Archive | Airport Security

The TSA’s Response to the Breast Milk Incident

Last week, I posted a link to this video of one woman’s experience with airport security after asking to have her breast milk visually screened instead of x-rayed (as TSA procedures allow).  At the time, I said I’d like to hear the TSA’s side of the  incident, as the video appears to show TSA employees engaged in fairly egregious conduct.  I also contacted the TSA directly seeking their response to the incident and associated allegations.

The TSA has now responded on the TSA blog — and the response is not particularly reassuring.  Rather than provide any detail or clarification of the events on the video, the post acknowledges the woman in question was unhappy with her “screening experience” and “experienced an out of the ordinary delay,” claims the TSA investigated the incident, and reports that “the officers received refresher training for the visual inspection of breast milk.”  Really?  That’s it?  What’s offensive about the video is not the officers’ apparent lack of familiarity with the protocol for visual inspection of breast milk, but the apparent retaliation against a traveler who sought to avail herself of established TSA procedures.

If the TSA really has investigated this incident, it should, at the very least, make the investigation’s conclusions public and report on any disciplinary measures taken (or provide an explanation for the failure to discipline those involved).  If, as the TSA claims, it is official TSA policy to “strive to provide the highest level of customer service to all who pass through our security checkpoints” and its “policies and procedures focus on ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity, respect, and courtesy,” then it should be more forthcoming about incidents like this.

UPDATE: It appears the TSA needs to provide “refresher training” about checkpoint photos as well.  Although the TSA permits […]

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Did the TSA Back Down?

Here’s an interesting round-up of stories suggesting the Transportation Security Administration kept body-image scanners (and the associated aggressive pat downs) out of service over the holiday weekend. If so, it was a cynical effort to dampen growing concerns about the TSA’s new security measures — so the TSA could proclaim “Opt-Out” day had become “TSA Appreciation Day” – and one that is likely to fail. As I noted here, the body-image machines and new pat downs have only been installed in less-than-twenty percent of the airport security lanes in the country, so if their use is objectionable to many travelers, then the groundswell will return as the TSA puts the new scanners and policies in place.

Speaking of the TSA, here’s something I almost posted over the weekend, under the heading “Tyrants Securing Airports”:

There are two sides to every story, so I will be very interested to hear about the Transportation Security Administration’s side of this. Even though the events in question occurred several months ago, I can’t find anything on the TSA Blog. I did confirm, however, that breast milk is treated as a liquid medication, so it does not need to go through the x-ray machine.

This incident, which occurred well before the new machines and procedures were in place, is very troubling.  It appears to show a vindictive and callous agency whose employees abuse their power without consequence.  I say “appears” as the video is incomplete — there is no sound and the TSA allegedly withheld 30 minutes of the tape — and we have yet heard the TSA’s response.  But given how long ago this occurred, one would have thought the agency would have investigated the incident, responded to the complaint, and taken some action against the offending employees […]

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Sensible Column by Barry Rubin on Airport Security

One key point: the threats to airline security have come from abroad, and the U.S. should be focusing on flights coming from foreign countries. I had been thinking along the same lines. If nothing else, if domestic-based terrorists did want to blow up some planes, but airport security was too intense, what would stop them from bringing the bombs onto commuter trains in, say, Boston, New York, D.C., Chicago, and San Francisco? Or do we need to start patting down the genitals of all train passengers as well? And then what to we do about school assemblies, movie theaters, crowded shopping malls, sporting events, and so on? […]

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Are the New TSA Airport Scans and Pat-Downs Unconstitutional?

Orin’s colleague Jeffrey Rosen argues in today’s Washington Post there is a “strong argument” that the Transportation Security Administration’s use of full-body-image scanning devices and more thorough pat-downs are unreasonable searches and seizures prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

Although the Supreme Court hasn’t evaluated airport screening technology, lower courts have emphasized, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2007, that “a particular airport security screening search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it ‘is no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives.’ ”

In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both “minimally intrusive” and “effective” – in other words, they must be “well-tailored to protect personal privacy,” and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate “in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search.”

As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests. . . .

U.S. courts have held that “routine” searches of all travelers can be conducted at airports as long as they don’t threaten serious invasions of privacy. By contrast, “non-routine” searches, such as strip-searches or body-cavity searches, require some individualized suspicion – that is, some cause to suspect a particular traveler of wrongdoing. Neither virtual strip-searches nor intrusive pat-downs should be considered “routine,” and therefore courts should rule that neither can be used for primary screening.

Would the […]

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Greenwald v. The Nation

Glenn Greenwald rightly takes The Nation to task for publishing a a shoddy, fact-free, and reckless hit piece by Mark Ames and Yasha Levine attacking John Tyner and other critics of the Transportation Security Administration’s new airport security protocols as nothing more than fringe libertarian, Koch-funded astroturf. Tyner is the fellow who became an internet sensation for warning a TSA screener not to touch his “junk” during a pat down.  Writes Greenwald:

It may be that several vocal opponents of the new TSA process are Koch-funded — that wouldn’t surprise me — but that has absolutely nothing to do with Tyner, and The Nation, for which I have high regard, owes him an apology and retraction for the innuendo it smeared on him without a shred of evidence.  It’s difficult enough for ordinary citizens to take a principled stand like this against the Government; knowing that they’re going to be subjected to this sort of baseless hit job makes it less likely that other citizens will be willing to do so.

If The Nation plans on standing up for the TSA’s new security procedures, it better get ready.  As Robert Poole points out, the new body scanners (and pat-downs for those who refuse) are  in use at less than 20 percent of the airport security lanes in the country.   Most air travelers have yet to be subjected to the new procedures.  As a consequence, the recent groundswell of TSA criticism is likely only the beginning.  Writes Poole: “as more scanners are installed and people are forced to choose between body scans and pat-downs, the public is likely to become more infuriated with the TSA.”

UPDATE: The Nation‘s editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, apologizes to John Tyner here. […]

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