Monday, December 6, 2010

John Tyner—Government in Our Pants





nctimes.com—John Tyner left San Diego’s airport without catching his flight when he refused a revealing full-body scan and then an alternative pat-down, telling a Transportation Security Agent, “If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested.”

John Tyner, 31, said he was told he could face a civil lawsuit and a $10,000 fine for leaving the screening area before the security check was complete, according to news reports and his blog.

The TSA released a statement Sunday asserting that body scans and pat-downs make flying safer. The agency also defended its right to insist that people complete the screening process, saying allowing people to duck out in the middle could allow terrorists to test the security system for weakness.

Tyner and his father-in-law were embarking on a hunting trip to South Dakota on Saturday, but Tyner said he planned to refuse if he was chosen for a full-body scan. He objected to his essentially nude image being viewed by security screeners, as the machines allow.

Passengers have an option to opt out of the screenings and submit to a pat-down instead, which is what Tyner said he thought he would do.

In case there was trouble, Tyner said he turned on his cell phone video camera and hit, "record," before putting it on the conveyer belt to be X-rayed.

While most passengers walked through a metal detector, Tyner was indeed picked for the scan. After he requested to opt out, he said a male agent pulled him aside and explained the pat-down in detail. His cell phone on top of his belongings nearby was recording.

After the agent previewed a "groin check," Tyner told him, "You touch my junk, and I'm going to have you arrested."

"I tried to kind of say it as lightheartedly as possible," Tyner said.

A series of supervisors then got involved.

A female supervisor explained the pat-down again. Tyner said he considered the search illegal, tantamount to a sexual assault. A security manager conferred with her.

The original agent spoke with Tyner while he waited for a decision, Tyner said.

"He said that I gave up a lot of rights when I bought my ticket," Tyner writes on his blog. "I replied that the government took them away after September 11th."

After conferring with her supervisor, the female agent took notes from Tyner's ID, then a Harbor Police agent escorted him out the security area, Tyner said.

The Oceanside man said he was prepared to swallow the price of his ticket.

"Five hundred dollars seemed like a fairly small price to pay to assert my rights," he said.

Tyner said he went to the American Airlines counter, and to his surprise, the carrier refunded his money.

Just as he was about to leave, he said he was confronted by yet another TSA official, who demanded that he return to the security area to complete the screening.

He started recording again.

The official told Tyner he was subject to a civil lawsuit and a $10,000 fine if he refused. But the official also acknowledged he couldn't make him stay.

Tyner left the airport. His father-in-law continued on his trip.

Most people who have commented on his blog are supportive, Tyner said. Others wonder why he didn't just submit to the security check.

But Tyner said he thought people are being asked to give up too many rights, with no evidence it makes traveling safer. There was once a time, he said, when few people would have imagined a naked image could be a prerequisite to flying.

"Cavity searches don't seem out of the question considering the progression we've made over the past few years," he said.

The TSA said its methods have made airline travel safer. And in a statement, the agency referred to a 2007 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision supporting the TSA's right to complete a security screening, even if a passenger decides not to fly.

"Requiring that a potential passenger be allowed to revoke consent to an ongoing airport security search makes little sense in a post-9/11 world," the court noted, according to the TSA. "Such a rule would afford terrorists multiple opportunities to attempt to penetrate airport security by ‘electing not to fly’ on the cusp of detection until a vulnerable portal is found.”

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