TSA Pat Downs – Will You or Won’t You?

Anyone who travels has heard the latest news about the change in the TSA’s pat-down procedure. The new technique allows TSA airport security screeners to use their fingers and palms to feel and probe for hidden weapons and devices around sensitive body parts, such as the breast and groin areas. Before this change in procedure, TSA officers brushed along those body parts with the back of their hands to feel for hidden objects. The pat-down procedure will be used on those people who refuse to go through the new full-body scanners that are in place in about 65 airports around the country but will expand to 1000 by the end of 2011. However, the new pat-down procedure may also be used on any passenger who “evoke suspicion” when undergoing traditional screening procedures.

What will this mean for you? Everyone I have spoken with and what people are talking about online only confirms to me that no one agrees on this topic at all. You could have the opinion that this will mean tighter security and that it is not such a bad thing. Or you could say that you didn’t sign up for a free groping with the ticket you purchased and you are against it. The one area that many people seem to be in agreement on is with children. There seems to be something terribly wrong with children getting the pat-down that includes their genitals.

On the TSA website, they posted the following on October 28, 2010 regarding the new pat-down procedures:

“TSA is in the process of implementing new pat-down procedures at checkpoints nationwide as one of our many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe. Pat-downs are one important tool to help TSA detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives. Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, among others.”

After being interrogated by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation over the need for the new body scanners and the TSA body frisks that one senator called a “love pat,” TSA Administrator John Pistole said the methods are the best ways to deal with the threats security agents face today. There are obvious privacy issues, he said. “Do I understand the concerns? Yes,” Pistole said. “Am I going to change the policy? No.”

What does this ultimately mean for the average traveler? On the one hand, I certainly want as much security as possible for airlines. Do I mind the intrusion? Yes, but I understand that it is for a purpose and not anyone’s personal gratification. However, not everyone is getting screened the same way so there is a certain amount of profiling occurring. If that’s the case, how are children entering into the profiling mix? Will everyone ultimately be scanned and will our arrival time at the airport change to having to arrive three hours early for a flight because of security? Also, the issue of radiation is still a hot topic with regard to the new full-body scanners. Although we are being told that the risk is low, with new technology comes risk that we may not about for years to come. As a frequent flyer, I can honestly say that I am concerned and frustrated with my own inability to make a decision on this topic. I want security, yet I don’t want excessive intrusion into my personal space, but I want to feel secure on a plane? This is a hot topic that I don’t expect to see any resolution on any time soon. To end this on a light note, somehow whenever I see the backscatter sign, I always think “muffin top.” Muffin top, backscatter — sounds the same to me.

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