By Susan Barnett
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Is the TSA sexually harassing women? A woman who was told to step into a body scanning machine thinks so. TSA has a policy of randomly selecting people for extra screening, but some travelers believe there is nothing random about the way they were picked.
Do you ever wonder who’s watching you in the airport scanner?
“You don’t want to feel like you’re exposing your whole body,” said one woman.
“I guess I was always under the assumption that people would be respectful,” said another.
“I feel like I was totally exposed for some guys in a back room watching on a video camera,” said Ellen Terrell.
Terrell went through a scanning machine at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
“They selected me to go through the body scanners,” she explained.
Terrell says she didn’t think much about what the female TSA agent said until later.
“She says to me, ‘Do you play tennis?’ And I said, ‘Um, no. Why?’ She said, ‘You just have such a cute figure,’” Terrell said.
Terrell says she walked into the machine, like any of us would. It scanned her and created an image. which a TSA agent in another room sees. But then the female agent stopped her.
“She says, ‘Wait, we didn’t get it,’” Terrell said.
So, Terrell says, the agent sent her back in for a second scan. But that wasn’t good enough.
“She is talking into her microphone and she said, ‘Come on, guys,’” Terrell said. “She’s like, ‘Alright, one more time.’”
After the third time, Terrell says even the agent seemed frustrated with her co-workers in the other room.
“She’s talking into her microphone and she says, ‘It is not blurry! I’m letting her go,’ and she says, ‘Come on out,’” Terrell said.
Terrell believes she knows why TSA agents wanted one more look. In a pat-down situation, only women are allowed to touch female passengers, but TSA allows male agents to view these images of female passengers.
“I was watching the whole thing happen,” said Charlie Terrell, Ellen’s husband.
This is not the first time this type of thing has happened. Read some TSA complaints from women:
“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.”
“I know he went to that room to see my naked body.”
“Passengers are unwilling victims of a peep show by TSA employees.”
Updated TSA technology shows only a generic body outline when it highlights potential threats. That’s the technology Philadelphia International Airport has. But the older scanners are still in 39 airports across the country, leaving travelers like Ellen and Charlie Terrell to wonder who’s watching.
“You just feel like your privacy has been violated,” said Ellen Terrell.
And that’s important to note because many travelers in the complaints said they didn’t realize they could opt out of the scanner and ask for a pat-down search.
The TSA issued the following statement:
“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.”
To read complaints about the TSA, click here