(Un)revealing TSA searches

Security, especially when it’s ineffective, doesn’t trump privacy.

Editorial board

Passengers know that air travel entails some sacrifice in the name of security, but they should not be forced to make the choice that the Transportation Security Administration is offering them.

As an increasing number of full-body scanners are installed in airports across the country, new security procedures that accompany them give passengers two distasteful choices. They can elect to be given what amounts to a virtual strip search by one of the new machines. If a passenger refuses, he or she must submit to an “enhanced patdown” âÄî which includes close examination of the buttocks, groin and the inside of the thighs âÄî at the hands of a TSA official. Neither option is appealing. Both are unnecessary violations of privacy.

TSA is completely within its rights to try out new technology, but this experiment has gone horribly awry.

Privacy concerns have not been adequately satisfied. Despite repeated promises that images of the body scans would not become public, many supposedly confidential pictures have, and there is no reason to think the situation will improve.

ItâÄôs even open to debate if the scanners make air travel any safer than other methods. In March, the U.S. Government Accountability Office raised doubts that the scanners would have detected explosives used in a foiled terrorist attack on an airliner last December. This month, the GAO questioned whether the machines can actually detect items hidden in body cavities.

TSA must look for security methods that donâÄôt involve revealing full body scans or unwanted groping.