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News Link • Transportation: Air Travel

Survive a TSA Screening

• coyoteden via

Turn your nose to the air this holiday season, and among the pleasing smells of roasted poultry and freshly baked pies, you may detect a whiff of outrage.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has run afoul of security experts and the general public by introducing some radical changes to how airline passengers are screened -- just in time for the holiday travel peak.

Central to the issue are the TSA's new advanced imaging devices that can see through your clothes and display a picture of your naked body -- and see any weapons or contraband you're hiding under your jeans. Refuse to walk through one and you'll receive an "enhanced pat-down," a policy that has also touched a nerve among travelers.

The debate has gotten so heated, lawmakers are trying to ban the body scanners, and a movement is afoot to encourage travelers to opt out of a full body scan at airports. The "Opt Out Day" protests are scheduled for Wednesday, November 24, but we expect the protests to continue through the rest of the holidays.

If you're planning on protesting the TSA's new policies -- or if you're just an innocent traveler who wants to know your options -- here's our primer.

This article is part of a wiki anyone can edit. If you have advice to add about protesting or opting out, log in and contribute.

  Tips for travelers

You have the right to refuse the screening at any time by allowing TSA officers to escort you from the airport. If you refuse screening and attempt to proceed towards a secure area, the checkpoint will be shut down and you may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

The current system works by shuttling passengers either through the traditional metal detectors or the Rapiscan body imagers. If you trip the metal detector repeatedly or you decline to go into the Rapiscan, you will get an "enhanced pat-down." This means your body will be closely checked, including the areas near the female and male genitals, by an officer of the same sex.

Airline screening has been ruled legal as an "administrative search" -- The TSA has the right to check you and your belongings to make sure you are not a threat to aviation. It's not clear how far legally such a search can go. For example, could the TSA require a cavity search and if you refused one, could you be fined? That's an unknown legal question, but chances are if the screeners have that much reason to believe you are carrying contraband, they will involve the police.

If you do want to refuse a screening and a patdown, your best bet is to walk out of the airport. The TSA can't detain you at this point -- they have to notify the police to detain you. There are usually plenty of police posted at the TSA checkpoint, however, and if a police officer asks you to stop, you must do so and provide ID.

Finally, here's Ed Hasbrouck on how to get a refund if you decline to go through screening and refuse to be patted down. It's a long shot, but possible.

  Tips for protesters

If you're planning on protesting, here are some additional tips:

Do not make jokes about bombs, hijacking or carrying banned materials.

That said, the screening line is not a Constitution-free zone. You may express your displeasure and political opinions, and wear a shirt that makes fun of the TSA. There's a fine line between free speech and impeding the TSA, and the latter can result in a fine.

Likewise, the Fifth Amendment applies as well. You have the right to remain silent. You don't have to explain anything or respond to any officer's questions. You do have to show ID and if you don't have one with you, whether or not you'll be allowed to fly is at the TSA's discretion.

Whatever you do, remain courteous. Remember that the TSA workers are humans with jobs to do.

Photographing or recording the TSA or law enforcement officials? The TSA says they have no prohibition against you recording the screening protest, but local and state ordinances vary when it comes to recording in public, especially when it comes to recording the police. Quite a few people have been arrested and prosecuted for recording police officers, and while you may be within your rights, you might have to prove that in court or sue the cops later after you've been arrested.

Taking off your clothes as a protest? Getting totally naked is illegal and will get you arrested. As for undressing, again, local and state statutes--and your experience--will vary. As a matter of principle, stripping down to bike shorts and a thin ribbed tank top, or doing as @furrygirl did and stripping to a camisole and panties, is clearly protected First Amendment speech, but the ruse did get the bike shorts guy arrested in San Diego.

Going commando under a kilt? Truly wicked.

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