The U.S. House of Representatives will vote this week on a proposal to (1) restrict the use of virtual strip search machines at airports, (2) prohibit their use as a “primary” screening method (i.e. in place of curent metal detectors) or “unless another method of screening, such as metal detection, demonstrates cause for preventing such passenger from boarding an aircraft,” and (3) require that people selected for “secondary sccreening” be told what the “Whole Body Imaging” machines do (a TSA agent out of your sight in a back room examines and can zoom in on any area of a picture taken using microwaves that pass through your clothes and show your body as though naked) and be offered the choice of a pat-down instead of a virtual strip search.
This proposal doesn’t go nearly far enough, but it’s an important first step. Currently, no law or published regulation places any restrictions on any aspect of TSA activities at checkpoints. What’s needed is to subject the TSA’s domestic Guantanamo at every airport to the rule of law and the standards applicable to search, seizure, interrogation, and detention in any other context.
As travel commentator Charlie Leocha wrote in his column yesterday, “The last time I checked, there was a law about ‘reasonable suspicion’ before subjecting someone to a strip search. Is simply the act of getting on a plane now considered ‘reasonable suspicion’?” (Today Leocha reports on the result of an informal online survey of his readers, showing that more than two-thirds of respondents think this is “an invasion of privacy”.)
What can you do? Visit StopDigitalStripSearches.org and sign the online petition endorsed by the Identity Project. More importantly, call and/or email your member of Congress today and urge them to vote FOR the “Chaffetz amendment on Whole Body Imaging” to H.R. 2200, the TSA authorization bill.
Rep. Chaffetz’ point person on this issue tells us they expect the House floor vote will most likely be Thursday, June 4, 2009.