Thanks to a new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) policy, many passengers are being forced to undergo an extremely intrusive and humiliating "pat down" search that is unlike anything most Americans have experienced before.
In the few weeks since the policy came into effect, the ACLU has received hundreds of complaints from travelers who have been subject to these invasive and suspicionless searches. These complaints came from men, women and children who reported feeling humiliated and traumatized by these searches, and, in some cases, comparing their psychological impact to sexual assaults.
Based on the reports we have received, those who are subjected to the searches will very likely experience the following which appear to be "standard practice":
Agents fingering your ankles and running their hands all the way up your legs, including the area between your inner thighs and crotch;
Agents patting your genital area through your clothing;
Agents rubbing and squeezing your arms, back, stomach, buttocks, and breasts with open hands through your clothing. Screeners often run their fingers along the underwire of women's bras;
Agents running their fingers through your hair and the area around your neck and the collar of your shirt;
Agents running their fingers several inches down the waistband of your pants or skirt, often involving touching and/or exposing your bare stomach.
You may also experience what some have reported:
Agents performing these searches in full view of other, gawking passengers, without informing travelers of their right to be screened in private;
Agents touching your genitals through your clothing with shocking and even painful force;
Agents pressing between the cheeks of your buttocks through your clothing;
Agents repeatedly touching the same parts of your body, for no apparent reason;
Agents with demeanors that range from embarrassed or apologetic, to coldly professional, to aggressive and hostile, to creepy;
Being delayed and forced to wait for extended periods of time;
You may be separated from your carry-on belongings, which are often left unguarded while the pat-down takes place. One woman reported being separated from her infant during the pat-down
Who can be subjected to one of these searches? Anyone. Based on the reports we've received, you may be forced to undergo one of these rub-downs if:
You are selected randomly for one;
You set off a magnetic scanner (individuals with artificial joints or other metal in their bodies may undergo these pat-downs each time they fly);
You undergo a full-body x-ray scan, but are told the image indicated something unclear or possibly suspicious;
You are told that your clothing requires a pat-down (reports vary widely as to the clothing at issue);
You exercise your right to opt-out of the full-body x-ray scan, which permits a TSA agent to see through your clothes and view your naked figure;
A TSA agent decides to punish you because you misunderstand them or exercise your right as an American to express an opinion to them.
In fact, in some cases, individuals have reported being subjected to this touching for no reason that anyone explained to them. According to our reports, Children, adolescents, the elderly, and the disabled are not exempt from these invasive searches.
The government should enact procedures that pose the least threat to our civil liberties and are also proven to be effective; embarrassingly intimate pat-downs does not fit that criteria. The ACLU is doing everything it can to end these unacceptable physical searches.
If you have experienced a problem with the full body scanners or pat-down searches at airport security, you can help us end these problems.
The Global Write-a-thon is the biggest Amnesty International event all year. It also uses one of the oldest (and most powerful) weapons of the human rights movement -- writing letters. In other words, it's a BIG deal.
Last year around this time, people from more than 70 countries stood together for human rights. That overwhelming solidarity and support were key reasons why Ma Khin Khin Leh, a school teacher in Myanmar and Hana Abdi, a women's rights advocate in Iran, were both released from prison soon after Write-a-thon letters overwhelmed their respective government offices.
News reports this weekend stated that the Obama administration may be considering issuing a highly controversial order to incarcerate some Guantanamo detainees indefinitely.
Indefinite detention without charge or trial is one of the most egregious of all human rights violations and a hallmark of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes the world over.
Obama vowed in May that he would work with Congress to find an appropriate legal framework for those trapped in the inhumane system set up by the Bush administration at Guantanamo Bay.1
His pledge gave Americans hope that we would be turning the page on White House end-runs around the legislative branch and other checks on executive authority. It furthered our belief that the end of the Bush era was a chance to restore an executive branch that adhered to the foundational principles of human rights, transparency and the rule of law.
But this weekend, these hopes were dashed. Some commentators have said that this move reveals a willingness on the part of the Obama administration to bypass Congressional oversight whenever it thinks legislators could fail to act in accordance with its wishes.2
We know that the 'trial balloon' has become a standard tactic of the Obama administration. They leak controversial information over the weekend and gauge the public's reaction before they make their final call.
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