Business Travel Coalition Slams TSA, Warns on Protests

In a statement, the BTC urges groups to cancel their planned opt-out protest day

November 21, 2010, 9:41 AM

Nov. 21, 2010— -- The Business Travel Coalition has come out criticizing the Transportation Security Administration and groups planning a national airport security screening opt-out day, saying that it is irresponsible to promote actions that delay travelers at non-secure airport checkpoints.

In a statement released Saturday, the BTC is urging groups to cancel their planned opt-out day to protest the TSA's measures during the busy holiday travel season, which begins on Wednesday, the country's busiest travel day of the year.

The group is also urging airline, airport and travel industry groups to strongly advise against these protests and focus efforts on a complete review of the TSA's new policies.

The BTC harshly criticized the TSA in the statement, pointing out the group's long history of disregard for citizens' privacy and due-process concerns.

"The deployment of full-body scanners without a formal public comment process and sufficient medical and scientific vetting is one of the worst TSA abuses of authority since its creation," stated BTC Chairman Kevin Mitchell.

"The overly aggressive pat-downs represent citizen-mistreatment in the extreme, especially if used as 'punishment' when passengers opt out of full-body scans," he added.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said on CBS' "Face the Nation" this morning that she personally would not want to be subjected to the intrusive searches.

Asked if she would submit to a pat-down, Clinton replied: "Not if I could avoid it, no. I mean, who would?"

"I understand how difficult it is, and how offensive it must be for the people who are going through it," Clinton added.

In two of her Sunday show interviews, Clinton suggested that the Obama administration and its experts were open to changes in the controversial procedure.

"We have to be constantly asking ourselves, 'How do we calculate the risk?' And sometimes we don't calculate it correctly," she said.

"If there is a way to limit the number of people who are going to be put through surveillance, that is something that I am sure can be considered," she added.

How Many Will Be Effected by the TSA's Policies?

Despite the news reports of a growing hysteria about the full-body scanners and pat-downs, experts say that the new measures may not actually be a factor for most travelers this holiday season.

"The majority of us are not going to experience that over Thanksgiving weekend," Genevieve Shaw Brown, Senior Editor at Travelocity, told "Good Morning America."

"Most people will go through business as usual, the metal detector that we've all become used to, taking off the shoes, pouring our liquids in to the tiny little containers, business as usual for the vast majority of people."

There are 385 of the new full-body scanners at airports across the country, but there are 2100 total security lanes, which means that 80 percent of security lanes won't have the machines or the intrusive pat-downs.

And although the scanners and pat-downs have caught the attention of the media -- particularly across the web -- a recent study found that an overwhelming majority of Americans support the extended security measures, no matter how invasive they may be.

According to the study, 78 percent of Americans approve of the new body scanners and 84 percent believe they will help prevent terrorism.

"If it keeps me safer, no problem," Gary Becker, a traveler at Houston Texas airport told ABC News.

Camile Olson, a traveler at Chicago O'Hare airport, said she thought the controversy over the scanners may be a bit overblown.

"I didn't have an issue today in terms of feeling that there was an invasion of privacy," Olson said.

Some travelers, including Catherine Bossi, have had entirely different experiences, and have been left feeling vulnerable and violated.

Bossi, a flight attendant and breast cancer survivor, said she was forced to remove her prosthetic breast while a TSA pat-down was administered.

"I was horribly shocked," she said. "Yes, I was I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I had cancer and this was the way I was being treated."

Erin Chase, a mother from Ohio who was recently traveling with her infant, said the TSA pat-down was a complete violation of her privacy.

"She went down to the bottom of my legs and moved up my inner thighs and touched my genital area," Chase said. "As a law-abiding American citizen, mom traveling with a baby, I should not have been subject to that sort of a search."

TSA agents have defended these practices by saying they are merely doing their jobs. Under new rules, security staff members are allowed to use the back or front of their hands to pat down any part of a passengers body.

"TSA are professional people -- they're public servants -- it has to be done with courtesy. It has to be done in the proper manner. With 35,000 people, are you going to have people make mistakes? Yes," John McGaw, first head of the TSA, told "Good Morning America" today.

Hoping to clear up confusion and calm nerves over the pat-downs, the TSA released a video message to airports and airlines Saturday that spell out security options.

"You have the option to request that the pat down be conducted in a private room. You have the option to have that pat down witnessed by a person of your choice," said John Pistole, Administrator of the TSA.

Officials are concerned that security may be slowed this week by a growing grassroots internet movement - encouraging travelers to "opt out" of full-body scans Wednesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year. Thousands on Facebook have vowed to opt-out, however this incipient movement may be overstated.

"The truth is, most travelers just want to get to their destination as fast as possible," said Genevieve Shaw Brown.

Can TSA Full-Body Scanners Be G-rated?

Meanwhile, technology and political pressure may move American scanners in a more G-rated direction, even as foreign countries are getting more invasive.

The TSA is testing new X-ray technology that will show a "stick figure" instead of a passenger's full-body image. Viewers on the other end of the X-ray would see anomalies -- anything from a suicide vest to a cell phone on a belt clip -- highlighted on the anatomically-ambiguous figure.

The United States, however, is not the only country employing unpopular security methods. Canada installed full-body scanners at 16 major airports in January, which also is when it started aggressive pat-downs with airport officials running hands inside pants waistbands.

Over in Europe, London's Heathrow Airport has been using body scanners for the last eight months as part of a pilot program. Nearby countries, security experts say, also are looking into body scanners.

"Europe is certainly looking into the way the technology is being implemented in the U.S.," said Rafi Ron, CEO of New Age Security, a security consulting firm. "I think we can expect sometime soon similar technology [will] be another European standard."

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