The TSA’s newly reformed Aviation Security Advisory Committee met on a December 15th phone call, and I attended the meeting and spoke as a member of the public. Although this body nominally represents both the aviation industry and the public interest in aviation security, the composition of the membership demonstrates a strong tilt toward the industry.
There are no airline passenger advocates or TSA critics on the panel; and the only non-industry representatives are Glenn Johnson from the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 and Rosemary Dillard of the National Air Disaster Alliance. Air disasters are, thankfully, extraordinarily rare events, so failing to include representation for any passengers other than those affected by the aforementioned rare events is a telling exclusion.
The TSA’s Designated Federal Officer Dean Walter convened the meeting. TSA Administrator John Pistole addressed the group, giving a three-minute canned statement about risk-based security initiatives and the vital role that advisory committees play in TSA policy. He then showed the committee precisely how concerned he was about their input by hanging up the phone and leaving the committee to proceed without him.
TSA employee Paul Leyh described the TSA’s risk-based security initiatives, including PreCheck and Known Crewmember programs, and stated that randomness and built-in unpredictability are essential in all of these. He claimed, “The best way to optimize screening is to focus on technology,” but didn’t specify which technologies he was referring to.
He did make one revealing comment: “If the passengers won’t accept a certain technology, it does no good.” Again it’s not clear what Leyh was referring to, but it may be that the TSA believes passengers have accepted the technologies TSA has employed to date.
TSA employee Kerwin Wilson discussed the proposed Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) and stated that the original plan was being revised in response to over 7,400 negative comments submitted during the public comment period. He reported that when an updated version of LASP becomes available, it will be submitted for a second round of public comment.
At no time did the committee discuss the TSA’s illegal decision to institute the full body scanner program without conducting a public notice and comment period. This omission was glaring, particularly since the LASP proposal has been withdrawn for reconsideration after overwhelmingly negative public comments. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals ordered TSA to conduct a public notice and comment period on the full body scanner program last July, in a partial success for the Electronic Privacy Information Center which filed the lawsuit.
A handful of comments came from the members of the panel. Chris Witkowski from the Association of Flight Attendants expressed concern that flight attendants, not just pilots, should be included in the Known Crewmember program.
I was the only member of the public to speak in the open comment period. My comments characterized the TSA’s refusal to name the body parts touched in an “enhanced patdown” as denying the passenger an opportunity to consent to or decline that procedure. I also described how trivial it is to avoid body scanners by flying from airports that don’t use them, which rules out the possibility that a body scanner could present even the slightest obstacle to a potential attacker.
I called on the TSA to stop telling passengers that they cannot refuse airport searches, because settled law in U.S. v. Davis holds that “airport screening searches of the persons and immediate possessions of potential passengers for weapons and explosives are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment provided each prospective boarder retains the right to leave rather than submit to the search.”
Finally, I noted that I’ve been driving long distances to avoid the TSA. This places me at greater risk of death, because driving is a far more dangerous mode of transport than flying, so it is certain that the TSA’s abuses are literally killing travelers.
When I finished speaking, silence came over the telephone line. A long silence, and then 30 people charged with advising the TSA decided to ignore my every word, to pretend that I did not matter and that my concerns did not matter, to pretend that rubbing and manipulating the labia and breasts of women and girls is a morally upstanding thing to do. I hope that it cost them something to hear the pain of a woman sexually violated, and to decide she wasn’t worth caring about or interceding for.
It was certainly an education for me to hear this advisory board decide against advising the TSA to stop invasive patdowns and exploitative body scans. Help for passengers will not come from this group of captive TSA functionaries.