20 pages of objections to the TSA’s body scanners submitted

by Sommer Gentry on June 24, 2013

Lachlan Hardy
Apologies for the length of this post, but there are so many good reasons to oppose the TSA’s nude body scanner program, and we here at TSA News would not want to neglect outlining any of them! Here’s a preview:

1. TSA’s body scanners are easily circumvented

2. TSA’s body scanners are less effective at finding weapons than walk-through metal detectors

3. TSA’s body scanners have well-publicized exploits and vulnerabilities

4. TSA’s body scanners detect anomalies that TSA has no method for resolving

5. TSA’s body scanners are humiliating and offensive, and create nude images of minor children

6. TSA’s body scanners reveal innocent but embarrassing information

7. TSA’s body scanners discriminate against the disabled, people with medical conditions, and others

8. TSA’s body scanners interfere dangerously with medical devices

9. TSA’s body scanners are not cost-effective

10. TSA’s body scanner rule is not sufficiently detailed to inform the public how scanners will be used

11. TSA’s body scanners create security vulnerabilities because they are slower than alternatives

12. TSA’s body scanners and patdowns create adversarial tension between screeners and passengers

13. TSA’s body scanners exposed passengers to carcinogenic ionizing radiation: there is no safe dose

14. TSA’s body scanners increase the rate of patdowns, many of which constitute sexual assaults

15. TSA’s body scanners cause more deaths than they prevent

1. TSA’s body scanners are easily circumvented

There are many airports and checkpoints that do not have body scanners. For example, Reagan Airport’s Terminal A and Fort Lauderdale’s Southwest terminal have no body scanners. A full list of terminals without body scanners is available online at tsastatus.net. From the Congressional Research Service’s recent report, we know this wide-open door for anyone to fly sans body-scanning will remain open: “Even at full operating capacity, not all airports and not all screening lanes will be equipped with AIT [advanced imaging technology] under TSA’s plan.” Only innocent travelers will ever be screened with body scanners – terrorists can evade it easily.

If a purported attacker feared that a body scanner would reveal his plot, he could simply choose flights from airports and terminals that don’t have body scanners installed, which is what I do when I fly. Only innocent travelers have to go through body scanners, because travelers might not be able to find a scanner-free airport to get them where they need to go. But it’s a piece of cake to gain access to the passenger compartment of a commercial plane while guaranteeing you won’t go through a body scanner. So we can be certain that the TSA’s body scanners will never and could never foil a plot.

Of course, our imaginary attacker needn’t even trouble himself to choose a scanner-free airport. Instead, he can simply travel with a child under 12 or a pet. Travelers meeting these criteria are diverted to the walk-through metal detectors (WTMDs). If any passenger can assure himself that he will be sent to a walk-through metal detectors, then WTMDs must suffice to search all passengers. A defensive chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

 

2. TSA’s body scanners are less effective at finding weapons than walk-through metal detectors

The TSA’s body scanners do not detect weapons, incendiaries, explosives, blades, or anything of the kind. Instead, body scanners detect what each passenger looks like without his clothes on. By contrast, walk-through metal detectors (WTMD) are capable of finding metal weapons; so they are in fact the superior technology compared with body scanners. It was widely reported that testers successfully brought guns through the body scanners in Dallas five times out of five tries. Those guns would have been detected by the WTMD. Some of the many concealment methods the Dallas testers could have used to bring guns through the scanners are detailed in the next section.

 

3. TSA’s body scanners have well-publicized exploits and vulnerabilities

Some of the flaws and failings of body scanners are simply self-evident: that a scanner which sees the outer surface of our bodies cannot find items between folds of skin, in one’s mouth, or in other body cavities.

Kaufman and Carlson have published a peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Homeland Security outlining another vulnerability of the scanners: that plastic explosives look like flesh to the scanner because both materials are low Z. This means that one can hide moldable explosives by fashioning them into a beer belly or other anatomically plausible shape with tapered edges.

If the item one wishes to bring through a body scanner is high Z (a metal gun, for instance), then it can be hidden from view by one’s wearing it to the side of the body. Without one’s flesh to provide contrast, metal objects will simply disappear into the background of the image.

Jonathan Corbett defeated the body scanners in this latter fashion with a sewing kit, and videotaped himself doing it. Millions of viewers have watched a how-to on sneaking metal objects past the body scanners on YouTube:  There is another video available on YouTube in which a man sets off a rather large explosion on a German television show using only the items he sneaks through a body scanner, including a detonator that he hides in his mouth.

 

4. TSA’s body scanners detect anomalies that TSA has no method for resolving

From the testimony of Fred H. Cate to U.S. House of Representatives, March 16, 2011:

But even if there were only a few “anomalies” detected by AITs, it turns out that the TSA has little ability to actually “clear” many of them. I was reminded of this just last week at Reagan Washington National Airport when the AIT discovered a loose aspirin in my shirt pocket. This anomaly called for a pat down. The agent felt the pill and said “what is this?” I said “aspirin” and he politely waved me through. It could just as easily have been potassium cyanide: neither the AIT nor the TSA agent has any process or equipment for determining the difference.

We have spent more than $2 billion installing a technology to identify “anomalies” that we cannot practically evaluate for the risk they pose. It was this inability to clear many of the false positives identified by AITs that led to the TSA’s disastrous policy begun last October of intimate, intrusive searches. The problem is that despite their intimacy, the searches did nothing to help the agent determine whether the “anomaly” was a real risk or just another false positive.

This is especially clear in the case of people with medical devices or prosthetics. As a diabetic on an insulin pump—a device the size of a pager strapped to my waist that provides life-sustaining insulin—under the TSA’s October policy, an agent would search me head to toe, including a careful pat-down of my genitals—as if somehow my genitals have become suspicious because I use an insulin pump. At the end of the search, however, the agent has no better idea than he did at the beginning whether the pump is loaded with insulin or high-tech explosives.

