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 CBSNews.com.

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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