ACLU Announces Online Complaint Form For Airline Security Groping, Warns That Women Are Still Vulnerable

December 22, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK-As Americans head into the holiday travel rush, the American Civil Liberties Union today warned that women still remain susceptible to sexual harassment at airline security gates, and announced that it has posted an online complaint form that travelers can use to describe any abuses that take place.

“The TSA is subjecting many women to groping and sexual harassment that does not serve any real, justified security purpose,” said Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. “Women who have been subject to humiliating searches can help us fight this misguided security policy by visiting our Web site and letting us know about their experience.”

According to press accounts and complaints filed by passengers across the country with the ACLU, TSA screeners have been widely disregarding the agency’s own guidelines as well as common standards of decency. Victims are reporting:

  • Rough, rude, and humiliating manhandling and groping on, around, and between their breasts and in their crotch area
  • Not being given advance verbal warnings and explanations of pat-downs as they are conducted
  • Not being offered a private room for screening, or searches by screeners of the same sex
  • “Private” searches that are being conducted behind screens that provide no privacy
  • Demeaning sexual comments or commentary during the conduct of pat-downs
  • Retaliation for previous objections by passengers to unexpected and unwanted physical contact

“Are the insides of women’s bras really our top airline security vulnerability at a time when we are still not checking airline cargo containers or many checked bags?” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. “Instead of lurching from security measure to security measure – a strategy of ‘fighting the last war’ – the government should be carrying out a rational assessment of what the biggest security vulnerabilities are and what can be done to fix them.”

Steinhardt also pointed out that the government was failing to make use of a significant potential alternative to intrusive and uncomfortable pat-downs: Explosive Trace Detection Systems, particle detectors that, when set to look for explosives, pose no threat to the privacy or dignity of passengers.

“We know that screeners have not been properly trained in passenger relations or the TSA’s own guidelines,” said Steinhardt. “Are they getting proper security training? Can screeners using the backs of their hands – as supposedly required by the TSA’s policy – tell the difference between a woman’s breast, a padded bra or prosthetic breast, and hidden explosives? If not, it would appear that this policy has not only inflicted anguish and humiliation on innocent travelers, but has served little useful security purpose.”

The ACLU recommended that airline passengers familiarize themselves with the TSA’s guidelines (available on the ACLU’s Web site) so that they at least know how they are supposed to be treated – but also cautioned that it can be difficult to raise objections in the airport-security setting, and that the only real solution is to press for a change in this policy.

The ACLU’s online complaint form as well as other information about airport pat-down searches is online at:

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