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Put Those X-Ray Specs Back in Your Pocket, TSA!

Chris Calabrese,
Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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June 9, 2009

Last Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives dealt a sharp blow to electronic voyeurs everywhere by placing extensive restrictions on the use of electronic body scanners as part of airport security.

Known more colloquially as virtual strip searches, these machines produce strikingly graphic images of passengers’ bodies when they are utilized as part of the airport screening process. Those images reveal not just graphic images of “naughty parts,” but also intimate medical details like colostomy bags.

That’s why were so excited that Representative Jason Chaffitz (R-Utah) and Representative Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) offered an amendment to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Authorization Act which passed the House last week. In it, they bar the use of these electronic strip searches as the primary means of screening, forbid the storage or misuse of images and make sure passengers have an alternative means of screening.

Frankly, we don’t even think this should be controversial. When body scanners were introduced, they were presented as a secondary security option, to be used in a limited fashion. TSA promised that passengers would have other alternatives. Instead TSA is now using body scanners as the primary search tool in at least six airports. The Chaffetz-Shea-Porter Amendment simply holds TSA to its original stated intention for this intrusive technology.

Since its creation, TSA has gone through a number of unpalatable screening options. First it was full body pat downs, especially of women’s breasts. Now it’s whole body imaging. We hope the Chaffetz-Shea amendment will be a spur to develop another, more privacy protective, search option.

As we move onto the Senate, we’ll be asking: shouldn’t Americans in airports have better options than stripping or groping?

If you want to email your Senator about airport security, please click here.

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