Monday, November 8, 2010

Pilots Revolt Against and Groups Protest Airport Body Scanners

See my my last post for a detailed breakdown of this issue. For today I just want to update readers on some of the latest breaking news regarding the growing use of airport body scanners (also known as "whole body imaging") as well as the recent announcement by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) that they were going to get MORE AGGRESSIVE with their pat downs of those that opt-out of walking through the body scanners.

As I have documented here in multiple posts for nearly a year now, the use of these body scanners, and the way in which authorities are treating those that refuse to go through them, is a burgeoning privacy battle that lies at the heart of our increasingly intrusive Security State.

Again, for all the information you could ever need, simply go to my prior post. For today's purposes I want to jump right into a few articles I came across today that builds on this story.

The Chicago Tribune covered the growing number of groups protesting both the use of the body scanners as well as the aggressive new pat down techniques being utilized by the TSA:

Under the new pat-down technique, TSA security officers use their palms and fingers to probe for hidden weapons and other devices. In the past, officers used the backs of their hands to brush past sensitive body parts, including breast and groin areas.

On Tuesday, TSA Administrator John Pistole told an aviation security conference in Germany that the
agency plans to have deployed about 1,000 full-body scanners at airports throughout the U.S. by the end of 2011.


The more than 300 machines now installed at 65 airports use low-level radiation to detect weapons hidden under travelers' clothes, in the process generating images that look like nude photos.

TSA screeners use the new pat-down search on passengers who opt not to go through the full-body scanners or who trigger an alarm from a metal detector. An American Civil Liberties Union spokesman called it a choice between a "virtual strip search" and a "grope."

Also last week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research group in Washington, charged that use of the scanners violates passengers' privacy. The move was part of a lawsuit filed in July against the Homeland Security Department.

The group accused TSA officers of using the scanners on all passengers regardless of levels of suspicion and of not telling passengers that they can opt not to pass through the scanner.

It goes without saying its good news anytime a major media outlet covers a story like this. If one thing is certain, our corporate media leans heavily in favor of, a cheerleader almost, of increasingly intrusive surveillance and "security" policies and efforts. For that reason it is somewhat heartening that the ACLU and EPIC appear to be getting some, all be it small, traction on this issue.

And this leads me to perhaps a more promising development: a growing number of airline pilots boycotting these scanners (though its largely for health concerns related to the low level radiation emitted from them).

An Australian news site has the scoop (

THE world's largest pilot's association has boycotted full-body scanners over health risks but passengers wishing to avoid the devices may instead be faced with "invasive" pat-down searches.

The Allied Pilots Association (APA) made the recommendation in a recent letter to its members, advising pilots to submit to the searches instead of facing the extra radiation from the scanners. The warning highlights the difficult dilemma travellers and airline staff face at some airports around the world. If they opt not to go through the scanners, they are instead subjected to a new pat-down technique - which has been likened to "foreplay".

Full-body scanners are becoming harder to avoid as they are used in an increasing number of countries around the world, for example there are 341 devices used at 67 US airports.


David Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines, is leading the charge to boycott the scanners. “It is important to note that there are "backscatter" AIT devices now being deployed that produce ionizing radiation, which could be harmful to your health,” Mr Bates said.

I share our pilots' concerns about this additional radiation exposure and plan to recommend that our pilots refrain from going through the AIT (body scanners). “We already experience significantly higher radiation exposure than most other occupations, and there is mounting evidence of higher-than-average cancer rates as a consequence."

Mr Bates says it’s less than ideal that people who wish to avoid the extra radiation are left with no choice but to undergo what he calls “demeaning” pat-down searches.

Associate Professor Jan Gebicki
, from Macquarie University, who specialises in radiation biology, says that caution should be exercised when it comes to full-body scanners. “If we cannot establish any cause-effect links between health and scanner exposure, it is safest to assume that any exposure represents a potential risk, even if it is too small to measure,” Mr Gebicki said.

US scientists warned earlier this year of the potential health dangers of the devices, saying that the radiation levels have been dangerously underestimated and could lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.

University of California biochemist David Agard warned that unlike other scanners, the radiation from these devices is delivered at low energy beam levels, with most of the dose concentrated in the skin and underlying tissue.

“While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high,” Dr Agard said. "Ionizing radiation such as the X-rays used in these scanners have the potential to induce chromosome damage, and that can lead to cancer."

David Brenner, the head of Columbia University’s Centre for Radiological Research, says the concentration on the skin – one of the most radiation-sensitive organs of the body – means the radiation dose is actually 20 times higher than the official estimate.


Civil liberties groups agree, saying the searches amount to an indecent assault in any other context and shows an alarming disregard for privacy by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

“We question the effectiveness of the methods that are being presented and the choice that travellers are being given,” Chris Ott, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said. "Travellers are being asked to choose between being scanned ‘naked’ and exposed to radiation, or getting what people are describing as just a highly invasive search by hands of their entire bodies.”

"People want to feel safe and secure when flying,” Civil Liberties Australia director Tim Vines said. “And that includes feeling safe from the wandering hands of transport officials.”

Now, clearly the science isn't, and can't be full understood on this yet. So I'm in no position to say whether there may be a danger, or there may not. But simply the fact that there could be ANY CHANCE at all that these low levels of radiation could pose a health risk only adds to the violation of privacy rights that these machines represent. What is more private than the choices we each make - and our right to make them - regarding our health? And, as I have argued, and the ACLU too, who wants to be forced to choose between being digitally strip searched by a potentially dangerous machine or an aggressive pat down (and if you look at my last post...humiliation and delay as well)?

For a whole lot more on this subject I urge you to check out my last post. And, to make your voice heard, go to EPIC's site and sign their petition. Momentum is building to put a stop to this intrusion...let's keep it going!


Anonymous said...

Besides Pilots & Flight attendants, we need to see airlines and airtravel booking agents (Travelocity, Expedia, and all the others join in protesting this heinous intrusion into private business at risk of private citizen lives!!The government is really going to ruin their business altogether as people like me will just stop flying anywhere! Take precautions, but LET's rationally use profiling as a starting point before subjecting all innocents to searches and xrays!This is UNAMERICAN!

Anonymous said...

There is one glaring fact that must be brought up, the groping only started when a bill was proposed to ensure the body scanners would not ever be used as a mandatory source of screening. Only after this bill came forward did TSA start their agressive dehumanizing, criminal molestation campaign. TSA is in a race against the clock to make sure that Chertoff's machines are accepted and mandatory. By Dehumanizing the citizen, the goal is to scare them into using these machines.