Female passengers are alleging that TSA agents are targeting them for extra screening in their scanner machines. TSA has a policy of randomly selecting people for extra screening, but some women say the selection process appears less than random.
According to a Dallas woman, Ellen Terrell, TSA agents repeatedly asked her to step back into a body scanner at DFW International Airport. She said: "I feel like I was totally exposed. They wanted a nice good look.”
According to Terrell, she and her husband Charles, were at DFW Airport months ago when a female TSA agent asked her whether she plays tennis. When she asked, "Why?" the agent said, "You just have such a cute figure.”
Terrell said the female agent kept her in the body scanner longer than reasonable. The scanner creates a detailed personalized image that someone in another room examines to see if the passenger is concealing a potentially threatening object. According to Terrell, the female agent asked her to return to the scanner three times. Christian Post reports Terrell said she heard the agent saying half-jokingly to her colleagues in the examination room, "Come on guys, alright, alright, one more time."
But at the fourth time Terrell heard the agent remonstrating with her male colleagues in the examination room, "Guys, it is not blurry, I’m letting her go. Come on out.”
According to CBS, only female agents pat-down female travellers, but TSA allows male agents to view the revealing images of female passengers created by the scanning device. Terrell felt the "guys" took more than a professional interest in her body.
Lon Burnam, Fort Worth Texas representative, commented: “I think it’s sexual harassment if you’re run through there a third or fourth time. And this is not the first time I have heard about it."
CBS examined a record of 500 TSA complaints and found a persistent pattern of women complaining that the selection of passengers for extra screening was not random. Some of the complaints read:
“I feel I was targeted by the TSA employee to go through the see-you-naked machine because I am a semi-attractive female.”
“The screener appeared to enjoy the process of picking someone rather than doing true random screening. I felt this was inappropriate. A woman behind me was also 'randomly selected.'"
“TSA staff ‘trolling’ the lines looking for people to pull out was unprofessional.”
“After that, I saw him going to the private room where x-rays are, to speak to the guy in that room.”
After TSA declined CBS's request for a one-on-one interview on camera with its agents, it held a news conference in which it announced that DFW and Love Field airports had acquired new scanning machines with a new technology that shows only a "generic body outline" that highlights only potential threats. According to Amy Williams, Federal Security Director at Dallas Love Field airport: “With the old technology, we had to have an image room that was separate from the equipment."
The TSA issued a statement: “TSA does not profile passengers. All of our millimeter wave technology units including those in Dallas have been upgraded with additional privacy enhancements that no longer display passenger-specific images. Even prior to this upgrade, officers reviewing the images were located in a separate room and would have never seen the passenger being screened. To further ensure passenger privacy and anonymity, a privacy filter was applied to blur all images. The technology remains optional to all passengers.”
CBS notes, however, that the old scanners which return detailed images of the subject are still in use in 39 airports across the U.S. and that most passengers are not aware they can opt out of the scanner and request a pat-down instead.
Jezebel advises women who feel uncomfortable with using the body scanner to request a pat-down. The website said: "If you refuse, you'll receive something that walks the line between a pat-down and a grope from a female agent."
TSA has admitted that it is unusual for passengers to be sent back into the scanner more than once. A spokesperson for the agency encouraged passengers to lodge complaint if they feel their privacy has been violated. According to the TSA spokesman, the agency takes complaints seriously.