Friday, November 19, 2010

Response to Congressman Petri's Tepid Criticism of Invasive TSA Airport Screening Methods

The ACLU has issued a guide for travelers to know their rights during invasive screenings at airports. Our elected leaders could take a strong leadership role in reining in what is clearly an imbalance in the privacy-security compromise we make when traveling during the "war on terror." But Congressional leaders' response is tepid at best.

Wisconsin's U.S. Representative Tom Petri and Rep. John Mica of Florida sent a letter to Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole that the ACLU of Wisconsin says isn't enough in light of the flood of complaints from travelers. We're disappointed that Congressman Tom Petri has not responded adequately to the concerns that residents of Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District and other Americans have over the Transportation Security Administration’s new screening procedures at airports.

Petri and Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who are leading Republican members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, criticized the TSA’s new pat down methods, suggested ways to improve aviation security and made warm statements about balancing security and civil liberties. Their criticism of the new pat down methods leaves current TSA policy mostly unscathed. They don’t actually address specific concerns regarding Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) after saying they have concerns. Their letter is tepid, despite reading in part, “We have concerns that TSA is not achieving the proper balance between aviation security and the privacy rights of United States citizens.”

The American Civil Liberties Union believes that the Congressmen should have included in their letter:

1). Questions regarding the effectiveness of Advanced Imaging Technology raised by Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its September 2009 testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee. The Washington Post quotes the GAO "while officials said [the scanners] performed as well as physical pat downs in operational tests, it remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident," in written testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee.

2) Evidence that scanned AIT images are stored. Basic privacy protections should include the trust passengers have in the TSA that images of their scanned bodies cannot be stored or shared.

3). Outrage that invasive pat downs fail to provide a less humiliating alternative to travelers who wish to opt out of AIT scanning.

The ACLU and ACLU of Wisconsin wish to help travelers who value security and their own privacy. Please share this website which outlines passengers' rights during airport screenings: