perceive to be out of control abuse of power by the TSA, unconstitutional search & seizure, and treating law-abiding travelers as criminals without reasonable cause.

I finally received a response from Senator Patty Murray last week. It was not what I’d hoped for, to say the least:

Thank you so much for contacting me regarding the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new security methods at airports. I appreciate hearing from you on this important subject.

I share your concerns regarding the need to balance between national security and civil rights. As you know, the TSA has continually adapted their policies and implemented new technology to help thwart those who seek to do harm to our nation. The most recent security measures added include full body advanced imaging machines and enhanced pat-down procedures. These procedures are aimed at preventing attacks like the attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid or the Christmas day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. I believe it is critical that we continually adapt our policies and practices to respond to these threats. But I have also been in contact with airport officials about ways to reduce the impact on passengers.

Again, thank you for contacting me. Rest assured, as the 111th Congress moves forward, I will keep your views in mind. If you would like to know more about my work in the Senate, feel free to sign up for my weekly updates at http://murray.senate.gov.updates.


Patty Murray
United States Senator

“I believe it is critical that we continually adapt our policies and practices to respond to these threats.” How about we continually adapt our approach to best serve our travelers? There’s a concept. And, you know, it’s being shown all over that the new procedures do NOT WORK.

The TSA’s approach is a placebo, at best, and I feel Sen. Murray (who I voted for!) is a disappointing party-line parrot on this issue.

6 Responses to “TSA Screening”

  1. Bill Says:

    I sent a message to my 2 Senators and my Congressman. Only one even responded. The response was in line with what you received and did nothing to address the points I made, one of which is crucial and specific to Alaska and Hawaii. Yet I get a generic response.
    Thank you for contacting me regarding new passenger screening measures employed at our nation’s airports by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

    I understand and share your concern over maintaining privacy and protecting civil liberties during the passenger screening process. The TSA has the challenging mission of protecting our transportation systems and the public from the ongoing threat of terrorism, while simultaneously safeguarding the ability of law-abiding Americans to travel freely. I am particularly disturbed by some of the stories I’ve heard regarding inappropriate passenger screenings from Alaskans such as you.

    The Senate Commerce Committee recently held an oversight hearing with the TSA and I have submitted several questions regarding training of TSA screeners and sensitivity to passengers who have experienced sexual abuse, medical procedures or have other special needs and circumstances.

    In addition to pat-downs, many Alaskans have expressed concern over privacy issues that arise through the use of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT). TSA Administrator John Pistole indicated the passenger screening process is currently in a transitional stage and expects TSA to soon have the ability to deploy software which will present a less graphic “stick figure” style image of passengers to the screener. Administrator Pistole testified that he expects this technology to become available for use at airport screening checkpoints within a matter of months and that it will help alleviate many of the privacy concerns currently associated with the AIT screening machines. I have asked TSA to look at whether they can accelerate deployment of the AIT software to Alaska airports.

    Administrator Pistole also sought to clarify some misconceptions about the TSA’s new passenger screening procedures.

    o The use of AIT scanners remains optional to the passenger, however, passengers who opt not to use the AIT machines will receive what the TSA deems an equivalent level of screening through the use of walk-through metal detectors and pat-downs if necessary.

    o The technology used by AIT machines is safe. Passengers who are screened by AIT are not exposed to significant amounts of radiation during the screening process. The safety of these machines has been confirmed by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.

    o No children under the age of 12 will be subjected to the enhanced pat-down procedures.

    o Pat-downs are performed by a Transportation Security Officer of the same gender. Passengers are able to request the pat-down occur in a privately screened area and that they be accompanied by a travelling companion.

    I am personally concerned the TSA did a poor job of communicating these new screening procedure changes to the flying public. Any changes by the TSA in passenger screening policies need to be accompanied by an aggressive public information and education campaign so passengers are aware of what to expect before they arrive at the airport.

    The TSA’s most important task is to make sure we do not let people who wish us harm onboard a passenger aircraft. Congress must ensure the TSA does not violate the individual privacy rights of Americans while carrying out this mission. I will strive to make sure the TSA does this through a partnership with the traveling public. All screening measures should be risk-based and treat passengers with respect and dignity.

