Thank you for contacting me about the passenger screenings techniques currently being used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), especially the controversial "pat downs" that have recently been reported in the news. I am glad to have your views on this issue.
Like you and many Oklahomans, I am concerned that these individuals' rights have been violated. Make no mistake-it is imperative that the American public is safe while flying, and TSA has a duty to ensure this. However, there should be a proper balance between an individual's rights and security. I have a number concerns with both the use of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines and the enhanced pat downs by TSA, which I will elaborate on below. I certainly do not wish to impair TSA's ability to protect travelers, but I believe there are many improvements to be made in airport security screenings and we must implement a smarter process immediately.
The frequency of pat downs by TSA has come as a response to travelers who refuse to be screened through the AIT machines rolling out at airports nationwide. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have had the opportunity to speak directly with Secretary Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), about my concerns with the AIT machines. With the quick rollout of the AIT technology, I am concerned that our screening efforts may be chasing the last threat, rather than the next one.
I am also concerned that the AIT machines are properly tested, given the enormous cost to the American taxpayer associated with the use of this technology. For example, TSA spent millions of dollars on explosive detection devices without properly testing them, and later found out that they did not work. TSA terminated the use of these devices in 2009. Furthermore, as a doctor, I am concerned with the possible health effects associated with these body scanners because many of these scanners use X-ray to scan the body, which produces radiation. Recently, I joined Senator Collins of Maine and Senator Burr of North Carolina in sending a letter to Secretary Napolitano and the Administrator of TSA, asking for them to provide us with information regarding devices use.
Finally, I am concerned with the privacy implications on the American people from these AIT machines and the enhanced pat downs. I believe the new changes to the pat down techniques by TSA are inappropriate and have crossed a line. The American public should not feel like they are being violated in order to visit family or travel for business. I believe that TSA should revert back to their previous techniques, which includes using the back of their hands to pat down passengers. Secretary Napolitano stated that TSA has issued privacy guidelines for the AIT machines, which includes not storing passengers' images. TSA is also evaluating the use of automatic target recognition (ATR) software. This auto-detection software addresses many of the privacy concerns raised by the AITs by eliminating the need for a TSA employee to view the images generated by scans.
In closing, please know that I will continue to carefully scrutinize this issue and ensure proper action is taken. As I stated above, my goal is to find the proper balance between protecting the American people from the very real threat of terrorism, while at the same time guarding our liberty and individual rights. I will continue to monitor TSA passenger screening techniques to ensure that we are not stripping away individual rights.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns with me. Best wishes!
Tom A. Coburn, M.D.
United States Senator
Friday, November 19, 2010
Response from Sen. Coburn on my TSA letter
Earlier this week, I wrote a letter to my senators and representative, detailing my concerns with the TSA's invasive screening policies. That letter can be read here. Yesterday, I received a form-letter response from Sen. Coburn (R-OK) that, in my opinion, is quite encouraging. Here it is, in its entirety.
Posted by Travis at 10:08 AM