Napolitano defends new screening at airports

By Derek Kravitz
Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Amid criticism over intensified airport screening measures, Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the Department of Homeland Security's use of full-body scanners and pat-downs as essential to "match the changing threat environment that we inhabit."

"This is all being done as a process to make sure that the traveling public is safe," she said, adding that officials would "have an open ear" if adjustments to the new rules needed to be made.

Passengers, civil liberties groups and airline pilot and flight attendant unions have complained that the X-ray machines could equate to a "virtual strip search" and that the new pat-downs are too invasive.

Napolitano said she "regrets" calls to boycott such screening measures, including one group's plans for the day before Thanksgiving, but that "if people don't want to play that role, if they want to travel by some other means, of course that's their right."

John Prater, head of the Air Line Pilots Association, told the Associated Press that, based on discussions Monday with TSA officials, he is optimistic the agency will soon allow flight attendants and pilots to undergo less-stringent screenings.

Travel industry groups are growing concerned about the issue and its potential impact on the busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, an advocacy group representing corporate travel departments, told the AP, "Almost to a person, travel managers are concerned that TSA is going too far and without proper procedures and sufficient oversight. Travel managers are hearing from their travelers about this virtually on a daily basis."

Beyond the scanning process, passengers will also be subject to greater scrutiny of their luggage and personal identification and stricter enforcement of long-standing rules like the ban on carry-on liquids over three ounces.

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