After two months of this policy, the TSA shifted ground and determined that insulin pumps would not require a full body search, but instead would be swabbed and the swab tested for explosive residue. A colleague of mine who works for the federal government and is also a diabetic described the indignity of recently having a TSA agent at Dulles International Airport reach inside her underwear with the swab. To what end? Are insulin pump users more likely than other travelers to secret explosives on their bodies? And what happened to the much-vaunted AIT machines that were supposed to detect the presence of such explosives? Why are we now swabbing inside travelers’ underwear as well as using AITs to peer inside, especially when there is no sign of any “anomaly” from either technique?

I have found it easier and far less intrusive to simply remove my insulin pump before being required to undergo AIT screening. (I don’t remove it before passing through a metal detector because it doesn’t trigger any alarm.) I am fortunate to have this option; most travelers with medical devices or prosthetics aren’t so lucky. But I am still left with the tiny plastic cannula in my abdomen to which the pump connects. The AIT sometimes—interestingly, not consistently—identifies this as an “anomaly.” When it does, a TSA agent pats me down, feels the sensor, and says “what is this?” I say “an insulin cannula” and the agent invariably politely waves me through. The agent has no idea, no verification, and no certainty what is actually taped to my stomach. I am “cleared” not because the agent has determined that the plastic tube poses no danger, but because there is no way a TSA agent can make any further determination.

Many travelers suffer far greater indignities due to physical searches, triggered by AIT “anomaly” detection, that reveal nothing about whether the “anomaly” poses a threat. For example, after agents finish inspecting the breasts of a woman with an implant, they have no better idea whether the implant is filled with liquid explosives or silicone. The same is true with prosthetic limbs, urostomy bags, and most other medical appliances.

This type of response to having the AIT identify something as an “anomaly” is the very definition of “security theater”—it looks like the agency is doing something, but it accomplishes nothing. The same is true with many, perhaps most, of the searches that are triggered by AIT “anomalies.” A rational person might question whether it is worth the money we are spending to identify “anomalies” if the vast majority of them (indeed, perhaps all of them) are false positives, and we lack the practical ability to follow up on many of them in any event. This is the height of ineffectiveness.

5. TSA’s body scanners are humiliating and offensive, and create nude images of minor children

In order to use a body scanner, innocent travelers must hold their hands up in a surrender position, as if these are people being mugged, or booked into a jail. All body scanners create nude images of our bodies, even the scanners that supposedly have privacy filters. After the TSA’s first batch of lies about the body scanners – in which the TSA claimed that scanners could not save or transfer images, until a FOIA lawsuit revealed documents showing that the TSA required manufacturers to build those capabilities into the scanners – the public can have no faith in the TSA’s solemn vows not to look at these naked images.

The TSA is even forcing minor children to display their naked bodies in the scanners, despite laws against creating and viewing such images. The Rutherford Institute filed suit on behalf of the parents of a 12-year-old girl who was scanned and had her nude body viewed by strangers without the parents’ knowledge or consent. No parent should ever allow strangers to create nude images of a child, but this is precisely the demand of the TSA’s body scanner program.

 

6. TSA’s body scanners reveal innocent but embarrassing information

The TSA’s charge is to find weapons, not to investigate each passenger’s anatomy to determine whether our bodies are acceptable or not. TSA body scanners have revealed intimate piercings and flagged anomalous genitalia. TSA body scanners have exposed transgender and transitional passengers, leading to further humiliation when screeners loudly and publicly demand that passengers declare themselves on the gender binary of male or female. TSA body scanners have even flagged menstruating women for extra scrutiny of their sanitary products and other people for their incontinence products. That some passengers have non-normative bodies or use sanitary products is not the slightest bit relevant to finding weapons. Investigating the private details of passengers’ bodies is deeply offensive and has zero security value.

 

7. TSA’s body scanners discriminate against the disabled, people with medical conditions, and others

In 2010, Alaska State Representative Sharon Cissna was forced to take a four-day ferry ride home after she traveled to Seattle to seek medical treatment. Cissna is a breast cancer survivor with a mastectomy, and Seattle’s body scanners singled her out for a sexually invasive patdown of her breasts. Cissna is also a survivor of childhood sexual trauma, and she bravely refused to allow strangers to touch her breasts after a previous TSA patdown re-awakened her trauma.

Consider two elements of Cissna’s experience that apply broadly: first, women with mastectomies and other people who have non-normative bodies as a result of their medical conditions will be selected for patdowns because of the body scanners. Frequent flyers with non-normative bodies will find themselves subject to weekly or daily humiliation. Another frequent flyer I know experiences twice-weekly patdowns in the Phoenix airport that she calls assaults, all because she is physically unable to hold her arms above her head as the body scanner requires.

Second, these patdowns are more frequently traumatic to female passengers, because a higher proportion of women than men have experienced sexual trauma. A huge part of recovering from sexual trauma is to regain one’s autonomy and authority over one’s body. To have that control over one’s intimate body parts wrested away, in public or in a shameful back room, by a stranger in a threatening uniform, must be a perfect storm to re-activate traumatic memories in those with sexual trauma and PTSD.

Travelers who are transgender or who can’t be visually sorted into a gender binary are also discriminated against by the body scanners. Why must body scanners require that complete strangers guess whether each traveler is “Male/Female”? Sex and gender encompass far more varieties than these, and body scanners create predictable distress about this issue that would never happen with walk-through metal-detectors. Requiring that all passenger bodies fit neatly into two categories has nothing to do with security.

It is true that for a select group of passengers, namely those with medical metal, the body scanners may be less intrusive than walk-through metal detectors. Body scanners sometimes allow passengers with metal hips or joints to avoid the horrifying experience of a TSA patdown. For this reason, I encourage the TSA to maintain body scanners but allow passengers to choose for themselves between scanners and walk-through metal-detectors. Again, since any traveler can guarantee by changing his routing that he will board a plane after using only a walk-through metal detector, there is no defensible reason to not allow all passengers to choose — and not be punished for so choosing.

