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$11,000 fine, arrest possible for some who refuse airport scans and pat downs

If you don’t want to pass through an airport scanner that allows security agents to see an image of your naked body or to undergo the alternative, a thorough manual search, you may have to find another way to travel this holiday season.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is warning that any would-be commercial airline passenger who enters an airport checkpoint and then refuses to undergo the method of inspection designated by TSA will not be allowed to fly and also will not be permitted to simply leave the airport.

That person will have to remain on the premises to be questioned by the TSA and possibly by local law enforcement. Anyone refusing faces fines up to $11,000 and possible arrest.

“Once a person submits to the screening process, they can not just decide to leave that process,” says Sari Koshetz, regional TSA spokesperson, based in Miami.

Koshetz said such passengers would be questioned “until it is determined that they don’t pose a threat” to the public.

Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Teri Barbera said PBSO deputies stationed at the airport would become involved when requested by the TSA.

“We will handle each incident on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

No one will be forcibly searched or arrested “just because they refuse to go through the security procedures,” Barbera said. “That may rise to the level of suspicious behavior for the TSA, but it wouldn’t rise to the level of suspicious behavior for a deputy,” she said.

But Barbera said that if a person is judged to be a possible threat, deputies are legally permitted to detain and search that individual. “The deputies will do it at the airport just as they would do it anywhere else,” she said.

Once cleared by the TSA and deputies, the people will be allowed to leave, she said.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union was urging Americans to petition the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, to change the new policies.

“All of us have a right to travel without such crude invasions of our privacy,” the ACLU said in a statement. “Tell DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to put in place security measures that respect passengers’ privacy rights. You shouldn’t have to check your rights when you check your luggage.”

The ACLU outlined ways for citizens to respond to TSA demands at checkpoints and also provided a form letter for filing complaints.

But the TSA stuck to its guns. Testifying before Congress Wednesday, TSA Administrator John S. Pistole said inspectors at the nation’s airports would enforce the new policies despite complaints that the search methods are too invasive.

“We have to ensure that each person getting on every flight is secure,” Pistole said.

Asked by U.S. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) about groups that objected to all forms of bodily search on religious grounds, Pistole didn’t waiver: “While we respect that person’s beliefs, that person’s not going to get on an airplane.”

In March, the TSA introduced AIT scanners — also known as “nude body” or “whole body’ scanners — and now uses them in more than 60 airports, including South Florida airports: Six each at Palm Beach International and Miami International and 10 at Hollywood- Fort Lauderdale.

The machines project a black and white image of a passenger’s naked body to a screen in a separate, private room where it is studied by a TSA agent.

No face is visible and the agent never sees the person being scanned.

TSA officials say the new technology is necessary because it detects not just metal but other potentially dangerous materials, including plastic explosives.

Koshetz said the TSA goal is for as many passengers as possible to pass through the AIT machines, rather than the less revealing traditional metal detectors.

A recent CBS poll found that 81 percent of people questioned did not object to the AIT system. But some do and an online group called National Opt-Out Day is encouraging passengers to refuse the AIT screening on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, which would force TSA to perform many more manual searches and probably cause long delays.

They may be letting themselves in for more than they expect. A policy enacted in the past month allows agents to perform manual searches of passengers, including their private areas, which are much more invasive than the back-of-the-hand technique most often used in the past. Some critics have referred to the technique as “groping.”

One critic of the TSA is Jon Corbett, 26, of Miami Beach, who this week requested that a U.S. District Court judge in Miami grant an injunction to block the new security methods. Corbett said he plans to fly to New York Thanksgiving Day and had hopes the court would respond before that.

“But I’m not sure that will happen,” he said.


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