TSA Moves Forward with Problematic Body Scanners

Remington Gregg

This week, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) finalized its policy on the use of full body scanners in America’s airports. While TSA states that full body scanners are an essential component to keeping Americans safe, HRC continues to have concerns that using these scanners without proper precautions erode the dignity and privacy of vulnerable travelers, especially transgender individuals.

In 2011, a federal court ordered TSA to publish an official policy on the use of full body scanners. In 2013, TSA published an interim policy for public comment. HRC submitted comments that urged TSA to put in place strong protections for transgender passengers. HRC’s comments urged TSA to:

  • Reduce its reliance on body scanners as a primary method of checkpoint screening and instead rely on multiple, less invasive screening mechanisms;
  • Explicitly state that individuals may request to be searched by TSA officers of the same self-identified gender;
  • Provide clear notice in all airports that an individual can request a “pat down” as an alternative to body scanners;
  • Require TSA officers to perform physical searches in private and allow passengers to be accompanied by a witness of their choosing;
  • Limit a passenger’s necessity to lift or remove their clothing to protect individuals who travel with a prostheses or other similar items under their clothing; and
  • Provide comprehensive training for TSA officers working with diverse passenger populations.

Comprehensive screening plays an essential role in promoting airport security; however, TSA’s failure to integrate several key recommendations regarding privacy and respectful screening continues to place transgender and gender nonconforming passengers at an unacceptable risk for harassment and delay.

The final rule acknowledges that passengers should ordinarily not be asked to remove or lift an article of clothing to reveal a sensitive area. TSA also allows travelers to request a private screening with a witness present, and provides several avenues for a passenger to report unprofessional or discriminatory conduct. Passengers can contact TSA’s Contact Center at TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov, TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement at TSA-CRL@tsa.dhs.gov, or directly file a complaint of discrimination at dhs.gov/complaints. More passenger support information can be found here.

More must be done to protect the dignity of transgender passengers. While TSA officers are asked to perform a critical and demanding job on a daily basis, their security requirements must be balanced at all times by the paramount need to treat all passengers with dignity and respect. HRC will continue to work with TSA to better address the privacy needs of LGBT travelers.

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