8. TSA’s body scanners interfere dangerously with medical devices

Sixteen-year-old Savannah Barry was forced to replace her $10,000 insulin pump after TSA screeners in Denver, Colorado ignored her request to opt-out and instead directed her repeatedly into a body scanner. The TSA claims that passengers have the right to opt out of body scanners, but in practice many passengers are cajoled, tricked, or intimidated into the machines anyway.

 

9. TSA’s body scanners are not cost-effective

The TSA’s Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) details only the costs of the body scanner program to the TSA; it entirely neglects the costs imposed on everyone else. Passengers bear the brunt of the cost in increased waiting time: if body scanners cause an average of three minutes’ delay to 700 million or so passengers, then they cost the American public roughly 1 billion dollars in wasted productivity per year. Passengers also incur increased risk of death if body scanners divert them to less-safe travel modes such as driving.

Importantly, the TSA’s NPRM fails to quantify the decrease in risk of terrorist attack that it expects body scanners will achieve. What is the risk of a successful terrorist attack on an airliner with and without body scanners? Quantifying risk is an essential ingredient of cost-benefit analysis, which the TSA and DHS have repeatedly failed to apply. Consider the comments of the Committee to review the Department of Homeland Security’s approach to risk analysis; National Research Council, National Academies Press, 2010:

“With the exception of risk analysis for natural disaster preparedness, the committee did not find any DHS risk analysis capabilities and methods that are yet adequate for supporting DHS decision making. Moreover, it is not yet clear that DHS is ona trajectory for development of methods and capability that is sufficient to ensure reliable risk analyses other than for natural disasters. (2_3, 80)

Little effective attention was paid to the features of the risk problem that are fundamental. (11)

Assessment of individual components of risk and their integration into a measure of risk is seriously deficient and is in need of major revision. (11)

Until these deficiencies are improved, only low confidence should be placed in most of the risk analyses conducted by DHS. (11, 98)”

In their excellent book Terror, Security, and Money, John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart examine unacceptable, tolerable, and acceptable risk quantification. Across a wide swath of agencies and governments, risks lower than about 1 in 700,000 down to maybe 1 in 1,000,000 are generally considered to require no further action or regulation. The risk of death by terrorism in the U.S. is lower than 1 in 3.5 million. In fact, death by furniture is more likely than death by terrorism.

Even under the most generous assumptions about the effectiveness of body scanners, Mueller and Stewart have shown in a peer-reviewed publication that body scanners are far too expensive to justify spending public safety dollars on them. Many more lives could be saved with those dollars by improving levees, building tornado shelters, installing carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, upgrading fire-fighting equipment, et cetera.

 

10. TSA’s body scanner rule is not sufficiently detailed to inform the public how scanners will be used

Airline passengers are required to consent to a TSA search. However, both before and after the proposed rule-making, passengers have been given almost no information about what search will be conducted. Surely the most basic element of consent is to know what one is consenting to. The proposed rule implies that passengers who submit to a body scanner will not be touched, but this is belied by the huge number of people who endure a manual search after passing through a body scanner. Under what conditions will passengers who use body scanners be touched? Will screeners lay their hands on our genitalia through our clothing if the body scanner shows an alarm? What is the alternative search procedure if passengers opt out of the body scanners? Will screeners lay their hands on our genitalia through our clothing if we opt out?

 

11. TSA’s body scanners create security vulnerabilities because they are slower than alternatives

The TSA’s body scanners slow passenger throughput at the checkpoint, so using them will certainly make passengers less safe. A recent RAND study of airport vulnerabilities at LAX concluded that, “small, portable explosives have been the most likely and most lethal means of attacks at airports” and that “The greatest risks for casualties for most types of attacks are in the high-density areas passengers encounter before reaching the security checkpoint, particularly lines for ticketing and for passing the security checkpoint.” Thus, body scanners are not only ineffective, they are actually dangerous because they leave travelers vulnerable as they wait in long lines.

 

12. TSA’s body scanners and patdowns create adversarial tension between screeners and passengers

Predictably, forcing people who are not suspects in any crime to expose their nude bodies to strangers and/or submit to sexually degrading physical examinations makes victims angry. The TSA’s body scanners have created anger and fear that poisons the relationship between the public and TSA. TSA screeners report being regularly excoriated and verbally abused by passengers since the body scanners and patdowns hit the news in November 2010. The TSA has made itself the enemy with its offensive actions, which means that it can only blame itself for a lack of cooperation from travelers.

This adversarial atmosphere damages our security. The TSA is forever claiming that passengers are its partners, but I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I will never, ever, be the partner of an agency that sexually humiliates people like this. John Pistole wants to put his hands down our pants. I want to stop him. John Pistole wants to take naked pictures of kids. I want to stop him. I am not now and I never will be “partners” with the TSA. Body scanners have made me and millions of others into the opponents of the TSA.

 

13. TSA’s body scanners exposed passengers to carcinogenic ionizing radiation:  there is no safe dose

The backscatter X-ray scanners produced by Rapiscan dosed millions of airline passengers with carcinogenic radiation. There is no safe dose of X-ray radiation; it is a standard medical dictum that ionizing radiation dose should be kept “as low as reasonably achievable.” Exposing passengers to a known carcinogen for no medical benefit was unconscionable. The Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, National Research Council, National Academies, said after a comprehensive review of the available data that: “the risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans.” Further, “The committee has concluded that there is no compelling evidence to indicate a dose threshold below which the risk of tumor induction is zero.”

While it is true that Rapiscan backscatter X-ray machines have been removed from airports at present, there is nothing in the TSA’s proposed rule that prevents ionizing radiation from being used in the future, just as it had been used up until May of 2013.

 

14. TSA’s body scanners increase the rate of patdowns, many of which constitute sexual assaults

The TSA’s body scanners generate excuses for the TSA to conduct many more patdowns than would happen at a checkpoint without body scanners. In a German airport that tested body scanners with generic body outline privacy filters, the false positive rate was reported to be 54%. False positives might be caused by sweat, sequins, fasteners, seams, zippers, pockets, metallic threads, underwire, embroidery; in short, by anything and everything.

