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Airport security depends on TSA body scans and pat downs

Full-body scanners and pat downs are new because of new types of terrorist threats. Most flyers want security in the air. Congress should back TSA while also pushing for better technology that addresses privacy concerns.

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As more US airports use full-body image scans on boarding passengers – and for those who refuse, an intimate pat down by a security agent – the more Americans might ask:

How much additional sacrifice must I endure to help prevent a terrorist from boarding an airplane?

Even the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) admits it has a limit on how far government should go to find concealed weapons: The TSA is reluctant to start searching body cavities of suspicious fliers, despite concerns that terrorists might use such a method to smuggle explosives onboard; and children under 12 are exempt from pat downs.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has struggled to find a balance between beefing up security against terrorism and upholding the rights of individuals – whether it be a right to privacy, a fair trial in court, or freedom from racial profiling. This dynamic tension between rights and security must evolve with each novel attempt by Al Qaeda and its affiliates to thwart preventive measures.

For flight security, a string of unexpected threats – nonmetallic bombs in shoes, water bottles, and underwear – has pushed the TSA to adopt more intrusive methods, such as body scans, behavioral detection, and pat downs. And each time, Congress – whose leaders see the intelligence reports on threats – has weighed the public outcry and stood behind the TSA.

Lawmakers must back the agency in the face of organized pushback by private groups opposing the body scans and pat downs.

One group, We Won’t Fly, has even asked fliers to use the busiest travel day of the year, the Wednesday before this Thanksgiving, to “raise holy hell” about the TSA methods. For this designated “National Opt Out Day,” it has asked passengers to request not being scanned and if the resulting pat down is too “inappropriate,” to “call for a law enforcement officer.”

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