Ethnic Profiling by TSA? 'Fly Rights' App Made for Complaints

There's now an app for filing official complaints with TSA over racial profiling

ByABC News
April 30, 2012, 6:05 PM

April 30, 2012 -- Thanks to smartphones, airline passengers have been able to pay for baggage, check in for flights and pull up boarding passes all with the swipe of a touch screen. Now, with the tap of an app, they can also fire off complaints about airport security screenings conducted by the Transportation Security Administration.

The Sikh Coalition, which released the Fly Rights app Monday, claims that the 11 TSA screening complaints investigated during the first half of 2011 were woefully unrepresentative of how many fliers were actually being pulled aside for their race, religion or ethnicity.

"I would say that some of our board members have more than 11 complaints in a quarter," said Sikh Coalition program director Amardeep Singh. "With the app, what we are trying to do is say 'No, there are more people out there that have issues with the screening procedures than you think.'"

"I'm feeling optimistic that we are going to put them [TSA] at their paces and that it will significantly, perhaps even exponentially, increase the number of complaints filed," Singh told ABC News.

The number of complaints has nearly tripled from the first half of 2011 to 2012, according to the Department of Transportation's April Air Travel Consumer Report. The complaints were investigated by Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which oversees TSA's civil rights complaints.

About 30 airport passengers called or emailed the TSA to complain about screening procedures in February, fewer than the 36 complaints recorded in January and the 31 filed in December,

While Singh said the TSA "never opposed" the Fly Rights smart phone app, the agency said in statement Monday that it encourages travelers to "contact TSA directly" with any complaints.

"TSA does not profile passengers on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion," the agency said in the statement. "We continually engage with community organizations, including the Sikh Coalition, and individuals to help us understand unique passenger concerns and we support efforts to gather passenger feedback about the screening process."

In the hours following Fly Rights' launch on Monday two complaints had already been filed through the mobile app, Singh said.

And while the app began after members of the Sikh religion said they were singled out because of the turbans they wear, the first actual complaint sent through the app was from a non-Sikh woman who said she was unfairly profiled for traveling with breast milk.

"That goes to show if you create a platform for people that's easy and accessible, they'll use it," Singh said.

The app has already gotten support from Capitol Hill, where Sen. Dick Durbin, D- Ill., commended the app as a way for passengers to "fight profiling."

"The vast majority of law enforcement officers perform their jobs honorably and courageously," Durban said in a statement released by the Sikh Coalition. "Unfortunately, the inappropriate actions of the few who engage in racial profiling create mistrust and suspicion that hurts all law enforcement officers."