Airport Screening Going Too Far?

By Laura Strachan, Esq. on November 01, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Airport screening is a necessary and mostly accepted part of air travel these days. After 9/11, many airports increased the nature of the inspection. For the most part, travelers put their luggage through the x-ray machine and go on their way. For those individuals singled out for a pat down, they may find the encounter to be a little friendlier than before. Specifically, TSA officials are now using their palms (instead of the back of their hands) to inspect the traveler.

CNN quotes a recent TSA statement on the new pat-down procedures: "Pat-downs are an important tool to help TSA detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives ... [passengers] should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, among other things."

So what exactly do the TSA pat-down procedures entail? It's all in the hands. Because the palms are more sensitive to smaller items that may be hidden, allowing TSA officials to use their palms to pat-down an individual's legs, arms, breasts, and other areas will hopefully serve to better thwart potential crime within the airport and on an airplane.

Many feel that the changes in airport security have gone too far. There is a fine line between security and invasion of privacy and the increased privileges given to TSA officials may be tipping the balance. The Fourth Amendment guarantees people a right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

There are obvious Fourth Amendment implications in increasing airport screening, but because of the special risks associated with flying, courts have often given more leeway when it comes to airport screening. On the one hand, there is the obvious potential for abuse and that the screenings will be less of a security reason and more of an uncomfortable (or worse) hassle for a relatively helpless traveler. A balancing act will certainly be necessary.

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