US airport security is facing growing anger from the public at new anti-terrorism screening procedures considered invasive and harmful.
A software engineer has gained national notoriety after posting an internet blog item saying he had been ejected and threatened with a fine for refusing a groin check after turning down a full-body scan at San Diego airport.
The passenger, John Tyner, said he told a Transportation Security Administration agent: “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.”
Tyner’s individual protest quickly became an internet sensation, but questions also came from travel business groups, civil liberties activists and pilots, raising concerns both about the procedures themselves and about the possibility of delays caused by passengers reluctant to accept the new procedures.
Thanksgiving Day, a harvest festival, is the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, and marks one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.
Across the country passengers are simmering over being forced to choose scans by full-body image detectors or probing pat-downs. Top federal security officials said that the procedures were safe and necessary sacrifices to ward off terror attacks.
“It’s all about security,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. “It’s all about everybody recognising their role.”
Despite officials’ insistence that they had taken care to prepare the American flying public, the flurry of criticism, from private citizens to airline pilots’ groups, suggested that Napolitano and other officials had been caught off guard.
“Almost to a person, travel managers are concerned that TSA is going too far and without proper procedures and sufficient oversight,” said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group representing corporate travel departments. “Travel managers are hearing from their travellers about this virtually on a daily basis.”
Jeffrey Price, an aviation professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, said two trends are converging: the regular holiday security increases and the addition of body scanners and new heightened measures stemming from the recent attempted cargo bombings. Also, several airports are short-staffed, which will add to delays, he said.
Homeland Security and the TSA have moved forcefully to shift airport screening from familiar scanners to full-body detection machines. The new machines show the body’s contours on a computer stationed in a private room removed from the security checkpoints. A person’s face is never shown and the person’s identity is supposedly not known to the screener reviewing the computer images.
Concerns about privacy and low-level radiation emitted by the machines have led some passengers to refuse screening. Under TSA rules, those who decline must submit to rigorous pat-down inspections that include checks of the inside of travellers’ thighs and buttocks. The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the machines as a “virtual strip search”.
Alex Spillius in Washington 7:00AM GMT 16 Nov 2010
Source: The Telegraph