TSA might back down some on pat-downs

The Transportation Security Administration just can't win as it tries to appease both sides of the personal privacy vs. national security debate, and a TSA official said June 1 that the agency might tip the scales slightly toward privacy.

At a meeting with irritated Alaskans, Scott Johnson, TSA field operations manager, said the agency is considering a risk-based system for ranking the threat of individual travelers, writes the Associated Press’ Dan Joling. Johnson met Alaskans who want to change screening procedures for some travelers, convened by the United States for Travel Freedom Caucus, according to a post at the “Truth is Contagious” blog.

Alaska state representative Sharon Cissna offered the primary horror story for the discussion. A cancer survivor who had a mastectomy, Cissna refused a pat-down in Seattle while traveling home to Alaska and ended up taking the slow boat to Alaska — literally. Her journey included a two-day ferry ride from British Columbia to Juneau, writes the Associated Press’ Becky Bohrer.

During the round table discussion hosted by Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Cissna and others asked TSA to reconsider pat-downs for travelers with special needs, such as sexual trauma victims or people with specific health concerns, Joling writes. Johnson said TSA is looking into a risk-based system that avoids qualifying as profiling while still alleviating the need to subject every traveler to arguably invasive pat-downs.

As we wrote in May, TSA defends its position that pat-downs are a necessary security option to protect all travelers. For travelers who refuse to pass through full-body scan devices — and TSA asserted in a blog post that they don’t present any serious radiation threats — a pat-down is in store.

From Texas legislators to “Saturday Night Live” comedians, TSA has become the object of criticism and ridicule. A post on the Beaumont Enterprise’s “The Bayou” blog features a clever clip of the SNL crew poking fun at the salacious security measures.

Sexy Lady No. 1: Looking for a little human interaction?

Sexy Lady No. 2: Do you want to feel contact in certain special places?

TSA agent: Then why not go through security at an airport?

Of course, the blog serving the Beaumont, Texas, community points out that plenty of people don’t find anything funny about the perceived government-sanctioned molestation. The blog references Texas lawmakers’ recent decision to can legislation that would allow police to arrest and charge TSA agents for sexual molestation — only after the federal government threatened to ban flights from departing in Texas. And a recent settlement further riles up the anti-TSA legions in Texas.

According to the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail Reporter, TSA paid $2,350 in a settlement with an Amarillo, Texas, woman who sued the agency for negligence and infliction of emotional distress when her breasts were exposed during a pat-down in the Corpus Christi, Texas, airport. The small dollar figure angered the blog writer in Beaumont, who points out the total barely covers legal fees in the case.

In addition to its attempt protect the U.S. transportation system — the mission statement doesn’t mention privacy — TSA is battling a major public relations fiasco. Although the agency won the battle with Texas, Utah looks like the next state that will challenge the federal agency. According to USA Today’s David Grossman, Utah state representative Carl Wimmer is preparing a bill that resembles Texas’ failed version and would ban pat-downs in Utah.

About the Author

Michael Protos is a web content editor with 1105 Government Information Group.

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