U.S. Must Act on Pat-Down Backlash, Lawmaker Says

The U.S. government must take steps to improve airline passenger privacy after an outcry over pat-down procedures at airport checkpoints, said Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican.

“We’ve got to see some action,” Hutchison told John Pistole, chief of the Transportation Security Administration, at a hearing today in Washington. “We’ve got to do more. The outcry is huge.”

Pistole ordered the more-thorough pat-downs nationwide this month. He says they are necessary to ensure that all passengers are screened and to avoid an attack such as the one on Christmas last year. A Nigerian man with explosives hidden in his underpants tried to blow up a jet as it landed in Detroit.

Passengers and groups such as civil liberties organization Electronic Privacy Information Center and FlyersRights.org started advocating a National Opt Out Day on Nov. 24 to protest the use of body scanners and search procedures.

Senator George LeMieux, a Florida Republican, said he is bothered by the pat-downs and “wouldn’t want my wife being touched in the way these people are being touched.”

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said she has received the “love pats” at airports because she has an artificial knee. She said she is “wildly excited” to be able to use a body scanner to avoid them.

Educating the Public

At the same time, the government “can do a better job of public education” about the new pat-down procedures, McCaskill told Pistole.

Passengers get pat-downs at airports if they decline to go through full-body scans that show any items hidden beneath their clothing, or if they trigger alarms while going through metal detectors. More than 99 percent of passengers are going through the body scanners rather than requesting a pat-down, the security agency has said.

Pat-downs include agents using the palm side of their hand and fingers instead of the back of the hand, which was the previous practice. Agents are allowed to feel around breasts and genitals for hidden items. The searches are done by agents of the same sex as the passenger, and the traveler can ask for them to be done in private.

“It is thorough,” Pistole said of the pat-down he received before ordering the procedure. “It was more invasive than what I was used to.”

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