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CBS 2 Investigation: Who’s Scanning Your Body At The Airport?

TSA In The Line Of Fire After Women Tell Of Horror Stories, Privacy Violations
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Advanced Imaging Technology unit at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 8.  (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

Advanced Imaging Technology unit at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 8. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBS 2) — If you’ve been to an airport recently, you’ve probably seen security randomly select people for extra screenings.

But in a CBS 2 investigation, some female travelers say there was nothing random about it.

They claim agents hand-selected them with something else in mind, reports CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson.

“I feel like I was totally exposed for some guys in a back room watching on a video camera,” Ellen Terrell said.

Terrell said she was singled out at the airport.

“They wanted a nice, good look,” she said.

Terrell said they weren’t looking for weapons or explosives. She said security agents in another room were sneaking a look at her body and they enlisted the help of a female agent to do it.

“She says to me, ‘do you play tennis?’ And I said ‘why?’ She said ‘you just have such a cute figure,’” Terrell said.

Here’s how an airport body scanner works: as a passenger walks through the body image is viewed by agents out of sight in another room. In Terrell’s case she said she had to walk through the scanner not once, not twice, but three times, forced, she said, by the female agent.

“She is talking into her microphone and she said, ‘come on guys.’ She’s like ‘alright, one more time,’” Terrell said.

According to Terrell even the female agent was getting frustrated with her co-workers’ requests.

“She’s talking into her microphone and she says ‘it is not blurry, letting her go’ and she says ‘come on out,’” Terrell said.

“I was watching the whole thing happen,” added Terrell’s husband, Charlie.

Charlie Terrell said he is angry.

“I think they were getting a good look and then seeing it two more times,” he said.

CBS 2 has found that Terrell’s experience isn’t that uncommon. After combing through hundreds of documents we found similar complaints made to the Transportation Security Administration — women saying:

* “I feel I was targeted to go through the see you naked machine because I am a semi-attractive female.”

* “…only women were told to go through.”

* The screener appeared to enjoy the process of picking someone.”

* “A woman behind me was also ‘randomly selected.’”

* “I know he went to that room to see my naked body.”

* “Passengers are unwilling victims of a peep show by TSA employees.”

And the scanners, called backscatters, can be found at 39 airports across the country, in just about every major city, including New York — at JFK and LaGuardia.

“It just makes me wonder are they doing this all over the country,” Charlie Terrell said.

In a statement the TSA defended its actions, saying:

“TSA does not profile passengers. All of our millimeter wave technology units including those in Dallas have been upgraded with additional privacy enhancements that no longer display passenger-specific images. Even prior to this upgrade, officers reviewing the images were located in a separate room and would have never seen the passenger being screened. To further ensure passenger privacy and anonymity, a privacy filter was applied to blur all images.  The technology remains optional to all passengers.”

Many passengers CBS 2 spoke to at LaGuardia Airport said they had no idea they could say no to the scanner and be patted down instead.

“No, not until now,” one person said.

“No, I had no idea,” another said.

“No, I didn’t know, but I’d rather go through the scanner than have somebody touching me,” another person said.

It’s an option a humiliated Ellen Terrell said she wishes she knew about.

“I feel my privacy was violated,” she said.

In recent months there have also been complaints about overly aggressive pat-downs — even strip searches.

Now, Sen. Charles Schumer wants a passenger advocate posted at area airports.

Has this ever happened to you? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below. …

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