Monday, November 15, 2010

John Tyner video of TSA at San Diego International

John Tyner, a California man who elected not to be subjected to either an Backscatter X-ray scan or a full-body search (the latter which would have included allowing an official to touch his crotch), was detained by TSA officials at San Diego International Airport. The TSA officials later advised John Tyner that -- despite his having agreed to relinquish his ticket -- he faced the prospect of a $10,000 fine.

CNN covered the story -- see here.   Unfortunately, the CNN hosts discussing the story provide a distorted interpretation of the passenger's dilemma.    When John Tyner discovered that the alternative to the X-ray was a full body search, Tyner reconciled himself to the fact that he would not be allowed to board the plane.

The incident raises serious questions that deserve more than a snicker from a couple of CNN hosts:  Having agreed to relinquish his plane ticket, on what sensible grounds should John Tyner face the prospect of a hefty fine?   Do actual risks to the traveling public justify the indignities of forcing the public to endure humiliating full-body searches?  Are evasive body searches constitutional without "probable cause?"

Fortunately, we don't have to rely on smug CNN commentary.  We can read about the encounter at JohnnyEdge, John Tyner's blog, where the would-be air traveller and citizen-journalist posted thirty minutes of video.   John writes:
These events took place roughly between 5:30 and 6:30 AM, November 13th in Terminal 2 of the San Diego International Airport. I'm writing this approximately 2 1/2 hours after the events transpired, and they are correct to the best of my recollection. I will admit to being particularly fuzzy on the exact order of events when dealing with the agents after getting my ticket refunded; however, all of the events described did occur.   I had my phone recording audio and video of much of these events. It can be viewed below.
At some US airports, the alternative to a full-body pat-down is stepping into a Backscatter X-ray scanner machine.   The professed safety of Backscatter X-ray machines is questioned by some scientists.  They claim that although the overall radiation dose appears low (when it is calculated relative to the total volume of a person's body), targeted areas of the body (i.e. the skin) receive a focused dose of radiation. "While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high," wrote a group of American scientists in a Open Letter to President Obama.   Hence, travelers concerned about the risk of radiation have no choice but to submit to having some of America's lowest paid federal workers touch them anywhere.

Incidentally, an American serviceman serving in Afghanistan recently commented that TSA rules can compel American women and children to undergo a more invasive body search than an American soldier can require of Afghan women and children in near proximity to a battlefield.  

John Tyner's experience provides a wake-up call to the long-term implications of TSA security theatre.    If citizens consent to allowing government officials the right to touch any part of their bodies without "probably cause" in airports, in the future, what invasions of privacy and person will Americans not accept?   Where do they draw the line?  Is there still a line?   What--if any-- of their rights are Americans not willing to relinquish in return for the perception of greater security? 

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