Transportation Security Administration Screening Procedures
The debate about the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) screening procedures has reached millions of people all over the world. A growing amount of criticism has been leveled at the TSA with claims that the electronic imaging scans and “enhanced pat-downs” represent an unconstitutional violation of the individual's privacy rights. Recently leaked body scan photos caused public outrage when the images showed detailed views of passengers’ genital areas. News stories about the detrimental effects of scanner radiation, TSA officials “groping” travelers in body searches, and injuries sustained by passengers in confrontations with over-zealous TSA officials has heightened the intensity of the controversy. If you have recently traveled and believe that your privacy rights have been violated by TSA officials during airport screening procedures, contact the Law Offices of Sterns & Walker. Our experienced aviation attorneys will discuss your case with you and help you determine whether your rights have been violated.
What are the New TSA Screening Procedures?
In the fall of 2010, TSA instituted a policy to increase airport security measures in response to recent bomb threats. These new security measures incorporate new full-body scanning technology and more involved pat-down searches to find security threats. These heightened security measures began in select airports, but the number of airports installing new scanning machines is steadily increasing. The new procedures include:
- Scanning procedures: The TSA scanning process uses “millimeter wave” technology to generate a full-body scan of the passenger. Although similar to an x-ray reading, the new scan provides more a detailed image of the passenger’s body. Airline passengers will be subjected this additional level of screening if they set off a metal detector or are chosen by a TSA official. Passengers may refuse the scan, however they then must submit to a thorough pat-down procedure.
- Pat-down procedure: Unlike the previous pat-down process, the new TSA procedure is much more thorough, with more physical contact between security personnel and the passenger. TSA officials are authorized to search bodily areas such as armpits and other areas where bombs may be hidden. An official may feel non-sensitive areas with the front of their hands, such as the back, abdomen, arms and the legs from mid-thigh to ankle. Sensitive areas such as the upper torso and groin, must be searched using the back of the hand. Physical contact must be outside the clothing, and the pat-down must be conducted by TSA officials of the same gender as the passenger. If you intend to fly, you may not refuse the pat-down search. If you refuse both the scan and the search, you may be ejected from the airport, or even face fines of up to $11,000 if other passengers are delayed by your refusals.
How Might My Rights be Violated?
Many attorneys are arguing that the new TSA scanning procedures violate the constitutional privacy rights of the passenger. The privacy violations are based on the following:
- The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: The 4th Amendment protects citizens against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that some warrantless searches, also known as administrative searches, are valid. The court has stated that the screening of airline passengers is valid as long as it is “no more extensive nor intensive than necessary to detect the presence of weapons or explosives”. It can be effectively argued that the current screening procedures exceed these limits and are more extensive and intensive than necessary, and violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition on unreasonable searches.
- Sexual battery: Searches that involve the touching of the genital and breast areas can be compared to sexual assault. The district attorneys' offices of several California counties recently stated that they would bring charges against TSA officials who commit sexual crimes during searches. A pat-down becomes inappropriate and may constitute sexual assault when the following occurs:
- a search is performed by a member of the opposite sex
- a TSA official fails to wear gloves during a search
- feeling in-between a woman's breasts without a prior metal detector being set off
- feeling sensitive body areas with anything except the back of the hand
- any excessive groping or touching of sensitive areas
- a passenger is required to expose a private or sensitive body areas
- a TSA official who makes comments with an intent to embarrass a passenger
- any other procedure or touching that is sexually inappropriate
TSA Screening Procedures Attorney
Americans should not have to abandon their privacy rights when they enter an airport and be forced to undergo invasive scanning and excessive groping of the body in order to board a plane, especially when there has been no suspicion of wrongdoing. If you believe that your rights have been violated, an aviation attorney from the Law Offices of Sterns & Walker can help you determine if you have been inappropriately searched or touched. We can advise you of your rights and any legal actions that may be taken. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.