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Originally published Sunday, November 21, 2010 at 6:30 PM

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Fed-up fliers may snarl airport security

Tension at U.S. airports between security and privacy may peak Nov. 24, one of the year's busiest travel days, with a protest at airports over the use of full-body scanners and pat-downs.

Bloomberg News

Tension at U.S. airports between security and privacy may peak on Wednesday, one of the year's busiest travel days, with a protest over growing use of full-body scanners and of extensive pat-downs for those who reject the scans.

That day — Nov. 24 on the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday — is National Opt-Out Day for several groups urging passengers to avoid the scanners and to slow the screening by choosing a physical search. Organizers and some airline labor unions object to the radiation exposure and detailed view of bodies, and also call the recently-expanded pat-downs an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

"We're fed up and we're not going to take it anymore," said Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. "We can remain safe as a society without having to be subjected to intrusive screenings that violate our privacy rights."

Vital for security?

The Transportation Security Administration said the scanners or pat-downs are critical to stop weapons or explosives from being concealed under clothing, as happened on Christmas last year when a Nigerian man tried to blow up a U.S. jetliner as it landed in Detroit. Discouraging travelers from using the scanners is "irresponsible" given continuing security threats, TSA Administrator John Pistole said. The TSA has installed 385 of the X-ray scanners at 68 U.S. airports (including Sea-Tac Airport), compared with fewer than 50 machines for last year's holiday travel season, said Greg Soule, an agency spokesman. About 1,000 scanners are slated to be in use by the end of 2011.

Macsata's Washington-based group is among those backing the Nov. 24 protest, which began with at least two websites opposing the full-body scans. One site, www.wewontfly.com, has attracted 300,000 visitors since it was created two weeks ago, said George Donnelly, its founder.

Supporters are planning opt-outs or protests at airports in 11 U.S. cities, including Seattle, New York's Kennedy Airport, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix, which are among the nation's busiest airports. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader is backing the opt-out effort, as are the civil liberties organization Electronic Privacy Information Center and passenger group FlyersRights.org.

The protests come as planes already are at their fullest since World War II and as 24 million people, 3.5 percent more than in 2009, are expected to fly during the 12-day holiday period that started Nov. 19, according to the Air Transport Association. "I am not aware of any real concern over this proposed opt-out initiative," David Castelveter, a spokesman for the airline group, said. "But it would be unfortunate if, during the most heavily traveled holiday period of the year, passengers further delayed the check-in process."

Unions representing 14,800 pilots at American Airlines and US Airways have urged members to avoid the scanners, while the Air Line Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants, which together represent 103,000 workers, have pressed U.S. officials for a separate screening process for crews that avoids full-body scans.

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