Airport Screeners’ Aggressive Pat-Downs Getting a Little Too Personal


airport-screener-pat-downsThe government’s aggressive new pat-down searches at airports are raising privacy concerns and dividing frequent fliers. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security screeners last week began more aggressively patting down airline passengers as a matter of policy across the country. The agency calls it one of its several layers of security to keep travelers safe.”Pat downs are one important tool to help TSA detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives,” the agency says.

The new searches are done with screeners’ hands sliding over a passenger’s body. However, the searches require screeners to touch private parts of passengers bodies, and that’s prompting some fliers and the American Civil Liberties Union to question the policy’s intrusiveness and effectiveness.

Frequent business traveler Richard Boyd of Beverly Hills says the pat downs “serve no real purpose.”

“It’s another TSA delusion of enhancing security,” Boyd says. “It will accomplish nothing other than adding to a traveler’s frustration and time required to clear security. It should be abandoned before implemented.”

Pat-down searches are used when a passenger sets off a metal detector, chooses not to go through a “full-body” scanning machine or the machine detects something suspicious.

‘Invasive’ techniques

Frequent flier Leslie Ashor says she advocates “anything that keeps us safe,” but she’s concerned about a search she underwent Thursday at Denver’s airport.

“I stood there thinking that this is somewhat humiliating, even though I didn’t know all the people around me,” says Ashor, an architect from San Diego. “As a woman, it is somewhat unnerving to have someone touching you in these areas in full public view.”

The TSA has private screening areas, but Ashor says she doesn’t opt to use them to save time.

An effective pat down “has to be invasive” and touch both breasts and genitals, says Billie Vincent, a former security director for the Federal Aviation Administration. “It is clearly a technique that most people would consider an invasion of their privacy.”

Vincent says the new procedures were instituted because the TSA wants to make pat downs as effective as the full-body scanning machines.

The machines – considered by some fliers to be virtual strip searches – were installed at many airports in March after a Christmas Day airline bombing attempt. The TSA plans to have about 1,000 installed by the end of next year.

Chris Calabrese, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, says the more aggressive pat downs should be stopped until a thorough analysis of the policy is done.

“Are we giving people two intolerable actions at airports?” Calabrese asks. “They can be virtually strip-searched or endure a really aggressive grope?”

The TSA says privacy is an important consideration and stresses that the searches are done by personnel of the same gender as passengers.

“We look to ensure people’s privacy while ensuring the skies are safe,” says TSA spokesman Nicholas Kimball.

The more aggressive pat-down procedures were tested this summer at airports in Boston and Las Vegas before implementation at all airports. The new pat-down method is as “ineffective as any other method they use,” says flier Patrick Mathiowetz of Middleton, Wis.

Mathiowetz, a sales director in the dairy products manufacturing industry, says he gets patted down whenever he refuses to go through a “full-body” scanning machine or a carry-on baggage screener detects something suspicious in his briefcase.

Some support searches

Some frequent fliers support the more aggressive pat downs.

Rob Newman of Los Angeles supports the TSA’s attempts to improve security. He says a terrorist could conceal a weapon in the buttocks and welcomes more thorough searches.

“I’m all for whatever is most effective in ensuring the plane I get on is safe,” he says.

Frequent flier Jay Burns of the Village of Loch Lloyd, Mo., agrees. “If this stops a terrorist, I am in favor,” Burns says.

The TSA won’t discuss details of pat-down procedures or its overall security policies. However, it warns in a statement: “Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, among others.”

{USA Today/ Newscenter}


  1. Invasive pat-downs are a direct result of the the underwear bomb. The bomb was not detectable by normal means and probably wouldn’t even have been detected by the full body scan. What the TSA agents are looking for is suspiciously bulky underwear so they have to frisk folks where such items might be located.

  2. If the idiots would implement “profiling” then we wouldn’t need aggressive pat downs.
    As long as the 80 year old Puerto Rican lady with her shopping bag is treated the same way as the 25 year old middle eastern man, all the attempts at security are useless.

  3. I have not heard of anyone being apprehended in this way. I do not know what I will do next time I have to fly. But I sure will think twice about flying.