The Identity Project has joined with the Privacy Coalition in a campaign to stop “Whole Body Imaging” in U.S. airports.
The TSA is in the process of substituing these “Virtual Strip Search” machines as a replacement for, or an addiiton to, metal detectors for primary screening of all travelers. You’ll be able (at least at first) to opt out of the virtual strip search “Whole Body Imaging”, but then you’ll automatically get the full secondary screening pat-down, as though you had set off the metal detector. The “Whole Body Imaging” machines use microwaves that go through your clothes and reflect off your skin to display a detailed picture of your naked body to a TSA operator, in a back room where you can’t see who they are or what they are doing while they ogle your as-though-naked image.
Individual travelers as well as organizations can sign up until May 31, 2009 (Sunday) to endorse a joint letter (scroll ot the bottom of this page for the sign-on form) calling for on Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano to suspend the use of “Whole Body Imaging” for primary screening.
The TSA has been extremely careful to avoid acknowledging that it conducts “searches” at all, always using the term “screening” rather than “search”, “seizure”, “detention”, or “interrogation”. Their legal authority for increasingly intrusive activities such as these, at airports and other checkpoints, is limited and largely untested. At the same time, they have been gradually moving from (somewhat) narrowly-targetted searches of travelers to a de facto claim (not yet made explicit or reviewed by any court) that airports or other public transport facilities, even for domestic travel, are more like international borders where the authority for search of travelers has been considered virtually limitless.
In the past, the legal authority of the TSA has been evaluated by the courts on the assumption that searches incident to “screening” of travelers were limited to searches necessary to detect weapons and explosives. Whether “Whole Body Imaging” is the least intrusive search necessary for this purpose, whether it is intended or will be used for wider purposes, and whether the TSA has the legal authority to conduct more intrusive searches or searches for other purposes, are all questions best addressed through at least a formal rulemaking, and preferably by Congress, prior to Whole Body Imaging deployment or use as part of primary screening, rather than as a consensual alternative to pat-down searches during secondary screening.
Your exercise of the right to travel should not be conditioned on your waiver of the right to protection against unreasonable, warrantless, suspicionless search, seizure, detention, or interrogation.