The TSA refuses to reveal its body scanner false positive rate, but casual observation suggests that screeners send a large proportion of passengers to a secondary patdown because of body scanner false alarms that would not have occurred with a walk-through metal detector. Further, many passengers are subjected to “enhanced” patdowns because these passengers must opt out of the body scanners to protect their medical devices or because they cannot stand unassisted with their arms above their heads.

The TSA’s proposed rule is deliberately misleading about the patdown procedures that are part and parcel of the body scanner program. The TSA states that “Advanced Imaging Technology currently provides the best opportunity to detect metallic and non-metallic threats concealed on the body under clothing without physical contact.” It is clear, however, from passenger reports that at least some people are subjected to a full “enhanced” patdown even after they submit to the body scanner, perhaps because they triggered more than five yellow-box alarms. Thus, any objections to the TSA’s patdowns must be viewed as objections to the TSA’s body scanner program.

The TSA has repeatedly refused to clarify whether screeners intend to make contact with passengers’ genitalia in an “enhanced” patdown, but thousands of passengers have reported that screeners touched, rubbed, or hit their testicles, penis, vulva, or anus during these patdowns. Forcing sexual contact on an unwilling participant through coercion constitutes sexual assault. I fear I cannot singlehandedly impress upon you the gravity of this concern, so I will let the voices of some of the victims speak.

“… he was so rough he injured my testicles and I was nauseated for hours. Please instruct your employees to be gentle with the old vet.”

“The security agent aggressively ran the side of his hand upward into my testicles 4 times during the patdown. This action caused me physical pain each time. This was the first time I had been assaulted in this manner. The result of this action also caused mental anguish. When I complained to the policeman at the screening facility I was briskly informed that this was a federal government matter and that I ‘have no rights here.’”

“I am required to turn down the waistband so the agent can pat my penis. Pretty degrading, you might agree, but nothing compared to my wife’s experience.”

“She felt all the way up and down inside my legs through an ankle-length dress. I felt violated and moved away, to which she responded, ‘I’m not done yet!’  This so shook me, an 82-year-old virgin, that I sat in the area ½ hour to calm down. ”

“We were made to stand spread-eagled . . . and the officers did not slide their hands. Rather they squeezed in a way that felt assaultive and demeaning.”

“She used the word ‘brutal’ to describe her patdown.”

“. . . during a new patdown I received I had to ask the screener to remove his finger from my anus. I am humiliated for the fact that I had to make this request of the screener and for the fact that this happened in public.”

“Rather than perform a traditional patdown, my breasts, buttocks, and genitals were stroked and the agent placed her hands inside my pants and stroked my stomach and torso. I felt that this was sexually violating.”

“I can honestly say that day was one of the worst days of my life. I was chosen for the new patdown procedure, which is now referred to in my house as ‘assault and battery’.”

“This is a protest against the trauma I suffered from a sexually perverted woman employed by our federal government in the Spokane, Washington, airport.”

“His touch was firm enough that he felt the shape of my legs. This includes feeling around my crotch enough that he could clearly feel my testicles through my jeans. I couldn’t believe it. But the worst was yet to come. He then walked behind me, pulled my shirt tail out of my pants and then stuck his hands down my pants. He walked all the way around my body with his hands in my underwear. I’ve never been so humiliated in my whole life.”

“During the patdown the TSA employee gave such a severe chop to my groin that it not only hurt, but knocked me off balance.”

“He poked my penis and my testicles very hard, I was very much in pain from this type of inspection which has never been performed on me at any airport that I have ever been to. After he poked my private parts very hard, he proceeded to use the metal detector wand on my buttocks, he poked and stuck his wand into my rectum very hard and again I was very much in pain. I worked in a federal prison for 20 years and not even inmates were treated like I was treated by this security officer at the Phoenix, Arizona airport.“

“To say the least, the experience was both intimidating and humiliating. The TSA agent only said – you are not going to avoid the body scan or a patdown. I began to freak out and started to cry. Immediately I was surrounded by three TSA agents, all who began yelling at me. They continued to harass me and say, ‘you are going through the scanner.’ Suddenly another TSA agent was on her knees giving me a full patdown (including legs, private areas, etc.) That should have been the end; however, I was pushed into the scanner.”

“The experience is beyond demeaning. Picture the nastiest, surliest, grossest, most belligerent DMV  employee you’ve ever encountered and now picture that this person has the right to put their nasty, vile, gross hands all over you. And be verbally abusive as well. The thug who groped me whispered something in her compatriot’s ear and they both apparently had a good laugh at my distress.”

“I said that I had a torn right shoulder rotator cuff. He then asked me to hold my arms up. I said I couldn’t. He said that I had to anyway. The patdown took 3 to 5 minutes and I finally lowered my shoulder as the perspiration rolled off my forehead from the pain. Now I am overweight, say 250 pounds. I had no belt on and the officer after first doing my front, sides top and back, went back to the front of my waist and grabbed my fat. He said, ‘what do you have in here?’ I said, it’s me, it’s my skin. Then the three of them chuckled, laughed, and let me go to my gate. I am still shaking when I think about how I was treated! I am barely sleeping . . . everytime I fall asleep I wake up sweating and shaking. I don’t know if I will ever fly again.”

“I then had a patdown so abusively rough that it left bruising on my left arm. This treatment had nothing to do with safety – it had to do with power and unquestionable authority of these TSA individuals.“

“Is a TSA agent allowed to spread my labia in her inspection? Why is a TSA agent allowed to put so much pressure on my breasts that she leaves bruises? Is this standard procedure? When I ask the TSA agent to touch her own body where she intends to touch mine, so I can get a true and honest understanding of her techniques – why is she allowed to refuse providing such explicit information?”“The way I was treated made me never want to fly again. In the future I will just make the 8 hours to Denver by car. It will certainly be easier and less demeaning. I was treated like a criminal, separated from my 13yo son, taken to a separate room so that I could have the demeaning patdown that for some reason takes three men to perform. I don’t care all that much about a patdown for me, because I’m used to taking abuse from uneducated people in my line of work. I will say, however, that if they tried to treat my son that way I would have punched the guy.
I expect you not to repond to, or even to see, this letter. Please know that I would much rather have no response than a patronizing response about how everybody is doing their best. If this is your best, woe is us.”

