I’d really thought this subject was on the back burner and something of a closed case by this point. The TSA is taking a fresh look at how to approach pat downs of travelers who do not wish to go through the body scanners installed at all major American airports. When I first saw the headline at Fox News I immediately assumed that complaints from people who felt they had been a bit too invasively groped had led the agency to develop a new plan which was a bit less like an awkward first date. Just goes to show how wrong you can be, because it turns out to be just the opposite.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has just announced that it will be conducting a potentially more invasive physical pat-down procedure to customers who refuse to be scanned electronically.
On Monday, TSA says it decided to inform local police of the new pat-down in case a passenger calls to report “abnormal” federal frisking, Bloomberg reports, but the agency has declined to say exactly where-and how-employees will be touching air travelers…
According to the agency’s website, “TSA officers use the back of the hands for pat-downs over sensitive areas of the body. In limited cases, additional screening involving a sensitive area pat-down with the front of the hand may be needed to determine that a threat does not exist.”
So it seems that having the agent use the back of their hand when investigating, shall we say “more intimate areas” wasn’t good enough. But using the front of the hand, particularly for many female travelers, is widely considered to be even more offensive. So why the change? There doesn’t seem to be any adequate explanation offered.
To be fair, this isn’t going to apply to everyone. It sounds like some sort of fallback measure when checking out a person who has set off a potential explosive material detector. Just to play devil’s advocate here for a moment, the TSA doesn’t have very many good options in a case like that. They apparently cannot legally force you to go through the body scanner, but if their little “sniffing machine” rings up a potential explosive material what are they supposed to do? But at the same time, I’m also unsure precisely how much a trained inspector can determine by placing their hand over an area covered by clothing. All you can really do is ascertain if there is some sort of a bump indicating that something may be hidden underneath. Is the front of the hand all that much more sensitive than the back?
In the end, it all comes down to a judgment call by the person conducting the inspection. If they’re really worried that the passenger is hiding something under their clothing then it seems to me that it’s time to head into the back room for a strip search. When nothing is found, some of those passengers are no doubt going to be looking to take the case to court, but unless they can identify a pattern of abuse by a specific TSA agent there aren’t too many judges who will be receptive to the complaint.
Perhaps the TSA should be looking at a different avenue of approach entirely. After all, it’s not as if these physical checks are turning up very many terrorist to begin with. What they really might want to be asking is how so many people conducting security tests manage to make it through the screening with simulated guns and bombs without being caught.