Pilots say revised US screening still too invasive

WASHINGTON Sat Mar 19, 2011 7:04am EDT

A passenger gets hand-checked after passing through a full-body scanner at a Transportation Security Administration screening check-point at O'Hare International airport in Chicago November 24, 2010. REUTERS/Frank Polich

A passenger gets hand-checked after passing through a full-body scanner at a Transportation Security Administration screening check-point at O'Hare International airport in Chicago November 24, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Frank Polich

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. commercial airline pilots complained in a lawsuit on Friday that new screening procedures for flight crews -- scaled back after complaints by pilots -- were still too invasive and violated privacy rights.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration on October 19 started requiring air travellers and flight crews to go through full-body scanners or physical patdowns amid concerns that militants could hide a bomb underneath their clothing and detonate it aboard a plane.

Pilots and flight crews complained the new screening exposed them to excessive radiation because they fly so frequently and that extra scrutiny for them was unnecessary because they already control the planes.

On November 13 the Transportation Security Administration revised the procedures for the crews but two pilots filed a lawsuit challenging the new screening procedures under the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which limits unreasonable searches and seizures.

The new procedures require pilots to go through only metal detectors and if an alarm goes off, they would be subjected to escalating levels of physical patdowns, according to a revised lawsuit the pilots filed on Friday.

United Continental (UAL.N) pilot Ann Poe called the patdown in the lawsuit equivalent to a "physical molestation" and that the full-body scanners pose "a real and substantial threat to medical privacy."

Poe has an artificial hip and told the court that as a result she would always set off the metal detector and thus subject to an enhanced patdown. She refused to go through the new screening procedures on November 4 and has not flown since that incident, the lawsuit said.

Michael Roberts, a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, a partner of United Continental, joined her in the lawsuit and had stopped working when the new screening measures were adopted. He has since resumed flying, the lawsuit said.

They asked a federal judge to bar TSA from conducting such screening without probable cause and that the court require security authorities to accommodate individuals who have medical conditions like Poe.

A TSA spokesman declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending. The TSA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, last month sought to dismiss the original lawsuit.

The full-body scanners initially provoked a backlash from some travellers and civil liberties advocates upset that they produced revealing images of people. TSA is piloting new software that only shows an alert on a generic outline of a human figure if an anomaly is detected. (Editing by Bill Trott)

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