“It was one of the worst experiences of my life. I never want to be subjected to this kind of physical, mental, and emotional abuse again, especially anywhere in the United States of America.”

“Then the search became much worse. The TSA agent felt my breasts and buttocks in a very thorough manner, much more invasive than in the past. She then lifted my blouse and took two fingers from each hand and stretched the elastic of my slacks and underpants by going completely around my waist inside my clothes, looking down into my underwear. Next she felt my legs and thighs over my slacks and ended this intrusive search by grabbing my groin. I dread the thought of having to go through TSA again, and I do not think that as an American I should feel this way.”

“My husband is so undone by the thought of me or my daughter being groped in this manner that he is strongly encouraging me not to fly. I do not believe that scanning or groping me and other passengers in this invasive, humiliating, and degrading fashion will result in a higher level of safety.”

“I am still fuming over my experience yesterday afternoon at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport. “

“As a result of these intrusive and offensive body searches, [my wife] is reluctant to travel anywhere.”

“As I was leaving the pat down (sexual assault) area I conversed with two older women. Both had knee replacements. The eldest (in her late 70’s I would guess) was in tears. She could hardly walk and was also horrified. She had a dress on and couldn’t believe where the TSA person had stuck her hands.  This has got to STOP‼ I find this procedure mortifying, discriminatory, and a total violation of basic human rights. All any of us were doing was flying to see grandchildren or other relatives. We should NEVER be subjected to this kind of treatment. This just makes the terrorists the winners in this ugly battle. Please do everything possible to stop this physical assault of anyone who has to fly. Please!”

“As an armed posseman of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office I am trained and certified in searching prisoners, including patdowns. Before this training I was required to pass a strict police background check on many levels. I fly a lot and I have personally watched people being felt up, not patted in any way, but full open hand rubbing of crotch and legs, in public, by people that from my considered perspective would never make it to the police force.”

“On November 2nd, flying out of Riverton I was subjected to the new, more invasive patdown by a TSA agent. This now includes shoving a hand between my legs, pushing it up into my crotch, and grabbing and squeezing my inside thigh. This was repeated four times – on each leg – from front and back. That is 4 shoves, 4 pushes, 4 squeezes. I am not overly modest – but I was greatly offended and felt violated. This is unacceptable treatment.”

“I strenuously object to the complete body groping so-called patdowns to which I am now being subjected. They are intrusive, degrading, and humiliating. “

“I was appalled, embarrassed, and admittedly, afraid. I did not want her or anyone else to touch me like that, but what choice did I have? The TSA agent who searched [my friend] was very intrusive. The TSA agent ran her hands all over her body and used enough force in touching her vaginal area to separate the folds of her skin. I was mortified and deeply hurt with her. Had this happened on a bus we would be calling the police for protection and assistance.”

“She said that the screening would be more invasive. I was unclear what that meant. I was not aware the TSA had changed the nature of secondary security screenings. The agent touched me twice in my groin area and frankly, I was shocked! I was not expecting her to touch me inappropriately. Having a private screening is not the point of my letter. I don’t want anyone touching me between my legs. I consider this screening a sexual violation. I consider the space between my legs PRIVATE!”

“This past week I have been made to feel like a common criminal by our nation. My crime: having a medical implant (artificial metal knee) and then traveling by air within our nation. Until today the procedure was to hold a hand-held scanning device and then pat-down the areas where there was a signal. I knew the change was coming, but until I experienced it, I did not realize how violated I would feel.”

“I felt violated. If any other person had done this to me it would constitute sexual assault. We tell our children to tell people to stop if they are touched inappropriately, but there was nothing I could do about this. If I did not do the patdown they would not let me on the plane. I felt like a criminal.”

“On November 23rd, 2010,  I endured the most humiliating event of my life at the hands of TSA agents at a security checkpoint at the Raleigh-Durham airport. My patdown ended with a uniformed TSA agent sticking his hand inside the waistband of my underwear. I can’t believe that such invasive, dehumanizing treatment is sanctioned by the TSA or that it is even legal.”

“This kind of mandated inspection where a federal agent manipulates my breasts and feels my crotch is not acceptable in a free society. I must go through a screening and patdown procedure every time I fly, and my job requires me to fly 2 to 4 times per week.”

“This new strategy is creepy, disgusting, and from my perspective, pointless. Therefore I am interested in knowing about your new method of keeping our country safe by touching my groin area four times.”

“The fact that we are doing this to our children (over 12 is still a child) is absolutely horrendous to me. After years of teaching our children your body is yours, no one can touch your private areas without your permission, we are now going to stand by while a perfect stranger in an airport touches our children inappropriately?! It brings me to tears when I think of all the children that have already been the victims of abuse being put through this. How do people sleep at night knowing this? I feel less safe with these measures in place.”

“It was disgusting and abusive. If I had been violated in this manner on a Chicago street I could have called the police and asked them to arrest the person. The assault of the traveling public needs to stop.”

“My 17-year-old daughter was told that she needed to submit to a full patdown after being told ‘it did not scan’. Being 17, she had no idea what that meant or how intense a detailed full body patdown can be.  Even when she began to cry, the TSA agent continued the patdown. My daughter felt molested and violated and as a parent I was helpless to stop this violation. As a parent, I have serious concerns that such a search could be conducted on a minor. This search crossed the line.”

“I just thank God my six-year-old daughter was not with me because I believe she would have been truly frightened to see her mother being treated in such a manner. Seriously, it was enough to make me not want to fly anymore.”

