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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles:Instead of a TSA airport search, take the train.

November 18, 2010
 

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Kyle Whitney is headed home for the holidays next week, but unlike 1.6 million Americans who say they plan to fly, he’s taking the train.

“I thought about flying, but it doesn’t seem right that you have to submit to a strip search in order to fly,” said Whitney, who works for XM Radio in the District.

So instead of a one-hour flight to Hartford, Conn., he’ll spend about seven hours on the train.

For millions of Americans the delicate balance between anti-terrorism security needs and personal freedoms seems to have been tipped by new airport security methods to employ revealing full-body scanners and require “enhanced pat-downs” of those who refuse the scan.

Although flying might be a once-a-year affair for many who will head to the airport next week, the roiling controversy over new security procedures implemented last month most likely has caught their attention.

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Video of a confrontation between Transportation Security Administration agents and a passenger at a security checkpoint in San Diego went viral on the Internet. And on Tuesday a man who passed through one of the new scanners in Indianapolis International Airport was arrested for punching a TSA agent.

Whitney says that he understands that frustration and that he’s annoyed with those who are “willing to trade off their rights” in the name of security.

“These TSA agents are allowed to do searches that even the FBI and the police can’t do,” Whitney said.

John S. Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, has defended the new techniques twice this week under questioning by members of two Senate committees.

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“I’m bothered by the level of pat-downs,” said Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) while Pistole was testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee. “I wouldn’t want my wife to be touched like that. I wouldn’t want to be touched like that myself. What can we do to get the right balance? I think we’ve gone too far afield.”

Pistole responded that “reasonable people can disagree on where the balance should be,” but he insisted that the scanners, which critics have likened to X-ray vision, and very thorough body searches are necessary to catch non-metallic security threats.

“We have discovered dozens and dozens of artfully disguised items that have posed a risk,” said Pistole, a former FBI agent who took the TSA post this year. “The threats are real, the stakes are high and we must prevail. When it comes to the TSA, we are the last line of defense.”

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So far, the TSA has installed 385 of the full-body scanners at 68 airports, with plans to increase the number to 500 by year’s end and bring the total to more than 1,000 next year. Passengers who decline to use the full-body scanners are offered an “enhanced pat-down” as an alternative.

Pistole said children 12 and younger would not be required to go through the process. He said anyone who objects to a public pat-down can be searched in private.

He asked that people who are traveling next week visit the TSA Web site, tsa.gov, to review the guidelines.

Planned air travel is up 3.5 percent this Thanksgiving, with 1.62 million people telling AAA that they plan to fly.

“No one likes being probed and prodded and patted-down, but it is better than being blown to smithereens,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “Americans, the flying public, especially those who only fly during the holidays, want and need assurance of security.”

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Passenger Civil Rights

Office of Civil Rights and Liberties

Overview

TSA’s 43,000 security officers, inspectors, air marshals, managers, and directors are a reflection of this nation’s great diversity. We are a reflection of you, the traveling public. Our goal and our mission is to protect our nation’s transportation systems so that we all can travel safely. Our security officers work to protect over 2 million travelers each and every day.

We are committed to making each traveler’s screening experience as pleasant and smooth as possible. We are also committed to treating each traveler with dignity and respect throughout the screening process.

Despite our commitment to integrity, you may be unhappy with your screening experience. You may feel that you were treated differently or less favorably by a security officer. You may even feel that the treatment you experienced was because of your race, national origin, age, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. If this is how you feel about a screening experience, we want to know about it.

The role of the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties is to review concerns about a screening experience where you believe you were treated differently or discriminated against because of your race, national origin, age, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. We can only attempt to resolve concerns when we know they exist.

Our Civil Rights Policy Statement 

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We treat all members of the travelers in a manner free from unlawful discrimination, harassment or retaliation. To emphasize our commitment to TSA employees and the traveling public, TSA issued its Civil Rights Policy Statement.

