Do New Safety Procedures Violate Privacy Rights of Air Travelers?

State lawmakers have joined the growing ranks of people, including civil liberties supporters, pilots, flight attendants, and passengers opposed to the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new screening procedures, namely the full-body scanners and their alternative – the more aggressive pat-downs.

State Senator Michael J. Doherty (R-23rd District) is one of several local lawmakers who have raised the question of whether these new procedures amount to a violation of Constitutional rights and New Jersey privacy laws. These lawmakers have introduced resolutions asking Congress to look into these concerns. (1)

Full-body scanners have recently been installed and implemented in 70 airports across the country, including Newark Liberty International. (2) The new scanners can see through clothing and produce images that show the contours of passengers’ bodies. The controversy surrounding the scanners deals mostly with the revealing images they produce. Airline passengers who opt not to go through the scanners are subject to more aggressive pat-downs, in which they could be touched in private or sensitive areas. (3)

Several recent news reports have told stories of how passengers who wear prosthesis or ostomies have felt humiliated as a result of the new enhanced searches and raised questions as to whether TSA officials have received sufficient training in dealing with these special situations. (4)

The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, of which Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is a member, held a hearing last week to question John Pistole, TSA Administrator, about the effectiveness and invasiveness of the new screening procedures. Pistole has defended the new procedures as a necessary response to threats to air travel security and stated that the new policy would not change. However, the TSA has agreed to use a more modified pat-down procedure on children 12 and younger. (3) The TSA also has announced that it is developing new technology that would produce scanners that could still uncover hidden objects while displaying less revealing, stick figure-like images. (2)

Sen. Lautenberg has said he believed the new scanners would lessen the need for physical pat-downs, but has called on the TSA to find a better way to discover risks not detected by these scanners – a way that does not involve the aggressive pat-downs used today. (2)

(1) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/11/nj_lawmakers_announce_bipartis.html

(2) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/11/tsa_official_concedes_that_con.html

(3) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/11/us_senators_expected_to_questi.html

(4) http://www.msn.com/id/40291856/ns/travel-news/?GTi=43001