TSA Says Pilots Will Be Exempt From Invasive Pat-Downs, Scanners

Lawmakers from both sides say the TSA has gone too far with its new patdowns.

ByABC News
November 19, 2010, 12:49 PM

Nov. 19, 2010— -- U.S. airline pilots learned today that they'll be exempt from the invasive x-ray screening and pat-downs that have sparked a revolt across the country.

In a statement, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced new procedures that it says will streamline airport security.

Pilots in uniform on airline business will be allowed to pass through airport security by showing two photo IDs. The identification will be cross-checked against a flight crew database.

"Allowing these uniformed pilots, whose identity has been verified, to go through expedited screening at the checkpoint just makes for smart security and an efficient use of our resources," TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a statement.

The decision comes after pilots' unions had called on members to avoid going through the advanced x-ray screeners that produce full-body images, and they had also expressed concerns about enhanced pat-downs. A handful of pilots have said they were so traumatized by the searches that they couldn't perform their duties, though critics have accused them of making such claims to push a political agenda.

As of yet, though, there is no change in policy for regular travelers, to the frustration of members of Congress who today took on the new procedures, saying they have crossed the line.

Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida, the ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and fellow Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin today wrote to Pistole, saying that the TSA is "not achieving the proper balance between aviation security and the privacy rights of Untied States citizens."

They said the new procedures are overly intrusive and accused the TSA of once again being reactive in its approach to security.

"The entire focus of TSA's efforts to improve aviation security needs to be revisited," the congressmen wrote. "The level of public angst is a clear indication that the TSA has missed the mark…"

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, also wrote a letter today to Pistole criticizing the pat-downs.

Earlier this week, Pistole was asked by Congress if he would change the TSA's new policy.

"No," he said, "because I think that is what being informed by the latest intelligence, the latest efforts by terrorists to kill our people in the air, no, I'm not going to change those policies.

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Mica has been pushing for airports to ditch the TSA and hire private contractors to conduct screenings, a move allowed under federal law. (In the past 13 years, Mica has received almost $81,000 in campaign donations from political action committees and executives connected to some of the private contractors, according to The Associated Press.)

"All commercial airports are regulated by TSA, whether the actual screening is performed by TSA officers or private companies. TSA sets the security standards that must be followed and includes the use of enhanced pat-downs and imaging technology, if installed at the airport," TSA spokesman Greg Soule told ABC News.

Of the more than 450 commercial airports in America, there are currently 16 airports using private screening staff, the largest being San Francisco International Airport and Kansas City International Airport. Those screeners have to follow the same standards as TSA employees and are still overseen by the TSA.

So even with private screeners, passengers at those airports would be subject to the exact same screenings, including pat-downs and full-body scanners.