    Thank you again for your letter, and please do not hesitate to contact me on this or any other issue.


    Mark Begich
    U.S. Senator

  2. Bill Says:

    And the message I sent to them…
    I am writing to you for the first time to make my feelings known about the recent change in methods for TSA. In recent weeks TSA has begun using intrusive methods at airports when inspecting passengers before flights. These intrusive measures include the new full body scans and manual body searches.

    The full body scans are low power x-rays. No matter what fancy name they are given by TSA they penetrate our body with waves known to cause cancer. Although the TSA plays down this risk, scientists at UCSF believe there is a risk (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126833083) and recommend against the scans for many people (including children). These scan pictures have been illegally retained by TSA and clearly show the naked form of the traveller.

    If I choose not to expose myself to a cancer causing energy wave I must submit to an intrusive body search. This body search includes direct contact with the genitals (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/02/business/02road.html?_r=2&ref=joe_sharkey). This kind of contact is not welcome for adults and is abusive to children.

    These actions by TSA have a greater impact on those that live in Alaska and Hawaii. We have no choice but to fly. We can not opt-out of the system and work and live in a modern America. TSA is wrongfully restricting our ability to move between states.

    Lastly, in my whole life I have never felt like I could not speak out against the actions of my government. This has changed lately. I am confident that if I spoke out publicly about TSA that I would end up on a no-fly list or at least some list that would guarantee I am searched every time I fly. In effect, I would be black-listed by my own government.

    This kind of search of people that are not suspected of breaking any law, just to try to prevent crime by others, is not acceptable in the United States. I am not willing to give up my freedom at this level.

    Senator, please work with your colleagues in Washington, D.C. to muzzle TSA and reestablish freedom to move within the US for our citizens and visitors.

  3. Bill Says:

    This just in from my Congressmen. It was a waste of electrons. He said nothing.

    You can probably tell this has me worked up…

    Thank you for contacting me regarding full body scanners and the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) enhanced pat downs. I appreciate having the benefit of your thoughts.

    TSA uses two types of imaging technology, millimeter wave and backscatter. Currently, there are 464 imaging technology units at 75 airports. Following the failed Christmas Day Bombing attempt on an airliner over Detroit, TSA Administrator Janet Napolitano ordered an accelerated installation of these scanners.

    These machines present two primary concerns. The first is that many people feel full body scanners present a privacy concern because they allow TSA agents to essentially see a naked image of the person being scanned. While it is understandable that people are uncomfortable being seen unclothed, passengers should know that the person’s face is not shown, and the agent who is checking the image is in another room, never seeing the person being scanned. TSA security staff conduct these scans in a professional manner, and are only interested in making sure that no dangerous materials are being smuggled on to flights.

    The other problem is that these scanners could dramatically slow down what are already rather slow security checkpoints. The Millimeter Wave scanner takes about 40 seconds to complete its operation, while the Backscatter Scanner only takes 20 seconds. Both, however, are much slower than the metal detectors which are currently being utilized by TSA. Should this slowdown inhibit the proper functioning of the checkpoints, adjustments will need to be made to ensure a flow of passengers.

    TSA has also implemented a new “enhanced pat down” that has caused some concerns recently. If a passenger declines the body scan, or alerts the body scanners, he or she must submit to a pat down or they will not be allowed to travel via air. I have concerns that these pat downs go too far and intrude on a passenger’s privacy. I will work with my colleagues in the House to encourage TSA to find an equally effective, but less intrusive way to ensure the security of our airplanes.

  4. Jeri Says:

    Bill – thanks for sharing those. I didn’t keep the note I wrote to Murray, unfortunately, because it was in a web form.

    I think your congressman and senator’s notes were at least a little more detailed than mine – but still, no real understanding of the issue or actual intent to effect change. Sad.

  5. Lorne Marr Says:

    How is it possible that the TSA workers haven’t noticed a gun that one of the passengers brought on the plane? On the one hand they treat very harshly people diagnosed with serious medical problems but on the other hand they allow to board the plane with a gun.

  6. Bill Says:

    Here is a great blog on the topic. http://wewontfly.com/