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Murray Warns Administration On Passenger Privacy, Dignity

May 02 2002

Passengers will not fly if they expect to be treated like a criminal from the minute they enter the terminal, Murray said

WASHINGTON, D.C.) – At a Senate hearing on Homeland Defense, the Senate's Transportation Appropriations Chair warned the Bush Administration that plans to conduct more invasive searches at airport checkpoints threaten personal dignity and could cause a drop in air travel.

Federal Transportation Security Administration agents charged with screening passengers will soon begin opening up the luggage of more than half of passengers, at three-quarters of the nation's airports. Murray warned that many passengers may choose not to fly if they will have their bags pored through by federal agents in full public view.

"The Administration should develop a different methodology that will allow passengers some privacy and dignity as federal employees are opening their bags in full view of other passengers. If it doesn't, we are going to give passengers yet another reason to choose to drive to their destination or to simply not travel at all."

In response to Murray's questioning, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta appeared to create new administration policy when he announced that the TSA is planning to build private screening rooms at American airports.

Under the Aviation & Transportation Security Act, adopted last November, the nation's 429 airports are supposed to be equipped with EDS machines, large CAT scan devices that can detect explosives as bags pass through them. Unfortunately, because of their million-dollar price tags, and space limitations at some airports, up to three-quarters of all airports will instead receive trace-detection devices from Washington, DC. These devices rely on baggage being swabbed with a special cloth, which is then run through the detection device. The new agreement announced by the TSA assumes that more than half of the baggage checked by trace detection machines will have to be opened.

"Passengers will not fly if they expect to be treated like a criminal from the minute they enter the terminal," Murray said. "They will not fly if a long line of other passengers is going to be peering into their baggage."

Murray was not satisfied by Mineta's assurances of private screening rooms. It is still unclear whether passengers will be required to step out of line and incur additional delays if they choose to have their bags inspected privately.

"We've got to find a way to give the American flying public the assurance that they can travel with some basic level of privacy and dignity," said Murray.