The Evolution of Airport Passenger Screening

Table of Contents

|Introduction |2 | |The Evolution of Airport Passenger Screening |3 | |Legal Implications |6 | |Other Concerns |11 | |Recommendations and Alternatives |12 | |Conclusion |14 |

It is common knowledge that terrorists hide dangerous items on certain parts of their bodies which make more traditional airport passenger screening procedures less effective. These areas include the small of the back, high on the thigh, and inside undergarments (Elias 7). Such efforts have brought to light the increased necessity for adequate passenger screening protocols to protect passengers and crews from potential terrorist activities. However, newer invasive technologies, even if narrowly defined and utilized, pose a significant threat to civil liberties (NRC 37). So much, in fact, that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have vehemently expressed their opposition to such technologies because of the potential for passengers to be forced to display highly-personal details such as the size of their genitals, medical devices, or other potentially-embarrassing details simply to board an airplane; essentially calling the searches a “virtual strip search” (Kornblatt 409; Hindman 337). Further, the hypothetical abuse has been substantiated in numerous complaints and lawsuits citing violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Freedom of Information Act. A successful passenger search operation is wholly dependent upon one’s definition of success and the literature is full of disparities between stakeholders’ definitions (Calder 325). The biggest argument against invasive screening techniques is that while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has wide discretion to screen passengers in the name of counterterrorism pursuant to the Aviation and Transportation Security Act and the Homeland Security Act enacted shortly after 9/11, it does not have unlimited discretion and it is completely improper to view every person who purchases an airline ticket as guilty until proven innocent (Hindman 347-8; Clark par. 16). Accordingly, because of the high potential for constitutional abuse and existing case law which stipulates how the Fourth Amendment applies to airport passenger searches, the TSA should reevaluate its use of invasive pat-down and body imaging searches which not only violate individual liberties but do not necessarily ensure passenger safety.

The Evolution of Airport Passenger Screening
The earliest airline passenger screening procedures arose during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a preventive tool against airline hijacking and culminated in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) establishment of the Anti-Hijacking program which set forth rules that all passengers were to be screened via physical searches, magnetometers, identification checks, behavioral profiling, or a combination of these (Kornblatt 386). By December 1972, after the incidence of hijackings did not abate, the FAA mandated emergency rules for screening all passengers and carry-on baggage (Kornblatt 387).

Preflight screening takes two stages: primary screening to which all passengers are subjected; and secondary screening which is reserved for those...
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