Commercial Pilots Call Airports’ ‘Virtual|Strip Search … Tantamount to Molestation’

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Two commercial airline pilots describe new airport security regulations and technology as “virtual strip search” and “tantamount to molestation.” Michael Roberts and Ann Poe claim the use of whole-body imaging and “enhanced pat-down procedures” violate the Fourth Amendment by subjecting travelers and pilots to unreasonable search and seizure.




     Robert and Poe sued the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration in Federal Court. The DHS and TSA determined in 2009 that whole body image (WBI) scanners would become the primary screening technique used in U.S. airports by 2012.
     According to the complaint: “WBI scanners use technology that enables screeners to see beneath individuals’ clothing and view a graphic and intrusive level of detail, including the contours of a person’s genitalia. When an individual enters the full-body scanner, the device captures a detailed, rotating, three-dimensional image of an individual’s unclothed body which is viewed in real-time by TSA personnel in another room.”
     Poe and Roberts say describe the scanners as a “virtual strip search,” capable of exposing “evidence of mastectomies, menstruation, colostomy appliances, large scars, catheter tubes, penile implants and other internal prosthetic devices. On this level, the WBI scanning may be viewed as even more intrusive than a traditional strip-search.”
     What happens if someone chooses to “opt out” of being scanned? The pilots say that under TSA procedure, they must undergo an “enhanced pat-down” procedure, which involves a TSA official conducting a “detailed inspection of a traveler’s entire body,” in which “the officer literally places his hands inside the traveler’s pants.”
     “The officer runs his or her open hands and fingers over most parts of an individual’s body, including the breast, and uses the back of the hands when touching the buttocks,” the complaint states. “Additionally, officers slide their hands all the way from the inner thigh up to the groin until the hand cannot venture any higher because it is literally stopped by the person’s groin.
     “As part of the enhanced pat-down, a TSA officer will also insert his fingers into an individual’s pants and move his fingers, while still inside the pants, around the entire circumference of the waistband.”
     Roberts says his refusal to be scanned and patted down landed him on administrative leave without health insurance for his family, including his six children.
     Poe says TSA officials wouldn’t let her board the plane full of 300 passengers she was supposed to fly to India because she refused a pat-down that she said would have been “tantamount to molestation.”
     She was escorted out of the airport and has been unable to work since.
     The two pilots, who have 20 years of commercial piloting experience between them, say DHS plans to deploy 491 scanners to U.S. airports by the end of this year. The machines “will become the primary and first means of screening at most U.S. airports by 2012.”
     They claim the scanners and pat-downs constitute unreasonable search and seizure. They want an injunction preventing the machines from becoming the primary screening methods in U.S. airports, plus unspecified compensatory damages.
     They are represented by John Ferman with Drinker Biddle & Reath.

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