The Controversial Full Body Scanners Now Used at Washington-Reagan National Airport and the Fourth Amendment
There have many been many recent news stories about the controversy surrounding the use of new full body scanners at Washington-Reagan National Airport. If you haven't flown recently, upon arriving at security, the United States Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) assigns passengers to one of several lines. Some of these lines lead to standard metal detectors and others lead to a full body scanner as pictured alongside this post. These scanners, actually called a millimeter wave scanner or backscatter x-ray scanner, are glass booths with a probe that can see through your clothing and present an image to a TSA agent. Passengers and civil rights groups have complained about the invasion of privacy of what amounts to basically taking nude photos travelers. While people are upset to some extent, most Americans are willing to allow an intrusion into their privacy if it can prevent another 9/11. The TSA has claims that you can opt-out of being subjected to a full body scanner in and instead receive a pat frisk. A pat frisk is the physical search of your person by an officer in a similar manner to when a suspect is arrested to make sure they have no drugs, guns or other weapons before taken into custody. At the airport, it is done to make sure the passenger does not have any contraband that could be used in a hijacking.
As a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, DC, I don't expect to get too many calls from suspected terrorists, being stopped by TSA carrying plastic explosives. What now seems likely, is people being arrested for possession of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, or heroin, that was detected by the full body scanners. According to recent reports, the machines are not as good as detecting explosives molded to a person's body, or hidden a body cavity, as the TSA had hoped, but they are very good at finding a small plastic bag of marijuana, or a glassine baggie of heroine in a passenger's underwear.