To Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and John Pistole, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA):
As a frequent traveler both within and outside the United States, I have been reading about and observing the changes to TSA screening procedures at airports within the United States with growing alarm. The introduction of full-body backscatter x-ray scanners with the intention of eventually making them the primary screening method for all travelers is problematic, and the addition of an aggressive, prison-style frisking as an alternate screening method for those who opt out of the scanner is appalling.
The change to the new pat-down procedures, which include touching of breasts and genitals, is clearly meant to be an intimidation tactic to force passengers to make a difficult choice of whether to be virtually strip-searched or groped in order to get on an airplane. I am absolutely appalled at the TSA's willingness to submit ordinary people to what in any other scenario could be considered a sexual assault. I will continue to write to my congressional representatives and airline executives to express my disgust with these actions and I will cease flying if they continue or escalate.
To Gerard Arpey, CEO of American Airlines, and David Barger, CEO of JetBlue:
I am a frequent traveler on both of your airlines. I am a lifetime Platinum member with American Airlines, having earned over 2 million frequent flyer miles with American's AAdvantage program. Though my flying has slowed in the past year, I still average approximately 30-50,000 miles per year with American. I also fly frequent short hop flights with JetBlue, averaging between 6-12 of these short round-trip flights per year. My husband accompanies me on nearly all of these trips.
While I have been generally impressed by the quality and service provided by the staff of both of your airlines, I am deeply concerned about the increasingly dehumanizing procedures being implemented by the TSA, which I must endure if I am to be allowed to travel on your aircraft. It is my understanding that major airline CEOs, including yours, support the TSA and its current practices. I urge your leadership team to reconsider your support.
I understand the need for secure flight. However, I am strongly opposed to whole-body imaging and aggressive pat-downs that include the genitalia. Not only do such procedures result in a loss of dignity (and sometimes emotional or even physical trauma), but I am fully aware that these procedures are more "theater" than actual threat reduction. I'm sure that your leadership is aware of this as well. There are better, less invasive ways to secure a flight. I am also concerned about the efficacy and safety of these machines, as the only published safety data on them has been provided by the device manufacturers.
For these reasons, I urge American Airlines and JetBlue to reconsider their support for TSA's whole-body imaging and aggressive pat-downs of passengers. My husband and I realize that as individual travelers, we have few options but to cease our airline travel and encourage our friends, family, and colleagues to do the same. As major airlines, however, American and JetBlue can have a significant influence on the direction of the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security. I sincerely hope that you and your respective boards and management teams will choose to do so.
To my elected representatives in Congress, including the members of the Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security subcommittee, and its chairperson, Senator Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota:
As a frequent traveler both within and outside the United States, I have been reading about and observing the changes to TSA screening procedures at airports within the Unites States with growing alarm. The introduction of full-body backscatter x-ray scanners that display nude images of passengers is problematic, and the addition of an aggressive pat-down procedure which includes rubbing of the breast and genitals as an alternate screening method for those who opt out of the scanner is appalling.
These scanners, which have popularly been called virtual strip search machines, as well as the invasive pat-down procedures, are in my opinion clear violations of our 4th Amendment right to protection against unreasonable search. In fact, a former TSA official admits that TSA searches are violations of the 4th Amendment in this video (statement is at approximately 2:37 in the video). He states, "Nobody likes having their Fourth Amendment rights violated but, um, the truth of the matter is, we're gonna have to do it."
I am shocked, appalled, and disgusted by this turn of events. These invasive screening methods are obviously antithetical to the clear intent of the founders. In addition to my privacy concerns along with the safety concerns raised by some concerned UCSF scientists and others, I am extremely concerned about the costs involved with having thousands of these scanners, each of which cost $130,000-$170,000, installed into our nation's airports. The Transportation Security Administration is spending hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to purchase these machines, but the true cost is much higher - the cost of our civil liberties.
I urge you and your colleagues in Congress to reconsider the use of these scanners. The funding spent on these invasive, potentially hazardous scanners is adding to our national debt and budget deficit, with little demonstrable benefit and significant detriment to the rights of the citizens of this country. I assure you that I, along with millions of your constituents, will be paying very close attention to what happens next with regards to airport security.
With thanks to InkUnderNails and gatelouse from the Travel Safety & Security board on FlyerTalk, whose sample letters to airlines and Congress I used as a basis for parts of my letters.