In a climate of protests over airport-screening procedures, some airports are considering another way to show dissatisfaction: Getting rid of Transportation Security Administration agents altogether.
Federal law allows airports to opt for private-sector screeners. The push is being led by a powerful Florida congressman, who is a long-time critic of the TSA and counts among his campaign contributors some of the companies that might be an alternative.
John Mica this month wrote letters to the nation's 100 busiest airports asking that they request private security guards.
'I think we could use half the personnel and streamline the system,' Mr Mica said on Wednesday, calling TSA a bloated bureaucracy.
TSA spokesman Greg Soule would not respond directly to Mica's letter.
Invasive: A passenger goes through the new pat-down check at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago
Airport staff were warned today they face prosecution if they touch passengers 'inappropriately' as the national outcry over 'pat-down' security checks gathered momentum.
The move by the California District Attorney represents the first sign of authorities taking a tough stand against the controversial new security checks.
With millions of Americans preparing to travel for Thanksgiving, experts today warned the measures could trigger a deluge of lawsuits from angry passengers.
Yesterday the man in charge of the new security measures faced a grilling in Congress, with one Republican senator telling him: 'I wouldn't want my wife touched like that.'
Incoming San Mateo County DA Steve Wagstaffe said any complaints would land on his desk and staff could be charged with sexual battery.
He told ABC: 'The case would be reviewed and if we could prove the elements of it, that it was inappropriately done with a sexual or lewd intent, that person would be prosecuted.'
Defiant: Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole, centre, said the new checks were necessary to detect a new generation of explosive devices
Images: A passenger stands in one of the full-body scanners and, left, the X-Ray image of his body
Concerns have been raised about the effects of radiation exposure from the full-body scanners at U.S. airports could lead to increased risk of cancer.
The technology works by bouncing X-ray beams off a person's body to create a full image showing contours and any bumps or protusions from potential weapons.
But the Transportation Security Administration said the amount of radiation was just a thousandth of that received during a chest X-ray.
Peter Rez, a physics professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, told MSNBC the risk of getting cancer was around one in 30 million.
'That puts it somewhat less than being killed by being struck by lightning in any one year,' he said.
He added that the risk of getting cancers was aroudn the same as the probability the aircraft could be blown up by terrorists.
He said that if the contact was skin-to-skin, it would be counted as a felony, while if it was done over clothing it would be a misdemeanour.
If convicted of a misdemeanour, screeners would face up to one year in jail, while offences involving skin-to-skin contact could be sentenced to up to three years in prison.
Head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), John Pistole, has refused to back down from the new invasive airport screening techniques, despite growing anger from Republican figures.
He admitted the searches were 'clearly more invasive' at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, but said they were necessary to detect potential weapons or devices on passengers.
Senator George LeMieux, who represents Florida, told the committee last night: 'I'm frankly bothered by the level of these pat-downs.
'I wouldn't want my wife to be touched in the way these folks are being touched. I wouldn't want to be touched that way.'
Mr Pistole defended the practice to the committee, telling senators it was 'using technology and protocols to stay ahead of the [terrorist] threat and keep you safe'.
'We've adjusted our pat-down policy that is informed by the latest intelligence. Security is a shared responsibility.
'We are trying to detect the next generation of non-metallic devices.'
New York Councilman David G. Greenfield has proposed legislation this week to ban full body scanners from the whole city - including New York's two airports - JFK International Airport and LaGuardia Airport.
He spoke today on the steps of City Hall with privacy expert Marc Rotenberg, a professor of law at Georgetown University and President of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), who is leading a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of body scanners at US airports, pending an independent review.
'The images produced by these naked body scanners are equivalent to the most intrusive strip search', said Councilman Greenfield.
'I am deeply troubled that we are subjecting New Yorkers to this humiliating process, which breaches their most basic privacy rights, when we don't even have sufficient assurances that these scanners are more effective than other less intrusive methods'
'I am deeply troubled that we are subjecting New Yorkers to this humiliating process, which breaches their most basic privacy rights, when we don't even have sufficient assurances that these scanners are more effective than other less intrusive methods.'
He added: 'Our legislation would protect the safety of our children and the dignity of all New Yorkers.'
One airport in Florida has decided to use a private security screening firm as the anger over the new searches increases.
Orlando Sanford International Airport, where thousands of British holidaymakers head every year for the nearby Disney World resort, has decided to opt out of TSA screening.
Larry Dale, director of the Stanford Airport Authority, told WDBO: 'All of our due diligence shows it's the way to go.
'You're going to get better service at a better price and more accountability and better customer service.'
TSA STAFF 'EXPOSED WOMAN'S BREASTS'
A woman is suing over an incident where airport staff allegedly pulled down her top and joked about her breasts in public view.
The 23-year-old traveller, from Amarillo, is suing the US Government for the emotional distressed she says the TSA agents caused.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she was singled out for 'extended search procedures' while preparing to board a plane to Amarillo in May 2008.
The lawsuit says: 'As the TSA agent was frisking plaintiff, the agent pulled the plaintiffs blouse completely down, exposing plaintiffs breasts to everyone in the area.'
The lawsuit claims that other employees laughed and made jokes about the incident 'for an extended period of time'.
The distraught woman left the screening area to be consoled but when she re-entered the boarding area employees allegedly started joking about the matter.
The airport said it would now choose one of five approved private screening companies to take over security.
The outcry over the body searches has intensified over the last week, after it emerged security staff were caught on camera frisking a crying three-year-old girl.
Mandy Simon could be seen sobbing and pleading with staff at Chattanooga airport in Tennessee and she screamed: 'Stop touching me!'
A 23-year-old college student is also suing the TSA after an incident at Corpus Christi airport where her breasts were exposed during a search.
A GOP lawmaker said this week that the full-body scanners now employed by the TSA violated the Fourth Amendment to the constitution, which protected against 'unreasonable searches and seizures'.
During a one-minute speech on the House floor, Rep Ted Poe (Texas) also blasted former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff as a 'political hack' and accused him of profiting from the proliferation of the devices.
Mr Poe said: 'There is no evidence these new body scanners make us more secure. But there is evidence that former Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff made money hawking these full body scanners.'
He went on to explain that Mr hertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, had given interviews promoting the scanners while he was 'getting paid' to sell them.
He concluded: 'The populace is giving up more rights in the name of alleged security. These body scanners are a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures ... There must be a better way to have security at airports than taking pornographic photographs of our citizens, including children, and then giving apparent kickbacks to political hacks.'
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