TSA's budgetHouse limits whole body imaging

Published 5 June 2009

Worries about privacy lead Congress to vote, 310-118, to ban whole body imaging at airports; the bill would ban TSA from using whole-body imaging instead of metal detectors as the first-screening device at airports

Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), yesterday used, well, the naked truth to persuade the House to vote to ban “strip-search” imaging at airports. “You don’t have to look at my wife and 8-year-old daughter naked to secure an airplane,” Chaffetz told the House about “whole body” imaging.

The House then voted 310-118 to approve a Chaffetz amendment banning it, adding that to a Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) authorization bill. The whole bill passed later, and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Chaffetz’s amendment would ban the TSA from using whole-body imaging instead of metal detectors as the first-screening device at airports. The TSA, however, could still use them for “secondary” searches of people who set off metal detector alarms.

Desert News’s Lee Davidson writes that Chaffetz’s amendment requires that such people also be given the option of a pat-down search instead, and that they be told clearly that the imaging could essentially allow a TSA worker in a remote room to see through their clothes.

You can actually see the sweat on somebody’s back. You can tell the difference between a dime and a nickel. If they can do that, they can see things that quite frankly I don’t think they should be looking at in order to secure a plane,” Chaffetz told the House.

The amendment is identical to the first bill that Chaffetz introduced as a House member. He said Thursday that he worried much of that day that he would lose the vote. “The Democratic chairman of the Homeland Security bill had serious concerns about the amendment. We spent most of the day explaining it, and that resolved his concerns — and it passed. Not bad for a rookie freshman,” Chaffetz told the Desert News.

Chaffetz said that chairman, and others, worried his amendment might entirely ban whole body imaging — but he explained that it would still allow using it for secondary searches.

As Chaffetz told the House, his amendment “only limits primary screening. People with artificial hips or limbs may elect to go through it in secondary screening. It’s perfect for them. But to suggest that every single American, my wife, my 8-year-old daughter, be subjected to this is absolutely wrong.”

Leading opposition to Chaffetz on the floor was Representative Dan Lundgren (R-California). “I have been through many, many pat-downs because I happen to have an artificial hip. Going through this (whole body imaging) at Reagan National Airport was so much quicker, so less intrusive of my privacy than what we go through now” with pat-downs, he said.

Lundgren added that whole-body imaging “can detect small IEDs (explosives), plastic explosives, ceramic knives and other objects traditional metal detection cannot detect,” and makes flying safer for everyone. He said, “This idea that someone is sitting in a little room waiting to see what you look like, frankly, is sort of overblown.”

Chaffetz replied, “I want to have as much safety and security on an airplane. I fly every week. But there comes a point in which in the name of safety and security we overstep that line and have an invasion of privacy. This happens to be one of those invasions of privacy.”

Representative Carol Shay-Porter (D-New Hampshire), who cosponsored the amendment with Chaffetz, also displayed large “naked” photos taken by whole-body imaging to the House to show how revealing they are.