If you flew home to be with family over this holiday weekend, chances are you encountered the newest screening procedures put in place by the TSA. If you didn’t, you’ve probably heard at least a mention on the news of the controversy that has been stirred up by the new procedures. The TSA, reacting to last year’s failed Christmas day bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, has rushed the deployment of Advanced Imaging Technology Devices in every major US airport as well as developed new pat-down procedures. The new devices and procedures were implemented just prior to the holiday traveling season in the hopes of discouraging a similar attack.
Unfortunately for the agency, their less than stellar track record and the invasive nature of the new procedures have ignited the fires of revolt against the agency. From airline pilots and flight attendants, whose unions have been advising to decline the new procedures, to everyday fliers, the new regulations are being met with resistance.
According to US Airway’s and American Airline’s pilot unions, their members should decline the full-body scans in favor of the pat-down. The unions are concerned about exposing the pilots, who already receive a high level of radiation exposure, to even more radiation.
The AIT devices produce radiation known as ionizing radiation, which allows the machines to see through clothing. There are some questions about how safe the machines actually are, considering the fact that they focus potentially high doses of radiation onto the skin. The TSA and Department of Homeland Security maintain that the devices are perfectly safe, but they offer very little support for their stance.
In addition to health concerns, the body scanners and the pat-down protocol have elicited criticism of the invasive nature of the procedures. Considering a very early incident of improper use, it would seem that the body scanners, which can produce extremely detailed images of the body underneath clothing, were doomed from the start. While the devices aren’t supposed to store the captured images, the U.S. Marshals Service has already been the source of a well-publicized leak of images captured and stored by the devices. This means that we have only the agency’s word that there aren’t hundreds of thousands of images awaiting their freedom.
As for the pat-down, the more aggressive procedures have come under scrutiny for the demeaning nature of the pat-downs. Chief among the complaints is the fact that the TSA procedures border on institutionalized sexual assault and that they do it out in the open at the checkpoint. According to the pilot and flight attendant unions, those in uniform who submit to the pat-downs should should insist on a private screening. Michael Roberts, an airline pilot, does them one better and refused to submit to either procedure. He, his lawyers, and the TSA will be meeting in court in order to resolve the issue.
To the agency’s credit, the TSA isn’t bowing down to the criticism – they have made their statements and they are sticking to their policies. Unfortunately the critics, while highly vocal, are not as numerous as they would seem according to a recent CBS news poll showing that 80 percent of respondents support full-body scans. That doesn’t bode well for a grass-roots movement, but there is still hope that the courts can save us.