ACLU Advises Holiday Travelers of Privacy Rights During TSA Screenings

"Know Your Options at the Airport" guide now available online

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ACLU of Northern CA

San Francisco – The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) is alerting travelers to their rights amid the uproar about new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening procedures. Some travelers are unaware that full-body virtual strip-search machines are already in place in several major California airports including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland. In this environment, the ACLU of Northern California seeks to alert travelers about what to expect and options available to them, particularly for those who opt-out of the full-body scan and are forced to undergo a pat-down by a TSA agent.

The ACLU opposes the new "enhanced" security methods because they are far more intrusive than other methods but have not been shown to be any more effective.

"The first and best line of defense should be old fashioned law enforcement and intelligence work that stops plotters before they get to the airport," said ACLU of Northern California attorney Linda Lye. "Evidence-based, targeted investigations based on actual suspicion of individuals would be both more consistent with our values and more effective than resorting to a system of mass suspicion."

In the few weeks since the TSA began instituting the new policy, the ACLU has received hundreds of complaints from travelers who have been subject to invasive, sometimes humiliating, searches. Standard pat down procedures include having genitals areas touched, squeezing of arms, thighs, stomachs, backs and buttocks, the touching of men's scrotums and penises, and touching and pressing upon women's vaginas and breasts. Screeners often run their hands on the inside of the waistbands of travelers' pants or skirts.

The ACLU has released a Know Your Options at the Airport guide for travelers. The guide covers the new practices and also includes specific information for people traveling with children, wearing religious head coverings, experiencing border interrogations, or seeking asylum.

Travelers' options include:

  • Telling a TSA agent that you do not wish to go through the full body scanner. To be as clear as possible, say, "I opt out." You will then be given a full body pat-down.

  • While you may opt your children out of the full body scan, children are not exempt from the pat-down searches – though the TSA may allow for a modified search. TSA says it must "screen everyone, regardless of age (even babies)."

  • If you are uncomfortable being patted down in front of other passengers, you may request that TSA agents take you to a private area. You also have the right to be patted down by an agent of the same gender.

  • If you ask for the pat-down procedure to be undertaken in another room, you may ask to take a witness with you.

  • If the U.S. Customs and Border Protection seeks to search your laptop, mobile phone, digital camera, or other electronic devices upon entry to the United States, without any suspicion of wrongdoing, you may request to have a supervisor present during the search. If agents confiscate your electronics, request a receipt so you can track where they are and seek their return.

Travelers who experience problems with the full body scanners or pat-down searches at airport security are encouraged to file a complaint with the ACLU online.

Learn more:

To access the Know Your Options at the Airport guide, click here.

To know what to expect from the new TSA procedures, click here

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