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TSA: Show Us Your Body Or We’ll Feel You Up

Nov 01, 20105 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

The ACLU has a complaint form for people who experience TSA search abuse.

Feeling lonely and craving human touch? Book a flight and go through airport security. The TSA screeners have a new enhanced pat down which has been likened to “foreplay.” What’s that? You don’t want to be fondled for TSA’s new aggressive and controversial body searches? TSA is counting on that, counting on you to instead choose for airport screeners to see a picture of the intimate contours of your naked body via the scanners.

The aggressively enhanced  TSA  pat down involves over-the-clothes searches of passengers’ breast and genital areas. You can opt not to go through the backscatter body scanners, and thereby keep your genitalia private from pictures, but then a TSA screener will use a front-of-the-hand, slide-down body screening that Ars Technica called “nut-busting pat-downs.”

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg asked a TSA screener, “In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? ” The TSA screener replied, “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.” Goldberg pointed out the fact that a terrorist would hide weapons inside their body and then asked if the new TSA guidelines included a cavity search. The TSA screeners said, “No way. You think Congress would allow that?”

These new TSA security theater search tactics have raised privacy issues with civil liberties advocates. The TSA tried similar aggressive pat down searches in 2004, but backed down when the ACLU began investigating. In 2009, issues with TSA and virtual strip searches via body scanners had the ACLU quoting Slate, “Show us your body, or we’ll feel you up.” That seems more true today with the TSA’s new rub down searches. 

In a recent post called TSA pat-down search abuse, the ACLU asked  people to share more information about how these TSA searches are being conducted. There is a form to file a complaint with the ACLU, “If you are denied the right to opt out of the body scanner machines or believe you have suffered from rough, rude, and humiliating manhandling and groping of breasts and crotch areas, sexual comments, and a lack of privacy.”

TSA’s Blogger Bob wrote, “Passengers may receive a pat-down in a number of circumstances: to resolve an alarm at a walk-through metal detector; if an anomaly is detected during screening with advanced imaging technology; or during random screening. Passengers who opt out of enhanced screening such as advanced imaging technology will receive an equivalent level of screening to include a thorough pat-down. Remember, you can always request to be screened in a private area.”

Christopher Elliott reported that TSA said, “TSA takes passenger privacy very seriously and builds privacy protections into its security procedures.” If a stranger feels you up at the airport, how is that invasion taking your privacy seriously? I’m not proposing that TSA workers enjoy subjecting people to enhanced rub downs, but surely the public outcry is only going to get much worse. In comments, some say they will not send their children through x-ray body scanners and will press charges if a screener “molests” their child. The Savvy Traveler wrote that the new TSA pat down “would be sexual assault anywhere else.” After her underwire bra set off an alarm, CNN’s Rosemary Fitzpatrick was reduced to tears when subjected to a pat down. She said, “I felt helpless, I felt violated, and I felt humiliated.”

People on certain medications or who carry certain toiletries might trigger “groping.” People who have a pacemaker, or who had hip or knee replacement, as well as those who are wheelchair bound and cannot go through the body scanners will be put through an “abusive pat-down complete with hands to the crotch.” Consumer Traveler summed it up as, “According to executives with whom I discussed these various pat-downs, training was too difficult for a selection of pat-downs, so the decision was made to treat everyone like a common criminal suspected of carrying a hidden snub-nosed pistol or secreting drugs or explosives. “

ACLU spokesperson Christopher Ott told Homeland Security Today, “We’re all for good effective security measures. But, in general, we’re concerned about this seemingly constant erosion of privacy, and we wonder whether or not it’s really going to be effective.

None of us want terrorists on a plane, but surely terrorists would conceal explosive devices or weapons inside body cavities which would not be detected by the enhanced TSA pat down. A year ago, Slate pointed out that TSA promised the enhanced pat-down would “affect a very small percentage of travelers.” To which the Slate writer said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s what you said about the body scans. Just put on the gloves and get it over with.”

That may seem like a sick joke, but so did body scanners at one point. Let’s see if we can stop this madness before it escalates further. If you feel humiliated, manhandled, sexually assaulted, or suffered a lack of privacy after “TSA search abuse,” then make sure you at least file a complaint with the ACLU.

image sources: 1, 2

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.