Airport ‘pat-downs’ cause growing passenger backlash

Following the uncovering of a terrorist plot last month to blow up cargo planes en route to the United States, the TSA has instituted a new type of pat-down of passengers, a move that’s part of a general tightening of air security. If a full-body scanning machine shows something strange or a passenger declines to go through the machine – which is now in use in the Washington region’s three major airports – an officer will perform a more personal search.

The examinations routinely involve the touching of breasts and genitals, invasive searches designed to find weapons and suspicious items. The searches, performed by TSA security officers of the same sex as the passenger, entail a sliding hand motion on parts of the body where a lighter touch was used before, aviation security analysts say. The areas of the body that are being touched haven’t changed.

“There’s nothing punitive about it; it just makes good security sense,” the TSA said via its blog. “And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we’ve found during pat-downs speak to this.”

The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold an oversight hearing on the Transportation Security Administration on November 17, 2010. Opposition to the body scanner program is growing in the meantime. The Libertarian Party, the American Pilots Association, Airline CEOs, flyers rights organizations, religious groups, and others are calling for an end to invasive searches at airports. A National Opt-Out Day is scheduled for November 24.

Amitai Etzioni is defending body scanners.

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