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Airport Security: TSA asking for TMI?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA)  recently decided to maximize the efforts of their aviation and surface transportation security policies. Among others, cargo screening and pat-down methods are two of the areas in which TSA is heightening its surveillance. The general public is none-too-pleased by the extreme measures TSA is taking, and is making it known.

Overnight, these detailed screenings and invasive pat-downs have become controversial issues. Many travelers have become overwhelmed by the so-called “enhanced” procedures, and stories of disputed incidents flood news outlets.

An Associated Content article quotes Fort Lauderdale Airport passenger Thomas Mollman, saying that a male TSA officer “… put his hands between my underwear and my skin, and did a 360 all the way around touching certain sensitive points in the back and in the front.”

TSA believes this new strategy is imperative and doesn’t appear to be backing down from its current stance anytime soon. TSA representatives are very straightforward with passengers by clearly stating, “If you refuse both [full-body scan and pat-down], you can’t fly.”

Transportation Security officers have even encountered dramatic objective displays by passengers stripping down to their underwear. On Thanksgiving Day, a man entered Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix sporting only a Speedo and the words “I heart TSA” written on his body, according to a Fox News article. With more than 11,000 YouTube views of the footage, these sardonic protest attempts are clearly being heard.

During a November Capitol Hill hearing, TSA Chief John Pistole remained composed and absolute when addressing the public’s snowballing dispute over the issue. He referred to last year’s attempted Christmas Day airport bombing when explaining the necessity for the controversial procedures.

“We know the terrorists’ intent is still there,” Pistole said. “We are using technology and protocols to stay ahead of the threat and keep you safe. Several near-misses by terrorists on airplane bombings got through security because we were not being thorough enough in our pat-downs.”

While able to justify why they took such drastic precautions and even alleviate some of the controversy concerning privacy matters, those were minor issues compared to the PR predicament waiting around the corner.

In a recent Huffington Post column, author Charles Kearney asserted that the new body-scanning machines and full-body pat down routines limit constitutional freedoms.

“The mainstream media sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly informs the American public that travel is a privilege, not a right,” Kearney said. “This is simply incorrect. The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to travel.”

Additionally, he theorized that these enhanced safety procedures allow law enforcement agencies to violate others’ Fourth Amendment rights, as well.

“TSA now has the … authority to search, seize and question any innocent American who attempts to travel at an airport, without any probable cause whatsoever,” Kearny said. “This is an astounding civil liberties and criminal liability regression.”

The combination of a traumatized citizen, a powerful lawyer and streaming media outlets could quickly create a major public relations nightmare for TSA. Kearny predicts that it is only a matter of time before an individual publicly protests the unfair ultimatum—feeling violated or forgetting their flight—that they’re being handed.

TSA may have dodged one bullet, but it’s still facing another (if not multiple). We have yet to see how the public will respond if, and when, holiday travels are interrupted. While TSA surely had good intentions, the move may have landed it in the midst of a broad public relations blunder.

What do you think about the recently introduced security policies and how do you feel they’ll impact the Transportation Security Administration in the long-run?

By Jessica West

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