Airline Pilots Reject Tsa Tyranny

Professional Flight Crews Say Airport Security Measures Encroach Upon Travelers’ Privacy and Freedom
By: Michael S. Roberts
Aug. 27, 2010 - PRLog -- Contact: Michael S. Roberts
Phone: 901.237.6308



Professional Flight Crews Say Airport Security Measures Encroach Upon Travelers’ Privacy and Freedom

A group of airline pilots has issued a statement repudiating recent policy changes by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is increasing the use of Whole Body Imaging (WBI) scanners at airport security checkpoints. In addition to the use of  the scanners, which produce detailed images of travelers’ naked bodies (click here to view an example) TSA says it will begin physically frisking all travelers declining the WBI scanners. The statement was sent via email to ExpressJet Airlines management in Houston on Thursday evening, as follows:

We are writing to express our disapproval and intentions regarding the TSA’s use of Whole Body Imaging (WBI) systems at airport security screening checkpoints for routine passenger/crewmember screening. As indicated in [a recent internal memo to pilots], TSA is increasing the use of these devices, which enable screeners to see beneath people’s clothing to an extremely graphic and intrusive level of detail (virtual strip searching). Travelers refusing this indignity may instead be physically frisked by a government security agent until the agent is satisfied to release them on their way. Our understanding is that these two alternatives will eventually become the only ‘options’ available to the traveling public, and we find them to be absolutely unacceptable and inconsistent with the undergirding principles of a free society.

The TSA has itself indicated that WBI is not a perfect solution, but one component of a multi-layered approach to air transportation security. While we take airline security very seriously, we do not believe the dubious benefits of these invasive measures justify the trade off in employee and passenger privacy and other rights and liberties. It is our view that reasonable levels of security within the air transportation system can and must be achieved without producing images of travelers’ naked bodies or subjecting them without cause to unwanted, unwelcome touching at the hands of federally employed airport security guards.

After careful examination, we believe the current program is likely to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Privacy Act of 1974, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004. At any rate, it is an egregious advance on civil liberty and an affront to the human dignity of every patron of the National Air Transportation System. Despite statutes obligating the TSA Chief Privacy Office to ensure that new technologies “sustain and do not erode” the privacy of American travelers, no System of Records Notice has been published in the Federal Register regarding the use of unnecessarily obtrusive images of human bodies captured by WBI devices in conjunction with personally identifiable information (employee identification, boarding passes, etc.)

TSA’s own operational requirements and technical specifications clearly mandate that the devices be capable of storing and transmitting captured images. Statements from the TSA that it will not use this capability (which it has required vendors to provide) in operational settings are unconvincing in light of the blithe and presumptuous nature of its hasty advances in other aspects of WBI implementation.

Furthermore, the Privacy Impact Assessment prepared by the Department of Homeland Security’s Chief Privacy Office for the TSA’s WBI test program failed to identify numerous privacy risks to air travelers, and no such assessment was conducted at all for the current program. The current program differs materially from the test program in a number of significant ways. For example, the TSA stated during testing in 2007 that WBI searches would be “a voluntary alternative to a pat-down during secondary screening” when warranted by discoveries at lower levels in the screening process. In fact, the TSA now claims to allow a ‘pat-down’ as the alternative for those who reject the humiliation of WBI in the primary screening program.

DHS has failed to comply with or acknowledge restrictions and procedures mandated by the Administrative Procedures Act. It has imposed the use of WBI in at least nineteen airports and slated approximately one thousand additional devices for installation elsewhere across the country without initiating a formal rulemaking process to receive and weigh input from the public whose protection is, ostensibly, the very purpose for its existence. What was once a test project in which the controversial scanners were deployed in a few airports as a secondary screening tool is now suddenly (and rather quietly) being launched throughout the United States as the primary screening process. We see this as a “boiling frog” strategy of administrative encroachment upon the rights and liberties of all air travelers, affecting first and foremost those of us employed within the industry whose very livelihoods are now under the assault of these tyrannical overtures. We can only wonder where this outrageous foray of authoritarian ambition against the physical sovereignty of individual persons will end.

As dutiful citizens, we cannot conscientiously consent to the despotic indignity of virtual strip searches as a matter of course in reporting for work or performing the routine duties of our profession. Neither can we abide being stopped daily by government agents and physically molested as we go about the lawful and honest business of earning a living. It is appalling that any citizen, who is not under arrest, has made no threats, nor raised any suspicion of terrorist or similar malicious intentions should be forced to submit to either of these ‘options’ in order to move about within the confines of his or her own national borders.

We humbly remind our management of its obligation to promote and ensure conditions that are free of sexual and other forms of harassment and workplace hostility. We understand that it is the U.S. government, not the company, arrogating these disturbing new policies. We accordingly and most urgently invite our leaders to stand with us in resisting this offense against ExpressJet’s employees and customers by insisting upon reasonable security screening procedures which honor our privacy and personal dignity and do not infringe upon our civil rights and liberty.

For more information please contact Michael Roberts at 901.237.6308 or via email:

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