The final option is to leave the current system in place: using full-body scanners as a primary screening method and resolving alarms through a pat-down. This method is favored by the TSA, which says that it’s the most effective way to screen passengers and prevent another terrorist attack.
“The public has a unique opportunity to affect the TSA’s future actions,” says EPIC’s Barnes. “It is absolutely imperative that they comment on the TSA’s proposal.”
Some passengers believe that the current system works. The TSA says that roughly 99 percent of air travelers choose the full-body scanners instead of “opting out” and receiving a pat-down, and it cites a CBS poll that shows four out of five Americans support the use of Advanced Imaging Technology at airports nationwide.
“I choose body scans whenever available,” says Michael Menaker, a retired advertising executive from Louisville, Colo. “It’s much quicker and easier than the pat-down I always get. I have an artificial hip, and the scanners speed me through security with less hassle.”
Larry Edward, one of several hundred commenters on the rulemaking site, disagreed. “No more scanners,” he said in a brief statement. “I will do anything to avoid flying because of them and the invasive pat-downs that are occurring at the airports.”
A recent review of the comments suggested an overwhelming number in favor of abandoning AIT technology and stopping the TSA’s policy of giving a prison-style pat-down to passengers who set off an alarm or who voluntarily opt out.
The TSA is trying to keep these comments to a minimum, say observers. They point to the TSA’s own blog post on the subject, published almost two weeks after the release of the rulemaking but deleted within minutes of being posted. After receiving questions from many travelers, as well as this reporter, about the missing post, the TSA republished the notice a week later — minus the links to the site where readers could leave a comment.
One reason the agency seems uncomfortable with a rulemaking is that it’s the first time the TSA has ever defined or offered an opportunity for passengers to comment on any aspect of the screening process, according to privacy activist Edward Hasbrouck.
“In this light, it’s likely that one reason the TSA has been so resistant to a public rulemaking process on AIT is the likelihood that it would open the door to renewed demands from consumer, privacy and civil liberties groups for a similar rulemaking on other aspects of the screening process,” he says.
The agency’s coyness, combined with what critics say is a lack of transparency, has left many doubting that the TSA will do anything meaningful in response to the public comments.
For some air travelers, no matter what happens, it will be too little, too late. They say that the agency has spent the better part of the past five years subjecting them to unconstitutional searches, violating their civil rights and assaulting their dignity when they fly.
Nancy Nally, a Web site publisher from Palm Coast, Fla., says that regardless of how the TSA responds, she’s most disappointed by its lateness. This rulemaking should have happened in 2006, not 2013, she says.
“Why close the barn door after the horse is gone?” she asks.
E-mail Christopher Elliott at email@example.com.