In the fall of 2010, the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) instituted a policy of increased airport screening security measures. Previously, TSA had only been requiring passengers to submit to metal detector tests and potentially a brief pat down. 

As a result of increased security concerns, the TSA incorporated new full-body scanning technology to locate bombs and other security threats. These heightened security measures have been instituted in nearly every major American airport.

Will Every Airline Passenger Be Subjected to the New Procedures?

No, although it is technically correct that any passenger may be selected to be scanned. It is estimated that only about 10-20% of all passengers for any given flight will be called for a full body scan.

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. When someone is selected for scanning, they will be directed to a scanner. The scan should take only a few seconds to complete. The employee who is viewing the scan should not be able to see physically see the passenger being scanned, although several privacy issues have arisen since this technology has been implemented.

If a passenger does not wish to submit to a scan, they can choose to “opt out." After opting out, the passenger will be required to submit to a more thorough pat down procedure. 

What Does the Pat Down Security Search Involve?

If a passenger wishes to refuse the full body scan, they are well within their rights to do so. They will be required to submit to a pat down search by TSA personnel. Unlike previous pat downs, the new procedures implemented by TSA are more thorough. The purpose of the pat-down is to search primarily for bombs and other chemical agents. Therefore, the pat down search will inevitably mean more physical contact between the security personnel and passengers.

Can I Refuse a Pat Down Search?

Generally speaking, a passenger 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, a passenger will be required to be screened by a pat down.

Refusal of the pat down process will be taken very seriously, as the airline authorities are very strict about the new policies. If a passenger refuses both the scan and the pat down, the possible consequence will likely be ejection from the airport.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

These new airport security pat down procedures have raised several privacy and profiling concerns. If you feel that any of the above requirements have been violated or an inappropriate pat down search occurred, you should contact a civil liberties or government lawyer immediately. A lawyer will be able to help you prepare your case and determine what claims you have and what remedies would be appropriate for your situation.