The head of the Transportation Security Administration acknowledged in a Congressional hearing today that the new pat-downs being used by TSA personnel were “more invasive” than previous procedures. Numerous Americans have complained about the pat-downs, which border on sexual assault, inducing shame and humiliation in the traveler.

Later in the hearing, TSA Administrator John Pistole acknowledged “concern” about striking the right balance between security and privacy. “The traveling public is significantly upset,”
said Johnny Isakson (R-GA) at the hearing.

In addition, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) blasted the new full-body scanners on the House floor today, particularly the involvement of former Homeland Security Secretary and current grifter Michael Chertoff.

“There is no evidence these new body scanners make us more secure. But there is evidence that former Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff made money hawking these full body scanners,” Poe said.

He went on to explain that Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, had given interviews promoting the scanners while he was “getting paid” to sell them.

“[T]he populace is giving up more rights in the name of alleged security. These body scanners are a violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures … There must be a better way to have security at airports than taking pornographic photographs of our citizens, including children, and then giving apparent kickbacks to political hacks.”

So this is a bipartisan backlash against the invasive procedures of TSA, which we also see in this New Jersey press conference. In addition to the concerns over exposure to radiation, the trading of soft-core porn images by screeners, the borderline sexual assault on pat-downs (which Pistole thoroughly defended today), there’s not really a whole lot of evidence that these new measures will even be effective, as Noah Schachtman points out.

It’s the same kind of trade-off TSA implicitly provided when it ordered us to take off our sneakers (to stop shoe bombs) and to chuck our water bottles (to prevent liquid explosives). Security guru Bruce Schneier, a plaintiff in the scanner suit, calls this “magical thinking . . . Descend on what the terrorists happened to do last time, and we’ll all be safe. As if they won’t think of something else.” Which, of course, they invariably do. Attackers are already starting to smuggle weapons in body cavities, going where even the most adroit body scanners do not tread. No wonder that the Israelis, known for the world’s most stringent airport security, have so far passed on the scanners.

I don’t see any evidence that this new machine will even have stopped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from getting onto a plane with his underwear bomb, to say nothing of more advanced efforts (like pushing a weapon up the body cavity). Technology is almost certainly not the killer app here, and the pat-downs just look like a severe invasion of privacy and dignity.

Maybe some are blasé about these changes, but I think it goes to a larger stripping of civil liberties protections for Americans. This is a real and substantive fight over a signature issue, and it’s astonishing to see it waved away in such a cavalier fashion.

There’s a new group working to stop these abuses called Fly With Dignity, incidentally.