Less than ten years after 9/11 made us all afraid to fly, security precautions during pre-flight passenger screenings have pushed Americans to near outrage. The anger stems from proceedures performed by TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, which procedures include x-ray scanners that show naked images of passengers to screeners for the purpose of discovering any weapons or explosive devices which may be hidden beneath clothing. Passengers who refuse to be scanned must undergo a pat-down.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was when the pat-downs were found bordering on, for lack of a better description, sexual assault. Screeners have been accused of not just patting down passengers, but of groping them, getting their hands right up into the crotch area and on breasts, and even stating that they will put their hands down pants that are baggy. I kid you not. Go to YouTube. A video found there of a two year old screaming while TSA agents manhandle her is shocking to watch, to say the least.
One of the most publicized events around this outcry has been that of John Tyner, a would be passenger out of San Diego. His entire account is posted on his blog, including video he shot with his iPhone of the whole thing. Here’s a brief summary, from NBC, about what happened:
Tyner said he arrived at the airport around 5 a.m. to travel to Rapid City, SD with his brother-in-law and father-in-law and stood in line for the metal detector at the security checkpoint.
Because no one was in the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machine, Tyner said he was pulled out of the metal detector line and told by TSA agents that he needed to go through the new machine that scans a passenger’s body image.
Once he opted out of the AIT machine, Tyner said TSA agents told him he must submit to the pat-down.
He says he wasn’t comfortable with the procedure that he compared to a sexual assault.
And that was just the beginning. Eventually, he left the screening area completely, with the TSA agents permission, when he would not submit to any pat-down. His ticket was refunded by American Airlines, and he was headed out the door when TSA decided it wasn’t done with him yet.
I began to make my way to the stairs to exit the airport, when I was approached by another man in slacks and a sport coat. He was accompanied by the officer that had escorted me to the ticketing area and Mr. Silva. He informed me that I could not leave the airport. He said that once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed. Having left the area, he stated, I would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. I asked him if he was also going to fine the 6 TSA agents and the local police officer who escorted me from the secure area. After all, I did exactly what I was told. He said that they didn’t know the rules, and that he would deal with them later. They would not be subject to civil penalties. I then pointed to Mr. Silva and asked if he would be subject to any penalties. He is the agents’ supervisor, and he directed them to escort me out. The man informed me that Mr. Silva was new and he would not be subject to penalties, either. He again asserted the necessity that I return to the screening area. When I asked why, he explained that I may have an incendiary device and whether or not that was true needed to be determined. I told him that I would submit to a walk through the metal detector, but that was it; I would not be groped. He told me that their procedures are on their website, and therefore, I was fully informed before I entered the airport; I had implicitly agreed to whatever screening they deemed appropriate. I told him that San Diego was not listed on the TSA’s website as an airport using Advanced Imaging Technology, and I believed that I would only be subject to the metal detector. He replied that he was not a webmaster, and I asked then why he was referring me to the TSA’s website if he didn’t know anything about it. I again refused to re-enter the screening area.
The man asked me to stay put while he walked off to confer with the officer and Mr. Silva. They went about 20 feet away and began talking amongst themselves while I waited. I couldn’t over hear anything, but I got the impression that the police officer was recounting his version of the events that had transpired in the screening area (my initial refusal to be patted down). After a few minutes, I asked loudly across the distance if I was free to leave. The man dismissively held up a finger and said, “hold on”. I waited. After another minute or so, he returned and asked for my name. I asked why he needed it, and reminded him that the female supervisor/agent had already taken a report. He said that he was trying to be friendly and help me out. I asked to what end. He reminded me that I could be sued civilly and face a $10,000 fine and that my cooperation could help mitigate the penalties I was facing. I replied that he already had my information in the report that was taken and I asked if I was free to leave. I reminded him that he was now illegally detaining me and that I would not be subject to screening as a condition of leaving the airport. He told me that he was only trying to help (I should note that his demeanor never suggested that he was trying to help. I was clearly being interrogated.), and that no one was forcing me to stay. I asked if tried to leave if he would have the officer arrest me. He again said that no one was forcing me to stay. I looked him in the eye, and said, “then I’m leaving”. He replied, “then we’ll bring a civil suit against you”, to which I said, “you bring that suit” and walked out of the airport.
Now he’s being compared to Rosa Parks. It’s an apt comparison, if, well, not completely the same thing. You decide. But my favorite line from his videos is the one when the TSA agent told John that he “gave up a lot of rights when I bought my ticket.” Great. It’s a good John knew a thing or two about his rights, too, including to not to be detained, and that he knew enough to stand up for those rights. I wonder how different TSA procedures would be if more people did the same.
Needless to say, John Tyner is not alone in his anger at the excessive “security theater” that has pervaded our flight security procedures. As has been noted many times, since 9/11, every attempted attack on a flight has been stopped by passengers after the government failed to catch the terrorist, and has been followed by more stringent government screening, throwing more money and more lack of sense at the problem. As a result, another giant government agency has been created, more rights have been lost when we buy a ticket to fly, and really, nothing has been solved.
And it’s not like this is the first time questions have been raised about TSA procedures effect on our civil rights:
What are people doing about it? In addition to the people, like John Tyner, who are refusing to undergo the procedures, they are refusing to fly this holiday season (as I have), writing letters to TSA and the transportation, travel, and pilots associations, and publicizing their protest. Said one (now former) passenger to the Air Transport Association:
It is with deep regret, however, that I write to inform you that from this time forward, I will no longer be patronizing any of your member airlines, relegated instead to traveling only by car. I am taking this action in light of the aggressive, arrogant, unlawful, and flagrantly immoral actions being imposed by the Transportation Security Administration as a condition of flying. My personal boycott of flying will remain in effect unless and until substantive changes are made to provide passengers a way to opt out of the naked, irradiating body scanners, and the “enhanced” pat downs.
Another, who was subjected to the procedures because of a “medically required trip,” warned about the effect on the bottom lines of the air travel industry.
I sincerely hope that your industry realizes the incalculable harm that the TSA is doing to your bottom line as travelers like me refuse to participate in security theater. At some point, you will have to stand up for your customers and give us back the right to fly without having crimes committed against us and being inconvenienced at every turn, or you will face the harsh economic repercussions as we decide to just stay home. I, for one, will be advising everyone I know to refuse to fly until this matter has been appropriately resolved.
Maybe that is exactly the crux of the issue: these measures have been put in place because the travel industry wants travelers to feel safe when they get on a plane. I listened to an official from the Department of Homeland Security say as much on an NPR interview this morning. If the travel industry starts seeing the pain of decreasing profits, they will innovate, and push that innovation on DHS and TSA, and make sure that they are secure and looking out for passengers privacy.
So, send a letter here, but also, don’t fly. Or fly naked.