Hands-on airport searches

October 30, 2010

Donna Goodison | Boston Herald.com

photo:quinn anya

Airline passengers nationwide will be subjected to new aggressive and controversial body searches likened to “foreplay” pat-downs under the expansion of a program tested at Logan International Airport.

Beginning Friday, the Transportation Security Administration will start using the new front-of-the-hand, slide-down screening technique for passengers at all 450 of the nation’s commercial airports.

The more invasive pat-downs – which include over-the-clothes searches of passengers’ breast and genital areas – have raised privacy issues among civil liberties advocates. TSA screeners previously used pat-down hand motions to search passengers, switching to the backs of their hands when covering sensitive areas such as the torso.

As first reported by the Herald in August, the TSA implemented the new body-search procedures at Logan and Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport because they were using the largest number of walk-through full-body scanners at security checkpoints. Also controversial, the scanners use low-dose X-rays to produce two-sided, head-to-toe images of passengers’ bodies – including discernible but indistinct images of private parts – while blurring facial features.

The TSA declined comment on the national rollout date, but two sources confirmed it. The pat-down techniques will be included in the TSA’s new set of standard operating procedures for screening issued Friday.

Passengers who opt not to walk through the full-body scanners are subject to the searches, as well as passengers who set off metal detectors at checkpoints without the scanners. The TSA also picks random passengers for the searches.

Lots of airline passengers are in for a surprise, said Chris Ott, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, which assailed the new pat-downs when they started at Logan.

“We question the effectiveness of the methods that are being presented and the choice that travelers are being given,” he said. “. . . Travelers are being asked to choose between being scanned ‘naked’ and exposed to radiation, or getting what people are describing as just a highly invasive search by hands of their entire bodies.”

Kate Hinni, founder of the non-profit FlyersRights.org consumer group, said the new searches amount to a “foreplay pat-down” that for many people is going to “feel like a moral issue.”

“It’s like having to choose the lesser of two evils,” Hinni said. “Both are horribly invasive.”


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