“What followed was nothing short of sexual assault in public. I retired from the Air Force Reserve as an officer in 1994. My broken body is all that I have left. Simply because I was severely disabled by osteoarthritis, TSA now expects me to willingly submit to sexual assault by a complete stranger each and every day I go to work for the rest of my life.”

“First the coerced physical contact in public and then the deliberate lies contribute to a sense of abuse. In another context this would be fourth degree sexual assault. TSA’s behavior makes us feel less safe, not more safe.”

“I was not aware of the new patdown regulation and was quite startled when the TSA female was prodding my breast. I was sickened by the way the person was touching me. I was extremely devastated when she told me to spread my legs and put my right foot forward as she had to run her hands up my leg. I informed her not to touch my private area and she informed me that she had to run her hands over my genital area. I was furious.”

“I was already hysterical and crying when she began her examination. Once again my breasts, my inner thigh, brushing against my virginal area, and the inside of my waistline were physically examined. A pad was wiped across my hands to screen for explosives! This TSA agent also implored me not to cry and tried to explain why it was necessary and that she didn’t like doing it either. What possible difference would it make to her if I cry? Who is she to tell me how to feel or react as long as she got her job done? Simply because TSA agents are of the same sex when they perform the whole body patdown does not make this experience any different than if they weren’t of the same sex.”

“In my opinion I was sexually assaulted and abused at LAX and MCO airports by TSA agents. I want you to know that I was touched chest to ankle by someone other than my husband. I was examined for explosives. I was humiliated and insulted and assaulted without due cause and in my opinion against my will. Not being able to control my feelings and still crying as we boarded I thought that if I were a child this would legally be considered molestation in the first degree. As an adult with a disability it should be considered sexual abuse and a crime against persons with disabilities. I am a 63-year-old woman. I have never been arrested or been to court. I have no record of ever being a person of interest to anybody. I am white, I am American, I am a United States citizen and I am angry!”

“After telling the TSA agent that my breast were extremely tender and PLEASE don’t hurt me, she turned sadistic and was so rough with me that I involuntarily screamed out in pain and my tears were immediate. I felt like I had been sexually assaulted. I hope your daughters or wife would never have to go through what I went through. I have to fly on the first of December and I am terrified, so yes, the terrorist have won. I would rather die than be molested again and yes, I am a victim of sexual assault.”

“While reading this story, I became appalled at the very notion that adults who act as an aviation security and screening force (TSA officials) would consider the option to convince a child and their parents/guardians that having a stranger in a  uniform (TSA officers) touching the child in otherwise forbidden places, was a ‘game’.

“This is the most repulsive thing I have ever read! I am shocked that this is what we’ve come to. Furthermore, the article claims that sex abuse victims may receive an alternate screening process. I would like to know just how TSA administrator John Pistole will go about making changes to TSA screening rules for victims of sex abuse. That is, will victims of sex abuse be made to preregister for screening or will they have an exclusive TSA Sex Abuse Victim Elective Screening (a.k.a. ‘SAVES’) I.D. Card?

“Additionally, I was able to find an on-camera interview with TSA Regional Director, James Marchand, where Mr. Marchand suggests ‘You try to make it as best you can for that child to come through. You ask the child to put their arms up in some way, and if you can come up with some kind of game that you’re trying to play with the child, then it makes it a lot easier.’ Before this statement, the news reporter’s own three-year-old daughter was recorded on camera screaming and crying at the TSA officer ’Stop touching me!’ all the while the mother restraining the child into the TSA officer’s submission. Children of all people know when behavior is inappropriate, even if they do not understand what the behavior is.

“Is this really who we are? Is this the present and future that my family and my child have to look forward to?”

“In early October, I became a victim of an ‘enhanced patdown’. It was one of the most degrading, humiliating, repulsive experiences of my nearly 70 years. The prior pat down process was degrading enough, but now, to have one’s testicles weighed by the hand of male stranger while standing in public goes beyond reasonable into the realm of Kafka-esque absurdity. I choose not to put myself in this position, and thus not to fly.”

“I walked through the scanner without buzzers or incident. I then apparently was randomly chosen for humiliation.

“I objected verbally to the invasion of my privacy and excessive search of my body without any stated cause or reason. Toward the finish of the patdown, when the rep stated that she was going to feel my breasts, I raised my shirt revealing a sports top, making it visually clear that there was nothing concealed in my breasts. [The screener] began to holler at me, and called in his reinforcements. Immediately two police officers and three or four more TSA employees appeared. I was told I would be arrested for disorderly conduct. The TSA supervisor threatened to escort me out of the airport causing me to miss my flight home.

“Another TSA employee was brought over to give me a second patdown. [The screener] searched my crotch, not once, not twice, but three times. The patdown was repetitive of the first patdown and then repetitive of itself as [the screener] invaded my body already searched with special repetitive attention to groping my crotch and fondling my breasts. [The screener] then demanded that I lift my shirt, despite the fact that the police had just told me that lifting my shirt was disorderly conduct, after which she put her hands down my jeans.

“Hostility overflowed and made it clear that I was being punished for the audacity to object to government employees feeling and groping my body. The screening manager exuded self-importance, clearly an under-trained man with little grasp of his real responsibilities and the purpose of the TSA. He was determined to see me grovel.”

“To say the least, I felt that I was sexually assaulted by the procedure. The procedure included a complete wipedown of all parts of my body including shoulders, arm, chest, back, torso, buttocks, crotch, thighs, and calves. While the ‘patdown’ historically involved agents using the backs of their hands, the enhanced procedure allows the agent to use the palms of their hands and fingers to wipe down almost all areas of my body. This wipedown included having the agent, while standing behind me, sliding the palms of her hands down and around my buttocks and between my thighs and sliding her fingers over my crotch. The agent then came around the front of my body and slid the palms of her hands up my legs and her fingers over my crotch. As if offering some sense of decency, the agent slid the back of her hands all around my breasts. The new procedure also included the agent pulling the waistline of my garment away from my body and waching down into my garment while sliding their hands around my complete waist. Completely mortified by the experience, I was finally allowed to gather my belongings that had sat in an open, unsecure area during the exam, and the agent sent me on my way.

