In response to a video of a California man’s dispute with airport security officials, the Transportation Security Administration said Monday it tries to be sensitive to individuals, but everyone getting on a flight must be screened.
The video, in which software engineer John Tyner refuses an X-ray scan at the San Diego, California, airport, has sparked a debate over screening procedures.
Tyner told CNN on Sunday that he was surprised to see so many people take an interest in his refusal and the dispute with airport screeners that followed it. But he said he hoped the video will focus attention on what he calls a government invasion of privacy.
“Obviously, everybody has their own perspective about their personal screening,” TSA administrator John Pistole told CNN. “The question is, how do we best address those issues … while providing the best possible security?”
Tyner, 31, said his hunting trip to South Dakota was cut short before it even started Saturday morning — when TSA agents asked him to go through an X-ray machine.
“I don’t think that the government has any business seeing me [unclothed] as a condition of traveling about the country,” Tyner said.
Pistole said the agency is “trying to be sensitive to individuals issues and concerns,” but added, “the bottom line is, everybody who gets on that flight has been properly screened.”
The cell phone video Tyner recorded of his arguments with security screeners over the scan and pat-down they proposed had garnered more than 80,000 hits on YouTube by early this morning.
Tyner said that after he declined the body scan, a TSA agent told him he could have a pat-down instead. Once the procedure was described, Tyner said he responded, “If you touch my…I’ll have you arrested.”
The dispute that followed, Tyner said, included police escorting him from the screening area and a supervisor saying he could face a civil lawsuit for leaving the airport before security had finished screening him.
“The whole thing just seemed ridiculous. … I don’t intend to fly until these machines go away,” he said.
“Advanced imaging technology screening is optional for all passengers,” TSA said in a statement released today. “Passengers who opt out of [advanced imaging] screening will receive alternative screening, including a physical pat-down.”
But anyone who refuses to complete the screening process will be denied access to airport secure areas and could be subject to civil penalties, the administration said, citing a federal appeals court ruling in support of the rule.
The ruling, from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, says that “requiring that a potential passenger be allowed to revoke consent to an ongoing airport security search makes little sense in a post-9/11 world. Such a rule would afford terrorists multiple opportunities to attempt to penetrate airport security by ‘electing not to fly’ on the cusp of detection until a vulnerable portal is found.”
The TSA’s advanced imaging technology machines use two separate means of creating images of passengers — backscatter X-ray technology and millimeter-wave technology.
At the end of October, 189 backscatter units and 152 millimeter-wave machines were in use in more than 65 airports. The total number of imaging machines is expected to be near 1,000 by the end of 2011, according to the TSA.
The agency has previously said that the new technology is safe and protects passenger privacy.
“Strict privacy safeguards are built into the foundation of TSA’s use of advanced imaging technology to protect passenger privacy and ensure anonymity,” the agency says in a statement on its website.
Images from the scans cannot be saved or printed, according to the agency. Facial features are blurred. And agents who directly interact with passengers do not see the scans.
But Tyner isn’t the only one with concerns about the new security procedures.
Grass-roots groups are urging travelers either not to fly or to protest by opting out of the full-body scanners and undergoing time-consuming pat-downs instead.
Industry leaders are worried about the backlash. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with leaders of travel industry groups to discuss the concerns.
“We certainly understand the challenges that DHS confronts, but the question remains, where do we draw the line? Our country desperately needs a long-term vision for aviation security screening, rather than an endless reaction to yesterday’s threat,” the U.S. Travel Association said in a statement after the meeting. “At the same time, fundamental American values must be protected.”