Invasive airport screenings spark social-media backlash, defense

Naked-body images, invasive pat-downs drawing an angry response

Amid a backlash over body scanners that show what's under clothing, the Transportation Security Administration is using social media to make its case. But even there, it's dealing with fake Twitter accounts and a growing number of videos posted to YouTube that show passengers resisting the invasive searches.

Most objectors cite privacy concerns, while others fear the radiation required to produce the images, particularly for pilots, flight attendants and passengers who fly frequently. TSA offers an extensive pat-down search as an alternative for passengers randomly selected for the screening, which is itself the subject of objections.

TSA has more than 385 imaging technology units at 68 airports, and hopes to expand that to 500 this year and more than 1,000 by the end of next year, said TSA spokesman Greg Soule in an article at

TSA Administrator John Pistole refused to soften the policy in testimony he gave to the Senate Commerce Committee during a recent hearing, according to articles in National Journal Daily and elsewhere.

The backlash has quickly gone viral. A video showing passenger John Tyner objecting to the intimacy of the pat-down has become popular on YouTube.

Now Information Week reports that TSA itself is trying to defuse some of the furor with its own social media efforts. The agency posted security video of radio host Meg McClain's experience with TSA agents at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood airport. McClain had talked about the incident on-air, saying she spent 20 minutes handcuffed to a chair.

"The 20 minutes of security footage from Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport shows radio host Meg McClain refusing to go through the X-ray machine, moving to a chair where she engages in a heated discussion with TSA officers, and being escorted to a different location," writes J. Nicholas Hoover in the InfoWeek article. "The episode appears shorter and less severe than McClain described on radio."

But the social media sword has two edges, and at least one Twitter prankster, posting as "Agent Smith" under the @TSAgov account, has been tweeting satirical messages mocking TSA over the controversy. One recent tweet: "TSA Fact: our agents can say 'strip search' in 42 different languages." Another: "A staff goal is to have one of our agents written up in a Penthouse Letter." (TSA's real Twitter feed is @TSABlogTeam.)

TSA is considering implementing measures that would allow pilots to bypass the invasive screening procedures and have their identities confirmed by biometrics instead, National Journal Daily reports.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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Reader Comments

Wed, Jun 1, 2011

The person that told everyone to quit whining probably enjoys being felt up. While the rest of us has more ethics and morales. I hope I never have to fly again. When the airlines go bankrupt and the American people say no to any kind of bail out then we will see what the TSA thinks of their "P" ways.

Mon, May 30, 2011 Jeff LAs Vegas

The scanner create all sorts of privacy, legal issues and small but no zero health risks. New airport backscatter scanners deliver the same 40-50KVp x-rays used in dental and many mammography systems. Your DNA, skin, breast, blood absorbs the brunt of the damaging x-rays reducing internal organ exposure making the "effective dose" estimate of organ cancer rate appear so small. Actual radiation dose to the skin and sensitive tissues 15-20x larger than the "OK/approved dose" TSA and manufactures put forward. Directing focused x-rays to skin generates statically more difficult to repair double DNA breaks, comparing collimated x-rays to "bananas" or a few minutes of air flight random gamma/cosmic rays are inaccurate. Expecting mothers, fair skinned people, young children and people with DNA (BRCA) repair issues should protect sensitive tissues from medically unnecessary exposure.

Fri, May 27, 2011

As a former Airport Police Officer I understand the need for security. The TSA is not the answer. As a result of a line of duty injury I lost both testicles. With implants made of silicone the body scan reveals what looks like plastic explosives concealed within my scrodum. TSA "Agents" are certainly going to want to examine the contents of my scrotum after they notify SWAT. I will never fly or contribute to such violations of privacy. The American public needs to see where we are headed as a Nation, it’s not good. I currently work for the U.S. Government and understand why my Father, a WWII veteran, cries at what our Gov. has done to the Greatest Nation on earth. God help us in our fight against Washington.

Tue, Nov 30, 2010

At least the TSA should provide the results to your physician, so he can go ahead and schedule you for that next procedure you will be needing. Is this part of Obama-care?

Tue, Nov 30, 2010

As a person with a surgical implant (knee) I am guaranteed to be selected for secondary screening aas a result of "ringing the bell" on the metal detectors. If the metal detectors/hand wands are so ineffective for screening, necessitating a second or even third level of inspection, why have them. Each deployed "monument" (physical machinery) is soon rendered impotent by changing of tactics on the part of the people wishing to continue damgaging attacks on this country. I will not be traveling by air as I resent being guilty until proven innocent by a group of people that are not my peers. Constitutional rights are going down the tube faster than ever while more rights are being given to non-citizens or those that are now considered "undocumented aliens". I believe I would have more rights in their category than I do as a natural born citizen.

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