There is a developing story about blogger, Amy Alkon, after her physical encounter with a TSA Transportation Security Officer, one Thedala Magee. Apparently, Magee, through her legal counsel (self-proclaimed entertainment lawyer and Hollywood insider Vicki Roberts), has threatened to sue Alkon for $500,000 (USD) in defamation for exercising her First Amendment right of free speech and her Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search—during her TSA patdown and a subsequent blog post recounting this outrageous incident. Alkon writes,
On March 31st, when I came through the metal detector and realized that everyone in the TSA line to my United flight was getting searched, I got teary. I was teary at the prospect of being touched by a government worker — entirely without probable cause. I was very upset, both because of the physical violation and because I love our now too-often-crumpled-up Constitution and Bill of Rights.
I can hold back the tears…hang tough…but as I was made to “assume the position” on a rubber mat like a common criminal, I thought fast. I decided that these TSA lackeys who serve the government in violating our rights just don’t deserve my quiet compliance. And no, I won’t go through the scanner (do you trust the government that they’re safe?) and allow a government employee to see me naked in the course of normal and totally ordinary business travel: flying from Los Angeles to Binghamton, New York, to attend an evolutionary psychology conference for my work.
Basically, I felt it important to make a spectacle of what they are doing to us, to make it uncomfortable for them to violate us and our rights, so I let the tears come. In fact, I sobbed my guts out. Loudly. Very loudly. The entire time the woman was searching me.
Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault.
Upon leaving, still sobbing, I yelled to the woman, “YOU RAPED ME.” And I took her name to see if I could file sexual assault charges on my return. This woman, and all of those who support this system deserve no less than this sort of unpleasant experience, and from all of us.
The blawgosphere has quickly responded to this threat to freedom of speech and affront to personal privacy and bodily integrity:
Complain About Being Sexually Assaulted By A TSA Thug? THEY’LL SUE! (Ken at Popehat)
TSA Thug Thedala Magee Threatens Suit (Mark W. Bennett at Defending People)
Do you feel safe yet? (via Amy Derby Blog)
Human Dignity, Rest in Peace (Angela Keaton at LRC Blog)
TSA Agent/Alleged Rapist, Thedala Magee, Threatens Blogger with $500,000 Lawsuit (Mike at Crime & Federalism)
What Makes TSA Agent Thedala Magee So Special? (Scott H. Greenfield at Simple Justice)
Female Blogger Threatened With Defamation Suit For Writing About TSA ‘Rape‘ (Kashmir Hill at Forbes)
Anyone who travels by air within or without the United States should take some time and read the (leaked and unredacted) TSA Manual document entitled: SCREENING MANAGEMENT STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES (via Cryptome).
The TSA Manual has been updated since 2008, but it is no longer readily available on the internet. Nevertheless, since its release, the TSA has implemented enhanced pat down procedures, although I have been unable to locate any new details of the actual guidelines, protocols, limits or restrictions, if any, regarding the extent of the physical search (see below) .
According to s. 2.2.3. of the TSA Manual, the following is the bureaucratic double-speak description of the pat-down procedure to be used:
2.2.3. HHMD OR PAT-DOWN SCREENING OF INDIVIDUALS
The HHMD TSO is responsible for HHMD screening and pat-down inspections in accordance with the Screening Checkpoint SOP. All HHMD and pat-down searches must be conducted by TSOs of the same gender as the individual presents him or herself to be. Extraordinary circumstances may occur where a TSO of the same gender is not available, including staffing shortage emergencies at any airport or limited staffing at category II, III, and IV airports. Under these circumstances, TSOs of the opposite gender may be allowed to screen individuals in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 4.3.14 of this SOP. During opposite gender screening an STSO or LTSO, if possible, should be present. This rule applies to all references of same gender screening in the Screening Checkpoint
The mere fact that in *most* cases, a passenger will be subject to a pat-down performed by someone of the same gender is irrelevant to the issue of whether a physical and/or sexual assault will occur. An assault is an assault, whether it is committed by someone of the same or opposite gender.
That said, s. 4.4.2 of the TSA Manual outlines the scope of the types of Unpredictable Screening Process (USP) searches allowed:
4.4.2. TYPES OF USP SEARCHES
Listed below are the standard search types that must be used when scheduling and executing USP searches pursuant to this Section:
1) Bulk Item Pat-down
2) LIMITED PAT-DOWN of the stomach area
3) LIMITED PAT-DOWN of the back
4) LIMITED PAT-DOWN of both legs
5) ETD of the hands
1) CLOSED BAG SEARCH
2) INTERIOR ETD SEARCH
3) ETD search of a divested electronic/electrical item
4) ETD sampling of divested footwear (profiled or non-profiled)
5) ETD sampling of plastic bags containing travel-size liquids, gels, and aerosols
Readers will note that no where does it state that TSA employees are permitted to digitally penetrate a passenger’s bodily cavities or employ physical manipulation by touching the male or female genitalia, or other private parts.
According to “Blogger Bob” at the official TSA Blog, “TSA screening procedures change regularly based upon the latest intelligence.”
The TSA’s Blogger Bob also has reassured the public that the TSA respects the personal privacy of all passengers and has taken the time to explode the myths about TSA enhanced pat-downs.
The TSA Blog is difficult to navigate (since it does not have a monthly archive), so I have been unable to determine what exactly is involved in “enhanced pat-downs”. It would be helpful if the TSA posted a training video for its TSA employees so that the public can regain confidence that safety and security are balanced with the right to not have to get to third base to board an airplane.
Until then, perhaps this video should be used:
It certainly should not be this one: