In the past, TSA officials would swab random bits of luggage looking for traces of explosives. Now, they are randomly swabbing airline passengers as well.
Security experts consulted by CNN said swabbing hands is a good move, and privacy advocates said they support the new swabbing protocols, provided the agency tests only for security-related objects and does not discriminate when it selects people to be tested.
It’s a “very good idea,” said security expert Tony Fainberg. TSA screeners currently swab luggage handles and parts of bags that are likely be contaminated by human hands, he said, and swabbing a person’s hands increases the chances of finding explosive materials. “Looking at the hands means you will probably get a better dose,” he said.
Under the new protocols, tests will be conducted at various locations — including in checkpoint lines, during the screening process and at gates. Newer, more portable machines make it easier to conduct tests away from fixed locations such as the checkpoint.
“We would not want to see it implemented in a discriminatory fashion, for example, in a disproportionate way against Muslims and Arabs or, for example, people with red hair or anything else. Security experts from across the spectrum will tell you that that’s not just unfair and unjust and not the American way, it’s also a terrible way to do security,” Stanley said.
Swabbing also should not be used to test for nonsecurity-related contraband, such as drugs, he said.
“Under the Constitution, searches in airports are only for the purpose of protecting the security of airline transportation; they are not general law enforcement stops. And so it wouldn’t be permissible for the government to use these trace portal detectors to look for drugs,” Stanley said.
But they will and we all know it. And, if they continue to reuse the swabs (I’ve personally seen this happen), false-positives will continue to rise. Terrorists are also likely to use gloves and wash their hands thoroughly before going to the airport.
Because some legal substances — such as fertilizers and heart medicines — can result in “false positives,” Stanley said the ACLU also wants to ensure that people who test positive be treated respectfully.
In order to avoid detecting people with nitroglycerin, airports currently have to turn down the sensitivity of their equipment. This will happen with hand swabbing as well, making it little more than security theater.
But swabbing hands does not, by itself, raise civil liberty problems, Stanley said. “There’s really not a big privacy interest at stake here,” he said. “They are basically looking for particles of explosives, which is not something that people normally have.”
The false positives will come from farmers, gardeners, people who take certain medications, including heart medicine, pot smokers, construction workers, military personnel, people who recently fired a gun hunting or at a firing range, people who work in funeral homes, people who use hand lotion, people who use perfume, people who use common household chemicals and cleaning agents, and other minor uses of every day items.
You used to be able to go to the airport, get your bags scanned and the officers just made sure you weren’t carrying a gun. Now, you have to take your coat and shoes off, have a naked body scan and/or pat-down, swab your hands and remove some DNA, not bring large amounts of liquid, smile nicely as your civil rights are continually violated, despite the fact that none of these measures really work at preventing terrorism.
It certainly wouldn’t have prevented the events in Austin last week. Joe Stack owned his own private plane and likely had little to no security checks. It also wouldn’t have stopped 9/11.
I am more than willing return to the days of flying pre-9/11 and take my chances. When 3-4 planes per month start getting blown up, only then will I reconsider. Face it. The terrorists won and they’re all laughing their asses off at America while we continue to accept more and more invasions of privacy and losses of our civil rights all in the name of security theater.