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Man shuns body scan, prompting flap with TSA and celebrity status on Web

John Tyner says he did not intend to create a fuss. He skipped his flight in San Diego rather than submit to a search.

November 16, 2010|By Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times

John Tyner says he didn't intend to make a fuss as he prepared to board a flight out of San Diego for a hunting trip with his father-in-law.

All he wanted to do was avoid undergoing a full-body scan at San Diego International Airport, wrote Tyner, 31, a software engineer who blogs as Johnny Edge. So when an airport screener pulled Tyner out of line for the X-ray Saturday, he refused to submit.

He turned on his cellphone's recording device, capturing his now-widely heard challenge to a male screener who also attempted to give him an alternative pat-down search: "If you touch my junk I'll have you arrested."

By Monday, his blog posts had gone viral on Internet websites and triggered debate on whether the Transportation Security Authority has gone too far in adding body scans to the menu of screenings passengers must endure on flights.

At a press conference, officials said they are mindful of passengers' privacy and take extra steps to make sure that the screener and passenger never see each other face-to-face.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made similar statements in an op-ed column Monday in USA Today, noting that "rigorous privacy safeguards" are in place. She said the security measures serve "an important goal: providing safe and efficient air travel."

Most air travelers appear to agree. According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Thursday, 78% of air travelers approve of full-body scanners in airports; 84% believe the scanners would prevent explosives from being carried onto a plane.

Tyner, who was being deluged for interviews by national media, claims on his blog that he was prepared to walk through a metal detector when he was pulled out of line. If he had known the airport used backscatter X-ray machines, which show the passenger's naked body, he would have chosen not to fly that day, he said on his blog.

After a standoff, Tyner agreed not to board the flight and his ticket was refunded. As he was preparing to leave the airport, another unidentified airport official threatened to sue him and fine him $10,000 if left before completing a search.

Tyler left anyway.

Kate Hanni, executive director of FlyersRights.org, a passenger advocacy group, said airport security officials "went over the line" in attempting to detain Tyner after he backed out of the flight.

And although Hanni suggests that passengers avoid airports that use scanners if they don't like them, she praised Tyner for standing up for himself.

"He expressed his right not to have his genitals touched by someone," Hanni said. "And they threatened to sue him because he didn't complete the screening process. You should be able to turn around and change your mind."

TSA officials were not available for comment. But its website says that body scans are optional and that passengers can ask for an alternative screening if they don't want one.

Scans detect objects under clothing and could have prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, from boarding a flight from Amsterdam to the United States with plastic explosives in his underwear, authorities have said.

There are 385 scanning units in use at 68 U.S. airports. Polling shows that about 80% of passengers say they would choose a body scan instead of a pat-down search.

Hanni's group supports a screening program based on biometrics, which uses fingerprints or retinal scanning to build a list of "secure" passengers.

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

Times staff writer Rick Rojas contributed to this report.

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