Airport Scanners May Pose Many Concerns

Source:  Airport Scanners May Pose Many Concerns    Tag:  types of airport scanners
Many congressmen are asking the Transportation Security Administration to reconsider the “enhanced pat down” practice in Airports.

“While we agree that security measures should be enhanced in the wake of recent attempted terrorist attacks on the aviation system, we are concerned about new enhanced pat down screening protocols and urge you to reconsider the utilization of these protocols,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), chairwoman of the subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection in a letter sent to TSA head John S. Pistole Friday.

Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking Republican John L. Mica (R-FL) and Thomas E. Petri (R-WI) ranking member of the Aviation Subcommittee, struck a similar note in their own note to Pistole.

“While the purpose behind the recent change in procedures is understandable, we have concerns that the TSA is not achieving the proper balance between aviation security and the privacy rights of United States citizens,” they wrote.

Mica and Petri said the use of pat-down procedure—which TSA uses for passengers who decline to pass through whole-body image scanners—is an example  of the agency’s tendency to approach threats in a reactive, rather than proactive manner.
The GOP lawmakers noted that the last terrorist incident involving a passenger smuggling explosives aboard—Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt at detonating a plane above Detroit on Christmas—took place 11 months ago.

Mica and Petri stated that TSA should only use pat-downs in cases of suspicious behavior, or when screening machines are unable to rule out a threat. They continued that the Department of Homeland Security should be working on initiatives such as intelligence, threat analysis and integration of more biometrics technology, rather than emphasizing physical screening.

In September, Thompson and Jackson Lee’s committee expressed concerns about the procedure. “Before implementing this new, more invasive pat-down procedure, as a preliminary matter, TSA should have had a conversation with the American public about the need for these changes,” they wrote. “Even before that conversation, TSA should have endeavored to ensure that these changes did not run afoul of privacy and civil liberties.”

Also facing controversy are the whole body imagers in airports. The TSA has approved two types of whole body imagers for use in airports—“millimeter wave” units from L-3, which use high-frequency radio waves, and “backscatter” unites from Rapiscan, which use extremely small doses of X-rays. While the Food and Drug Administration has said that the dose from one of the backscatter units is so low that it presents an extremely low risk, some in the medical community have expressed concerns about the effects of repeated exposure—a question that John D.  Dingell(D-MI) posed in his letter.

He wrote to TSA, “I do not believe security measures like [Advances Imaging Technology] units should be rushed into use without a full and thorough examination on the impact of their use on human health,” he said.

“My concern about this assessment is it does not address the question of what the potential long-term health impact would be for those who have prolonged exposure to screenings either through frequent travel, by nature of their employment or [those] vulnerable to radiation exposure due to immune system deficiencies,” Dingell wrote.

Meanwhile, TSA has announced that it has taken steps to streamline airport security for the pilots of U.S. airlines. The agency plans to eventually phase in a nationwide secure access system for pilots.

“Pilots are trusted partners who ensure the safety of millions of passengers flying every day,” Pistole said in a joint release with several pilots’ associations. “Allowing these uniformed pilots, whose identity has been verified, to go through expedited screening at the checkpoint just makes sense for smart security and an efficient use of our resources.”

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