The Transportation Security Administration’s decision to codify its use of full body scanners this week will adversely impact transgender travelers, according to a statement released by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
NCTE and other organizations blasted the agency after hearing from hundreds of transgender travelers who were asked to lift or remove clothing to reveal undergarments or prosthetics, required to undergo multiple pat-downs and questions about their bodies, and even prevented from boarding flights because of a “groin alarm.”
“It is completely unacceptable to require Americans to discuss their genitals with uniformed government officials in order to travel by air,” said NCTE executive director Mara Keisling. “But that’s exactly what the body scanner program means for many transgender people. TSA has ignored the public’s very real concerns about the efficacy and the real harms of this technology. TSA is spending billions on security theater that seems to do little but erode all travelers’ privacy and dignity.”
The program will continue despite recent controversy related to the full body scanners.
The agency head was recently ousted following an audit in which scanners and pat-downs failed to catch weapons or mock explosives in 95 percent of “secret shopper” tests.
Agency officials additionally admitted that the scanners routinely trigger alarms based solely on transgender people’s body parts, leading to widely-publicized incidents where travelers were forced to discuss their genitalia with officers.
In 2011 a federal appeals court declared the agency’s use of the machines unlawful because the agency acted without formal rules or public comment. The court allowed the program to continue in part because the agency promised travelers could always opt for a thorough pat-down instead – a position the agency reversed in December.
Despite numerous court petitions by organizations including NCTE, and comments from thousands of air travelers, TSA took five more years to adopt this court-ordered rule, which makes no changes in the current program.
“We urge President Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to take action to finally restore balance to airport security,” said NCTE policy director Harper Jean Tobin. “Today’s system exacts a high cost in dollars and personal privacy, with no proof that it is working. These scanners can’t even tell the difference between a bomb and a traveler’s own body. The American people deserve better.”