Quite simply, our policy statement assures travelers they will be treated in a fair, lawful and nondiscriminatory manner. It also emphasizes we have no tolerance for harassment in the treatment of the public we serve. Finally, it outlines out how we ensure an environment free of discrimination through program, policy, and operational reviews.

» Click here to read the TSA Civil Rights Policy. (pdf)

Mission Of The External Compliance Division, Office Of Civil Rights And Liberties

To ensure that the civil rights and liberties of the traveling public are respected throughout screening processes, without compromising security. The Division ensures that Agency processes and procedures do not discriminate against the traveling public, and abide by the constitutional freedoms of the traveling public.

The External Compliance Division meets its mission by providing civil rights guidance and services to TSA program offices, including security offices, technology offices, and communications offices; and by reviewing TSA policies and procedures to ensure that the civil rights and liberties of the traveling public are taken into account.

Reporting Civil Rights And Civil Liberties Complaints

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How can you report a civil rights or civil liberties complaint? There are a number of ways in which you can report a concern. You can pursue any of the following steps.

During travel: While you are still at the checkpoint, you can ask to speak with a supervisor about the incident. You can also ask to speak with the Customer Service Manager for the airport. Depending on the time of day during which you are traveling or the size of the airport, the Customer Service Manager may not be readily accessible to you at the airport.

After traveling: You may contact the External Compliance Division of TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties to file a complaint.

Our mailing address is:
Transportation Security Administration
Office of Civil Rights and Liberties (TSA-6)
External Compliance Division
601 S. 12th Street
Arlington, VA 20598
Our email address is:
TSA.OCR-ExternalCompliance@dhs.gov

You may also contact the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to file a complaint. The Department’s procedures for filing and handling complaints can be found at:http://www.dhs.gov/xabout/structure/editorial_0373.shtm.

What should be included in your complaint?

Your complaint should include a description of the incident. The description should include the date of the incident, the approximate time of the incident, the name of the airline carrier on which you were flying, and the name of the airport. The complaint should also explain what happened. The explanation should include why you feel the incident constituted a civil rights or civil liberties violation and why you feel you were treated differently, or discriminated against by this incident.

What is a civil rights or civil liberties complaint?

Civil Rights – include the Constitutional rights to due process, and equal treatment under the law.

Civil Libertiesinclude the Constitutional freedoms of speech, religion, and assembly.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination – includes treating someone differently or less favorably because of a person’s race, national origin, age, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, as compared to someone else under similar circumstances.

What will happen with your complaint?

  • A Specialist will be assigned to handle your complaint.
  • The Specialist’s responsibility is to attempt to resolve your concern. The Specialist may conduct a fact-finding investigation into the alleged discriminatory act or incident.
  • If a fact-finding investigation is conducted, the Office of Civil Rights and Liberties will review the available facts and will make findings as to whether or not the incident or act complained of constituted unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.
  • The Office of Civil Rights and Liberties may also recommend measures be put in place, such as conducting additional training, to resolve the concern.

The Office of Civil Rights and Liberties will process external complaints filed up to 180 days after the date of the alleged discriminatory act or incident. However, the ability to conduct a successful fact-finding investigation is greatly limited when an extended period of time has passed between the date of the alleged discriminatory act or incident and the date of receipt of the complaint.

How to contact TSA on other matters, such as watch list issues, claims issues, general questions, or to share your opinions or comments with us.

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For additional information and contact information concerning watch list issues, please see the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program’s webpage at:http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/customer/redress/index.shtm.

For additional information and contact information concerning claims issues, please see the TSA Claims Management Office’s webpage at:http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/customer/claims/index.shtm.

To ask general questions or to share your opinions or comments with us, please see the TSA Contact Center’s webpage at: http://contact.tsa.dhs.gov/default.aspx.

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By Ashley Halsey III – Washington Post Staff Writer

Additional Information, Editing, Video,  and Images by  Richard Emanuel

Thursday, November 18, 2010; 12:15 AM

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