TSA Scan and Pat Down Airline Security Procedures

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What are the New TSA Procedures Regarding Scans and Pat Downs?

In the fall of 2010, the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) instituted a policy of increased airport screening security measures. This came in response to incidents involving bomb threats by airline passengers. 

Previously, TSA had only been requiring passengers to submit to metal detector tests and very brief bodily pat-downs. As a result of the threats, the TSA incorporated new full-body scanning technology and more involved pat down searches to locate bombs and other security threats. These heightened security measures have been instituted in selected airports, and will possibly be extended to other areas across the country.

Are All Airline Passengers Subjected to the New Procedures?

No, actually it is estimated that only about 10-20% of all passengers for any flight will be called for an initial scan. Also, not all airports have installed the full-body scanning machines. More information the new measures can be obtained at the TSA website.

What do the Scanning Procedures Involve?

The TSA scanning process uses “millimeter wave” technology to generate a full-body scan of the passenger, similar to an x-ray reading. If you are selected for scanning, you will be required to submit to the process. If you do not wish to submit to a scan, you can choose to “opt-out” of the procedure, in which you will have to submit to a thorough pat-down procedure (more below). 

The scan should take only a few seconds to complete, though there may be some waiting time involved as you wait for your turn. The employee who is viewing the scan will not be able to see physically see the passenger being scan, in efforts to reduce abuses of the scanning system. Also, the images generated by the machine will not be saved or transmitted. Once the scan has served its purpose, the image will be deleted.

What does the Pat-Down Security Search Involve?

If you wish to refuse the full body scan, you may do so, but you will be required to submit to a pat-down search by airport personnel. Unlike previous pat-down processes, the new procedures implemented by TSA are much more thorough. The purpose of the pat-down is to search primarily for bombs and not just hand-held weapons. Therefore, the pat down search will inevitably mean more physical contact between the security personnel and passengers.

For example, the airline employee will be authorized to search bodily areas such as armpits and other areas where bombs may be hidden. They may have to search in sensitive areas such as between folds of body fat or near the groin region. However, any physical contact must be outside the clothing, and the pat down may only be performed by employees of the same gender as the passenger. Children are subjected to a modified form of the TSA pat down procedure. 

What Should I do if My Rights have been Violated During a Pat Down?

The new airport security pat down procedures have raised privacy and profiling concerns due to the increased level of physical contact. If you feel that any of the above requirements have been violated or an inappropriate pat down search occurred, you should contact the supervisor of the employee who searched you. For example, if the employee failed to follow the guidelines regarding same-gender searches, you may have a viable complaint against the airline.

Calmly explain to the supervisor what happened during the pat down. Be sure to include details and if possible try to obtain the identification information of the employee. The supervisor will likely instruct you on how to proceed with filing a formal complaint with the airline. 

Soon after your meeting with the supervisor, while the incident is still fresh in your memory, make a personal written report of what happened that day. Include all relevant names, dates, times, locations, and a detailed, step-by-step account of the pat down. This information may be useful should a lawsuit or other type of legal action become necessary.

Can I Refuse the Pat Down Search?

Generally speaking, you may not refuse the pat down search. The only portion of the airport screening measures that can be refused is the scanning process. Again, if you refuse the scanning process, you will be required to be patted down.

Refusal of the pat down process will be taken very seriously, as the airline authorities are very strict about the new policies. If you refuse both the scan and the pat down, possible consequences could include ejection from the airport, or even government fines of up to $11,000. 

Do I need a Lawyer regarding TSA Scan and Pat Down Procedures?

You should contact a lawyer immediately if you feel that a scan or pat down has violated your personal privacy rights. An attorney will be able to help you prepare your case and determine what remedies would be appropriate for your situation. Be sure to keep all your receipts and records that are related to the incident. 

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Last Modified: 05-11-2011 02:55 PM PDT

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