Protesters Plan To Opt Out Of Body Scanners En Masse Wednesday

CHICAGO (CBS) – Despite tough talk on the Internet, there was little if any indication of a passenger revolt at many major U.S. airports Tuesday, with very few people declining the X-ray scan that can peer through their clothes.

But the situation could be different on Wednesday. A loosely organized Internet campaign is urging people to refuse the scans on Wednesday in what is being called National Opt-Out Day.

The extra time needed to pat down people could cause a cascade of delays at dozens of major airports, including O’Hare International Airport, and major airports in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.

Karen Pride, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation, would say only that O’Hare and Midway international airports planned to bring in extra workers for the holiday, but she declined to address the potential effect of the protest.

Officials say a body scan can take up to 10 seconds, while a pat-down can take four minutes.

“Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it takes to cause huge delays,” said Paul Ruden, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents, which has warned its more than 8,000 members about delays. “It doesn’t take much to mess things up anyway.”

Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole also pleaded with Thanksgiving travelers for understanding and urged them not to boycott full-body scans on Wednesday. It would only snarl what is already one of the busiest, most stressful flying days of the year and would only “tie up people who want to go home and see their loved ones,” he said.

“We all wish we lived in a world where security procedures at airports weren’t necessary,” he said, “but that just isn’t the case.”

He noted the alleged attempt by a Nigerian with explosives in his underwear to bring down a plane over Detroit last Christmas.

National Opt-Out Day was created by Brian Soderberg, of Ashburn, Va., who works in the health care industry and describes himself as an “ordinary citizen.” The language on the website for the event is dramatic and frank.

“It’s the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government’s desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an ‘enhanced pat down’ that touches people’s breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner,” the site says. “You should never have to explain to your children, “Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK.”

Some airline passengers talked with CBS 2’s Pamela Jones about the security methods on Monday night.

Passenger Candice Cain says dealing with a full-body scan in Philadelphia almost made her miss her flight to O’Hare International Airport on Monday.

“I did feel like it was a little bit of an invasion of my privacy, just because you can see,” she said. “It’s like a strip search, pretty much.”

Kathy Jaeger says she went through X-rays three times Monday.

“I think they should take another look at it,” she said. “There’s got to be something else they can do besides the nakedness thing.”

But about two-thirds of Americans support using the full-body scanners to increase security, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll published Tuesday. But half of the 514 adults surveyed by phone said the more rigorous pat-downs go too far.

Across the country, most who don’t like the screenings just grumble but don’t really cause a big fuss, at least not that Cris Soulia, a TSA officer in San Diego and president of a local union, has heard or seen.

“We’re not here groping people. We’re not here molesting people. We’re checking them for items and explosives. And yes, explosives can be hidden in the groin area,” she said.

Still, there are horror stories circulating from incidents all around the country.

Bladder cancer survivor Thomas Sawyer of Michigan was left covered in urine after a pat-down at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. He wears a urostomy bag that collects his urine, and during the pat-down, the cap came off and splashed on him.

In another incident, a producer for ABC News who opted for a pat-down reported that a TSA agent felt inside her underwear. In published reports, Carolyn Durand called the experience “basically worse than going to the gynecologist.”

A Chicago area woman, Penny Moroney, told CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman that she was told body scanners were not available when metal in her knee set off detectors at the St. Louis International Airport.

“Her gloved hands touched my breasts, went between them,” Moroney said. “Then she went into the top of my slacks, inserted her hands between my underwear and skin, then put her hands on the outside of my slacks, and patted my genitals.”

She likened the experience to a sexual assault.

This week, a video showing a shirtless young boy resisting a pat-down at Salt Lake City’s airport has become a YouTube sensation and led to demands for an investigation from Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, an outspoken critic of TSA screening methods. The video of the unidentified boy was shot Friday by a bystander with a cell phone.

The TSA said in a blog posting that nobody has to disrobe at an airport checkpoint apart from removing shoes and jackets. According to the TSA, the boy was being searched because he triggered an alarm inside a metal detector, and his father removed the youngster’s shirt to speed up the screening.

And National Opt-Out Day is not the only protest these incidents have sparked. While Soderberg says he doesn’t want to slow down security checkpoints, another participating organization called “We Won’t Fly” features a blurb at the top of its website that says, “Jam TSA checkpoints by opting out until they remove the porno-scanners.”

Organizer James Babb of Eagleville, Pa., agreed many travelers would see the pat-down as equally intrusive or more so. But he’s still recommending the pat-down because, he says, it would create more disruption and send a stronger message.

“They won’t have the manpower to reach into everyone’s crotch,” he said.

Passengers cannot opt out of both the scan and the pat-down once they have been selected for the enhanced searches, according to TSA rules. If they then try to evade the measures, they could face an $11,000 fine.

Even if someone in a security line becomes frustrated and decides not to fly, TSA rules require they submit to a scan or pat-down. If people were allowed to walk out, the agency says, would-be terrorists would have an easy escape.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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