WASHINGTON—As the busiest travel week of the year kicks off in the United States, American outrage about new airport security measures is reaching such a fever pitch that even President Barack Obama has asked authorities to consider less invasive screening methods.
Obama said Saturday he asked Transportation Security Administration officials to explore whether there’s a less intrusive method of screening airline passengers.
Obama said he had told the agency that “you have to constantly refine and measure whether what we’re doing is the only way to assure the American people’s safety.”
Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she doesn’t relish the idea of a pat-down. When asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” if she’d submit to one, Clinton replied: “Not if I could avoid it. No. I mean, who would?”
John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, said Sunday he understood why Americans find the extensive pat-downs and new full-body scanners — called “naked scanners” by critics — an invasion of privacy.
But he reiterated his stance of the last several weeks: authorities must stay one step ahead of terrorists, whose schemes continue to involve jetliners. Pistole has said body-scanners would have caught the would-be Christmas Day underwear bomber last year had he boarded a flight in the United States instead of Amsterdam.
Under the new rules, any passenger refusing to go through a body scan must submit to a pat-down. Pat-downs can be enforced if body scans raise concerns among the TSA officials who pore over the images.
The latest tale of a passenger left degraded by airport security emerged this weekend when a bladder cancer survivor told how he was recently left humiliated, weeping and drenched in his own urine when officials in Detroit inadvertently broke the seal of his urostomy bag during a pat-down.
“I am a good American and I want safety for all passengers as much as the next person,” Thomas Sawyer, a 61-year-old special education teacher in Lansing, Mich., told MSNBC.com of his pat-down ordeal after a full-body scan revealing the urostomy bag alarmed security officials.
“But if this country is going to sacrifice treating people like human beings in the name of safety, then we have already lost the war.”
Both procedures are here to stay because TSA screeners are “the last line of defence in protecting air travellers,” Pistole said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
One Internet grassroots group is encouraging travellers to refuse body scans on Wednesday, the day before American Thanksgiving, a massive holiday in the United States that sees an estimated 24 million Americans descend upon the nation’s airports to fly home to loved ones.
Instead, the organizers of “National Opt-Out Day” are urging travellers to insist upon a more time-consuming pat-down as an act of protest. That would slow down security lines and cause major headaches for airlines and security officials.