Logan airport security just got more up close and personal as federal screeners launched a more aggressive palms-first, slide-down body search technique that has renewed the debate over privacy vs. safety.
The new procedure – already being questioned by the ACLU – replaces the Transportation Security Administration’s former back-of-the-hand patdown.
Boston is one of only two cities in which the new touchy-feely frisking is being implemented as a test before a planned national rollout. The other is Las Vegas
“We’re all for good effective security measures,” American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts spokesman Christopher Ott said. “But, in general, we’re concerned about this seemingly constant erosion of privacy, and we wonder whether or not it’s really going to be effective.
“Accepting these kinds of searches may keep people safer in some situations, but not in every situation, and we’re encouraging people to stop and think about what is the right balance between privacy and security,” Ott said.
A TSA spokeswoman yesterday confirmed the switch to what the agency calls an “enhanced patdown.”
“TSA is in the process of implementing an enhanced patdown at security checkpoints as one of our many layers of security,” said Ann Davis, TSA spokeswoman for the Northeast region. “Patdowns are designed to address potentially dangerous items, like improvised explosive devices and their components, concealed on the body.”
The body searches are conducted by same-gender TSA officers, and passengers can request private screenings at any time.
Previously, TSA screeners used patdown motions of their hands to search passengers over their clothes, switching to the backs of their hands over certain ’sensitive’ body areas, such as the torso.
But now the searches will be done using all front-of-the-hand sliding motions over greater areas of passengers’ bodies, including sensitive areas.
“The pat down just (because I) was wearing jewelry seems like overkill,” one woman wrote on Logan’s Twitter account yesterday.
But Justine Griffin, a senior vice president at Rasky Baerlein Communications and frequent flier, said yesterday, “The most important thing is to have an effective patdown. If using the back of the hand is less effective, then security trumps niceties.”
The TSA implemented the new body-search procedures at Logan and Las Vegas-McCarran because both airports are using the greatest number of the walk-through full-body scanners. Those scanners use low-dose X-rays to produce two-sided, head-to-toe images of passengers’ bodies – including discernible but not distinct images of their private parts – but blur their facial features.
Passengers who opt not to walk through the full-body scanners – which have also been assailed by privacy advocates – must instead walk through a metal detector and submit to a body search. If the full-body scanners detect an image on a person’s body that screeners can’t decipher, those passengers also are subjected to body searches.
If there is no full-body scanner at a security checkpoint, passengers go through a metal detector and are subjected to a body search if the alarm sounds. The TSA also subjects random passengers to body searches.