Body scanners, pat downs prompt traveler backlash

New airport security measures, particularly full-body scanners, are angering many passengers. One man's refusal of the scan has galvanized others across the US.

Joerg Sarbach/dapd/AP
A passenger tests a newly installed full-body scanner at Hamburg's airport, northern Germany, on Sept. 27.

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A video of a passenger refusing to undergo a full-body scan at an airport in San Diego has gone viral, propelling the man, John Tyner, to celebrity status.

His instant fame reflects widespread frustration with increasingly invasive security methods at US airports nine years after the 9/11 attacks.

Tyner was irate about having to either undergo a full-body scan or endure security officials' new pat-down methods, which the Associated Press said now include running hands up the inside of passengers' legs. The New York Times said the more aggressive pat-downs – "in which women's breasts and all passengers' genital areas are patted firmly" – began Nov. 1.

Tyner refused to go through the scanning machine, and so was offered a pat-down as an alternative, which he also declined. He then exchanged words with airport security staff, while recording the showdown.

"I don't understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying," Tyner said at one point.

"This is not considered a sexual assault," responded an unidentified airport security official.

"It would be if you weren't the government," Tyner snapped back.

You can hear the exchange on an Associated Press video report here.

The airline he was due to fly on eventually refunded his ticket and he never boarded his plane. Tyner later told Fox News that he was concerned about the scanner's invasion of his privacy.

"I didn't want anybody looking at my naked body," he told Fox. Tyner said he recorded the exchange to protect himself. He said security officials tried to prevent him from leaving the airport without completing security screening even though he was not boarding an airplane. He said he won't fly again until security measures are changed.

"I'm planning on driving or taking a bus or a train," Tyner told Fox News. "I don't intend to fly until these machines are gone."

CNN has the full video Tyner took.

Pilots and crew are among those growing increasingly frustrated with security measures, according to the Associated Press. "I would say that pilots are beyond fed up," pilot Tom Walsh told AP. "The TSA is wasting valuable time and money searching the crew – who are not a threat."

One Internet campaign organized by fed-up fliers is calling for a nationwide opt-out day on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, the New York Times reported. (See the campaign's website.) Participants plan to refuse to undergo a full-body scan that day and take the pat-down instead, which could seriously snarl airport security if enough passengers participate.

"It's the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government's desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an 'enhanced pat down' that touches people's breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner," said a statement posted to the campaign's website. "You should never have to explain to your children, 'Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it's a government employee, then it's OK.'"

The are now some 385 body scanners at 68 airports, according to the Times, with 1,000 planned to be in place by the end of next year.

On Monday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the stepped-up airport security measures. "This is all being done as a process to make sure that the traveling public is safe," she said, according to the Washington Post, adding that officials had "an open ear" to the public's reaction and would make adjustments as necessary.

Some passengers have also defended the security measures. "I don't like the invasion of privacy, but we live in a different world now when there are people trying to figure out all kinds of ways to kill us," passenger Greg D'Arbonne told AP.

According to a US News and World Report article quoting Robert Poole, director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, a think tank, the US has spent $40 billion on screening passengers since 9-11. Poole calculated the cost of extra wait times at airports to be another $8 billion.

The government decided to spend an additional $1 billion on airport scanners after the bombing attempt last Christmas, the report said.

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