Miami Activist Sues TSA Over Mandatory Nude Body Scans

Editor's Note: TSA spokesman Mark Howell says the "nude body scan" system has not been used for two years.  

Call it the holiday news dump: Earlier this month, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) quietly released a new policy regarding its airport security checks. The days when travelers can request a pat-down instead of enduring a nude imaging scanner are coming to an end; instead, TSA can now decline that request and make the scanner mandatory for any passenger.

That didn't sit well with Jonathan Corbett, a frequent-flying app developer, law student, and Miami resident. Corbett is also the TSA's most persistent legal tormenter. Now he's filed a lawsuit challenging the mandatory scan policy.

Corbett argues that millions of travelers opt out of the machines for religious and personal reasons or because of disabilities that make walking through the machine impossible. He also says TSA failed to follow up on a public comment period that found the agency flooded with thousands of angry complaints.

"The TSA has been granted extreme latitude by courts across the country, and yet it still fails to follow the few rules that have been set for it," Corbett writes in his complaint.

Corbett has already spent the better part of six years battling the TSA. In 2010, as his work developing mobile apps took him on thousands of miles of air travel, he was enraged by the TSA's move to install body scanners at hundreds of airports. He argued the machines were ineffective and invasive; he even uploaded a viral YouTube video showing him smuggling metal objects through the machines at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.       

Soon he began fighting the TSA in court. He filed suits over both the body scanners and the agency's pat-down searches. This March, he filed a third suit over a secret policy allowing domestic airlines to interrogate international passengers before they return to the United States

His latest battle comes over a policy change released by the TSA December 18. The new policy says that "while passengers may generally decline AIT screening in favor of physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers."

Corbett — who recently enrolled in law school in New York — writes that he flew 150,000 miles last year. He estimates as many as 14 million travelers every year opt out of body scans, and he argues that many people would be violated by a policy forcing them into the machines.

“This requirement is particularly odious because passengers do not retain the right to discontinue screening and leave the checkpoint without flying,” he writes. 

A Homeland Security spokesperson hasn't responded to New Times' request for comment about Corbett's complaints.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink