ScreeningYou want to do what?

Published 1:50 pm Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Federal officials need to conduct an early review of the screening methods to make sure they’re effective and not abusive. But, folks, security does have a price.

The Transportation Security Administration’s recent stepped-up screening of airline passengers and crews has created some backlash among flight personnel, consumer groups and privacy rights groups. We’re mostly for anything that will make the airways safer, but criticism that the new methods lend themselves to abuse needs to be addressed.

At issue are two new measures, full-body screening machines and a new pat-down method that is much more intrusive into private areas of the body. The TSA needs to be very careful about how these methods are used and make sure that screeners are consistent in their use and don’t abuse passengers. It also needs to make sure that these methods are effective. Concerns of flight crews that the full-body scans pose a health risk need to be addressed. The TSA and a panel of experts say the scanners are safe, but passengers and air crews deserve more assurance.

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The full-body scanners — which some liken to a virtual strip search — are intrusive but do provide an extra layer of security. And security remains paramount: Certainly, recent events have shown that there are still people interested in blowing up airplanes. Better to undergo an invasive search than to allow a terrorist on the plane. And better to go through a scanner than to participate in a boycott of such security measures, as an online campaign is urging travelers to do the day before Thanksgiving. Making a point isn’t worth risking the potential for added delay on that busy travel day.

According to TSA policy, pat-down searches will be used when a passenger sets off a metal detector, chooses not to go through the full-body scanner or when the machine detects something suspicious. The problem is that the new pat-downs are much more invasive, with screeners using the front of their hands to search, including touching breasts and genitals.

Passengers can ask for the search to be conducted in private — which will take more time — and the searches are supposed to be done by screeners of the same sex. That’s fine, but the pat-downs are still open to abuse and will be at the very least uncomfortable and very possibly upsetting for many.

The TSA’s job is to make sure passengers and air crews are safe. That’s difficult work, and it’s easy to criticize. But these new pat-downs will be going too far if they become indiscriminate and abusive.

Passengers should immediately report any instances in which they feel this may be the case. And the TSA should conduct an early and thorough review of its new methods to make sure they work and aren’t too intrusive.