Backlash building against TSA’s X-ray body scanners in airports

Brett Michael Dykes

It looks as though the backlash against those full-body scanners now in use in airports by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has officially begun.

On Saturday morning, Oceanside, California resident John Tyner was thrown out of San Diego International Airport for refusing to have his groin area patted down by a TSA officer, after he refused to pass through one of the X-ray scanners.

"You touch my junk and I'm going to have you arrested," Tyner told the officer, according to news reports.

The TSA agent reportedly threatened the 31-year-old with a lawsuit and a $10,000 fine if he left the airport. Tyner — who was headed for a hunting trip with his father-in-law in South Dakota — recorded his run-in with TSA officials on his cell phone and documented the incident extensively on his blog.

Responding to the incident today, the TSA reaffirmed its intention to use the controversial scanners as a vital part of the effort to ward off terrorist attacks.

"Advanced imaging technology screening is optional for all passengers," the agency said in a statement. "Passengers who opt out of [advanced imaging] screening will receive alternative screening, including a physical pat-down."

Meanwhile, TSA official John Pistole told CNN that the agency is "trying to be sensitive to individuals' issues and concerns," but insists that it's also determined to see that "everybody who gets on that flight has been properly screened." The agency's unwavering hard-line posture provoked Internet gadfly Matt Drudge — a longtime critic of increased airline-security measures — to run a screaming headline on his website that read, "THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON."

The TSA's increasingly intrusive security measures have drawn fire from privacy watchdogs, consumers and airline-industry interests. As the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman noted in a recent op-ed, the Allied Pilots Association has called the agency's manual pat-downs a "demeaning experience"; one pilot has complained that they amounted to "sexual molestation." The head of a flight attendants' union has likewise argued that the pat-downs will "dredge up some bad memories" for anyone who has ever been sexually assaulted. And The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg is calling for men to protest the measures by going "commando" under kilts when traveling through airports.

At the end of October, the scanners were in use in roughly 65 airports. The TSA says that the total number of machines in use is expected to reach close to 1,000 by the end of 2011. That could just be the best news that Amtrak has received in years.

(Photo: AP)