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Consumer advocate and four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke with Management.travelabout rebuking the Department of Homeland Security's use of full-body scanners and intrusive pat-downs, and calling on corporations and airlines to get involved. Speaking here last week at a conference sponsored by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Nader said the Transportation Security Administration's initiatives to beef up airport security violate passengers' Fourth Amendment rights, pose health concerns related to radiation exposure and are insensitive to religious practices. Nader and other panelists agreed that the government should adopt recent recommendations made in a report by the International Air Transport Association on ways to improve international security by using booking data to pre-screen passengers instead of full-body scanners. IATA proposed that passenger tickets be classified according to three levels of risk and security checkpoints be divided into three corresponding lanes, allowing frequent travelers to more easily pass through security.
Should corporations address TSA initiatives in duty-of-care policies?
Yes. First of all, these [body scanning] machines can malfunction, and as scientists at the University of California said, you can get serious burns. CAT scans have malfunctioned, so have medical X-rays and dental X-rays over the decades. We have documented all of this in fighting for the Radiation Control Act in 1968. Companies should be concerned especially if their employees have medical devices in them or if they are pregnant. The corporations, the travel managers, are the people who really do travel. Where are they? Why aren't they at the table? Where are the airlines? Why aren't they speaking up? Where are the airline union workers? They are not standing tall for the interest of the American people that they are uniquely equipped to protect. I called the Air Transport Association and various airlines--they have nothing to say. Either they don't call back or they just say that they are adhering to all federal standards. The pilots union had to speak out because it was so inconvenient, now they have a special line [to go through security].
What are your thoughts on the IATA report?
That's a new factor. IATA used to be a price fixer. It was a cartel, but at the same time it has an amount of prestige and authority. That report is going to be a major thing to try to get congressional hearings built around. DHS doesn't have an integrated international plan. You can see how different the European governments are; there is no coordination. For example, you can fly from a European city to the United States without going through these new scanners, but you can't fly, presumably apart from the pat-downs, from Chicago to New Orleans, once they put them all in. Is that rational? It's insane.
Will DHS airport screening policies deter air travel?
I ask people when I am in the airports and most of them haven't been subjected to these intrusive searches. They personally have been going through either the scanners or more likely the metal detectors. It's only when they have an experience that they start saying, "For trips of under 400 miles, who needs to fly? I will take a train or I will drive a car." And that is where I think the airlines are going to start losing out--on the short-hauls, and Amtrak knows that. If you take all the hassles that are ordinary and then you add this one, people will start to say, "I don't need this." It does come down to personal, adverse experiences. TSA says the radiation exposure is equivalent to two minutes in the air, which is not true; it's a different kind of radiation that just hits the skin.
As travelers look to rail for shorter trips, what are your thoughts on rail security?
We all know what the problem is: TSA moves when any terrorist attempt is bungled, so it reacts. You have the shoe bomber; we take off our shoes. The logic of TSA would force them to cover everything. What's the difference? What are they waiting for, a shoe bomber on Amtrak? What about buses and subways? It hasn't happened yet; you haven't had a bungled attempt. The second thing is that the Achilles' heel is cargo. Even today there is a lot of passenger cargo that isn't screened. That tells you that the agency is going through a systemic nervous breakdown; they don't know what to do because they are given a 100 percent zero-tolerance standard. [Congress] beats up on TSA, then [Congress] does nothing or does something very weak, but it gets a lot of press. That is why I say that TSA has to be saved from itself.
What are your thoughts on congressional reaction to TSA?
The pattern has been to try to avoid facing up to the problem because they don't want to be accused of being soft on terrorism. It's sort of like the old days: "Who's soft on communism?" Instead of intelligently trying to guide TSA, they give them no guidance at all, no framework, no disclosure, no explanation or requirements. The default option is to do nothing. So [Congress does] nothing and they let TSA do whatever they do so [Congress] can't be accused of being soft on terrorism. There is a huge amount of money that is being wasted here and the Government Accountability Office has documented this. As they put more of these machines out, they have more training that they have to do, etc. In airports, they have now converted back to more metal detectors, and the question is, why? Are they having trouble with the machines? We have to force DHS to be more responsive.
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