“When I returned through Chicago on November 11, 2010, I was again pulled out of line. By this time I vocally objected to having my genitals touched in full view of passengers. Only after repeatedly asking that the agent not touch my genitals was the manager called over to deal with the situation. As she lectured me about the fact that the new enhanced procedures were standard policy and while the agent tried to continue the exam, a crowd gathered to watch. The reactions from the crowd ranged from outright laughter to shocked faces as the agent reached up my leg and slid her hands and fingers across my crotch. The exam continued in full view of passengers without consideration of my objections. Only after the crowd became large enough to impede the flow of traffic did the manager’s boss have the manager remove me to a private screening area. Only then did the agent or manager give any consideration to my personal belongings, which sat unattended on the end of the table. Thankfully, a passenger had seen what was going on and was kind enough to gather them into a pile before moving on.

“What ensued was even more appalling that I imagined. I was made to walk through the security area in my bare feet until I objected and asked for my shoes, which the agent and manager initially denied. Once in the private area, the agent in consultation with the manager conducted the enhanced pat down procedure as if I did not exist.

“At no point would the agent speak to me or acknowledge my objection; in addition, the manager continually dismissed any concerns I raised about the new procedures, explaining that their staff is ‘professionally trained’ to conduct such procedures. She even stated that they did not touch passengers’ genitals, but rather their ‘groin’, and explained that the procedure requires them to slide their hands up a passenger’s thigh until they feel resistance and then examine the area. She also stated that if I was uncomfortable having my clothes touched, I could disrobe. With that she offered me a sheet of paper — the type offered in a doctor’s exam room — to wear, if I preferred. In addition, the manager told me that I would not be allowed to board my plane, if I did not comply with the exam procedures. When I responded that I did not like being threatened, she replied that it was not a threat but merely information as to what I could expect if I did not comply.

“When my children were young I repeatedly told them that no one has a right to touch the private parts of their bodies. As a woman I am well aware of when someone’s touch crosses acceptable boundaries. I am at a loss to understand why the TSA believes they have a right to violate my body in the name of security or what leads them to believe that by subjecting me to a demoralizing examination the skies are suddenly safer.”

“I was subjected to the hand screen, euphemistically called a patdown when in practice there is no ‘patting’ going on at all. It is not possible for a hand screener to find an explosive on my body by putting her hands on my vagina, but that is exactly what she did. The buttocks, back, and breast explorations were bad enough but the invasion of my vaginal area caused me to have a traumatic reaction that lasted for days. It was no consolation that the screener was the same gender that I am. You cannot possibly believe that this is going to solve whatever the cause for this invasive handling of the inside of a traveler’s thighs to ‘where the legs meet the trunk.’ This must be stopped.”

“But their pat down on me was up and down my pant legs, torso, arms, shoulders, and testicles felt, I am 78 yrs old. My wife, 76 yrs old, was patted down inside her bra upper and lower, they used the back of their hands, then they went under her panties and reached all the way down in front and back. On the outside she was patted all around arms and legs, back and front, but two thumbs pressed up toward and into her labia — uncalled for. I feel we were wrongly checked over and too much — personally, for me and especially my wife having hands inside her bra and panties and thumbs up her private area.

“We have joined the Tea Party and trust me, we are telling all the people we meet how we were treated. We will NEVER fly again.”

In the letters from victims of TSA patdowns, strong patterns emerge. Nearly every letter uses one of these turns of phrase: demeaning, degrading, dehumanizing, humiliating, violated, traumatized, sexually assaulted. How did being coerced into letting TSA employees handle their genitals affect the victims? Many people cried and dissolved into shaking or nausea:

“I stood there holding my baby in shock. I did not move for almost a minute. I stood there, an American citizen, a mom traveling with a baby with special needs formula, sexually assaulted by a government official. I began shaking and felt completely violated, abused, and assaulted by the TSA agent. I shook for several hours, and woke up the next day shaking.”

“It wasn’t so much the 3 vertical strokes and three horizontal strokes he gave my penis (over my pants) . . . humiliating as that was . . . it was when he put his hand INSIDE my boxers, cupped my testicles then had my turn around and slid a finger down and inside my butt crack. That killed me. I’m a grown man and I was in tears.”

“It is now over a week since I endured the following incident at Denver airport and I am still in total shock and intensely sickened that a situation like this can occur at any U.S. airport. I have NEVER been treated with such lack of respect in all the many miles I have traveled here and internationally. Additionally, in my clinical practice I cannot imagine treating a patient in this manner! It was dehumanizing.

I cannot emphasize enough that I was totally, but totally, shell-shocked. Nothing like this had ever happened in my life before and I felt like I was in a totalitarian dictatorship. No rights, belongings, no personal worth, nothing. I was nauseated to the extreme and could barely think. Of course by this time my flight had departed.”

“This thorough patdown was horrifying. (Please forgive this most graphic and embarrassing description.)  She ran her hand and patted (more like groped) every part of my body, all around and over my breasts, up my legs, and literally patted every inch of my groin – front and then back.  I felt like crying, hitting her, curling up in a ball, and screaming all at once. I have never felt like I had been sexually assaulted before this incident. I was shaking and infuriated for hours.”

“They touched my genitals four times and then my breasts. I was sobbing by the end of it. I am sentenced to this violation again tomorrow and every time I fly. I am an abuse survivor and this is traumatic to require this violation. I must fly home tomorrow and I don’t know how I’ll get through it.”

“I have a history of physical as well as sexual abuse, and I experienced the rough touching as violating. My PTSD kicked in and I began to cry. I was asked again if I would like a private screening but to a person who has been violated, there is less security in a private area than being in a public area. By now there were 4-5 TSA workers gathered around me and focusing the attention of other travelers on me. I again began to cry and shake.

“I am a strong person. I know all the coping techniques for handling a trauma-inducing situation and my techniques failed me. I want to be free to travel by air and enjoy my professional as well as personal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Others assaulted by the TSA reported sleep disturbances, nightmares, and flashbacks to the experience:

“I spent many a sleepless night since this experience wondering what I did wrong to deserve this type of treatment by my government.”

“On November 2, 2010 I arrived at SeaTac airport where, unbeknownst to me, the intrusive patdown protocol had been instituted. I really could not have imagined that some stranger would put her hand up my legs to my groin, down my buttocks, and across my breasts that were not even encased in a bra – and all this was done with hundreds of people milling around to watch the ‘show’. My initial reaction was to scream or to use my hands to protect myself. At the gate and on the plane, out of total frustration and anger I fought back tears. For the next four days while I was attending a major international scientific meeting I had difficulty falling asleep as I relived the awful experience. I had nightmares about it and wondered if I would have to travel across the country by train to get home. The difficulty falling asleep has persisted and the process of writing this letter has only worsened the insomnia.

“I was powerless. Some strange woman was going to put her hands on my breasts and groin and I had absolutely no recourse. When I returned to Seattle I resigned from [a group] which meets in Washington DC, because I refuse to travel by air until this process is corrected.”

“She was subjected to the most intimidating and humiliating sexual molestation I have ever witnessed. As a former rape victim in college, she was forced to relive this horrific event as she was reduced to tears and trembling. Numerous women who fly daily experience similar trauma, many quietly, as our government uses these highly sexual and intrusive measures to protect us. My wife’s horrific experience has caused this million-mile flyer subsequent nightmares, sleeplessness, and a genuine fear of flying.”

Still others described ongoing emotional symptoms: powerlessness, rage, fear, and depression:

“The further humiliation and violation of the patdown is more than I can tolerate. I wish to make a formal complaint of sexual abuse and harassment. No one should have to endure having their body felt up three times in a 30-day period. I feel violated and depressed and disconsolate about what has happened to me and I am very fearful about what I will endure when I travel again. What can I do to be completely assured that no TSA person will put their hands on my body? I can not stress enough to you how outraged and upset I am. I think that if another TSA person touches me again, I may strike them.”

“The patdown was very deliberate and invasive causing soreness in my groin area for several hours. I believe the patdown was an invasion of privacy as well as an assault, in addition to being embarrassing, physically painful, and causing me long term emotional distress. I can not physically or mentally withstand the same experience again. [Must] I discontinue flying until some sanity has returned to your organization?”

“Your agent manipulated my breasts – pushing her hand under and in between them. Then she proceeded to tell me she was going to check my inner thighs, starting at the juncture of my upper leg.  However, your agent was either so ignorant of human anatomy or simply a sexual pervert hiding behind a badge because she rammed – and I emphasize the word rammed – her hand up in between my labia until it hit my pelvic bone. Then she spread my labia and felt all the way down my leg for whatever she felt I must have been hiding. I thought at first that this was a clumsy and insensitive move on her part but she repeated the same procedure when ‘investigating’ the left-hand side of my labia and inner leg. I burst into tears at this demeaning and dehumanizing invasion of my privacy and could not think or see clearly.

“I have no choice but to fly every week, so I must subject myself to the physical, invasive torture every single time I trip the metal detector, which will be every time because of my metal implants in my hips. I love my job and desperately need the work but I may have to quit because I am becoming depressed and moody. To be honest, I feel that I am suffering from stress that is typical of victims of sexual assault. I feel hopeless and helpless. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, and I am finding it difficult to do my job. I know full well that [TSA agents] have the power and authority to deny me access to the plane that I need to board to go to work or to return to what little sanctity I have left in my home.”

As the latter letter-writer notes, the symptoms that all these victims describe are the same as those associated with sexual assault trauma – crying, shaking, and nausea in the moment; nightmares, insomnia, and lasting fear and depression as the trauma is processed. It matters little whether TSA’s search procedures are legally classified as sexual assault or not – for a certain population of people, the impact of a patdown and sexual trauma will be similar, and profound.

The excerpts above are drawn from just one sample of TSA complaint letters from the months of November and December 2010.

What’s equally heartbreaking is how worthless and pointless all of this pain has been. How many weapons has the TSA ever found in between the folds of a woman’s labia? What exactly is “safe” about strangers spreading open the skin at the entrance to a teenage girl’s vagina against her will?

TSA Administrator John Pistole has said of patdowns and body scanners, “Yeah, it’s inconvenient.”

Compare that to what the Supreme Court had to say about bodily integrity in UNION PAC. RY. CO. v. BOTSFORD, 141 U.S. 250 (1891), “The inviolability of the person is as much invaded by a compulsory stripping and exposure as by a blow. To compel any one, and especially a woman, to lay bare the body, or to submit it to the touch of a stranger, without lawful authority, is an indignity, an assault, and a trespass; and no order of process, commanding such an exposure or submission, was ever known to the common law in the administration of justice between individuals.”

15. TSA’s body scanners cause more deaths than they prevent

Because of the TSA’s body scanner program, I have shifted a large proportion of my travel to driving trips. Driving is a far more dangerous proposition than flying, but I would rather take the risk of dying than let a complete stranger create nude images of me or touch my genitals. The TSA offends people and causes diversion from the airplanes to the roads, which means that the TSA causes 15 excess road deaths for every million passengers diverted. If just 1% of the 700 million annual would-be air passengers decide to drive instead of flying because of the body scanners, then the TSA’s body scanner program will kill more than 100 people.

At least one angry passenger diagnosed the problem perfectly in his complaint letter, released recently pursuant to a FOIA request: “Do we as law-abiding citizens have no rights? . . . It seems to us that we are in more danger from Homeland Security than from terrorists.”

(Photo: Lachlan Hardy/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s Note: Your last chance to submit a comment to the Public Docket is today. Do it anonymously, do it non-anonymously, do it long, do it short, do it analytically, do it emotionally, do it with high-falutin words, do it with mono-syllabic words, just do it!

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