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Airport security may be more than a nuisance

The holidays are here and the number of people flying to visit friends and family are at their highest. As if the airports weren’t going to be busy enough this holiday weekend, travelers will be faced with new security measures that many are uncertain about.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has implemented the use of whole body imaging technology and enhanced pat downs at major airport security checkpoints. Last week, a lawsuit, filed by law firm Drinker Biddle and The Rutherford Institute, alleges these new security measures constitute an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The new security measures force travelers to essentially decide “between the lesser of two evils: submit to a virtual strip search, or suffer the indignity of allowing an unknown officer to literally place his or her hands in your pants,” according to the suit, filed on behalf of two pilot-plaintiffs.

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals in the United States from unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause. “In the U.S. we have never allowed someone to be strip searched unless there is a reasonable suspicion they are involved in criminal activity,” said John Whitehead, the president of the Rutherford Institute.

The TSA says the body scanners, which use x-rays to paint graphic images of passengers’ bodies, are an important security measure. However, the suit alleges that the body scanners are so intrusive that TSA screening agents can see “beneath an individual’s clothing and view a graphic and detailed visual image of a person’s body, including the contours of his or her genitals.” If a traveler decides to “opt-out” of the full body scanner, they will be subject to an enhanced pat down where a TSA officer slides his or her hands over an individual’s breasts, buttocks, inner thighs, and groin. The officer will also insert his or her fingers inside the entire circumference of an individual’s waistband.

In addition to physical privacy concerns, others are concerned about medical privacy. As the lawsuit asserts, the body scanners can “expose evidence of mastectomies, menstruation, colostomy appliances, large scars, catheter tubes, penile implants, and other internal prosthetic devices.” Therefore, the suit alleges, these scanners are even more intrusive than a traditional strip search.

The court will decide whether the use of these body scanners and enhanced pat downs are unconstitutional. Until then, remember that patience is a virtue. Between the protesters, weary travelers, and new security measures, delays are likely.

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