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Help stop TSA’s porno scanners, aggressive groping and abuse of power.

Don’t touch my what now? In the week since the biggest travel day of the year, the public attention paid to the TSA’s porno scanners and aggressive groping has plummeted.

The basic story line appears to be that since airports functioned without hiccups from porno scanner opt-outs during the Thanksgiving travel season, the media “overblew” a “false alarm” story.

The basic equation hasn’t changed: TSA went behind Congress’s back to buy millions of dollars worth of porno scanners using stimulus money, without any evidence the machines actually work to prevent terrorism, and that may actually be harmful to people who go through the machines. And in order to force people into the porno scanners, TSA secretly rolled out “enhanced” security measures so invasive that the pilots’ union compared the process to “sexual molestation.” Rightly, people are pissed about the naked pictures and aggressive groping.

Yet we’re no longer talking about porno scanners and groping because the Thanksgiving holiday passed without incident; no major delays, and even more importantly, no new “don’t touch my junk” videos or similar incidents.

It was almost too quiet over Thanksgiving. That’s why it’s great to see folks trying to figure out what happened, and if the TSA purposefully turned off its porno scanners and stopped groping passengers to avoid further embarrassment (and scrutiny). Bob Barr’s Liberty Group filed FOIA requests with TSA to get to the bottom of how the agency reacted to opt-out day.

The public interest group Liberty Guard filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Transportation Security Administration Monday to determine why many airport imaging scanners were reportedly shut down and roped off on November 24th, the day of a planned “opt out protest.”

“We’d like to think that the TSA has been listening to citizens concerned about being given a choice between naked imaging or pat down searches of people’s private parts,” former Congressman Bob Barr, the Chairman of Liberty Guard, said. “If this is the indeed the case, we’d like to commend the TSA for applying a bit of common sense to the controversial situation. However, it’s far more likely the reason was political and we think the public should be made aware of the motivations of our country’s security chiefs.”

Numerous reports from airports across the country suggested that TSA had roped-off, turned off, or otherwise declined to select passengers for porno scanners before Thanksgiving.

But reports from travelers and local news sources suggest that at some of the busiest airports in the US the TSA has backed down and resorted to using the old screening procedures — metal detectors and less-intrusive pat-downs.

And anecdotal reports from airports across the country suggest lighter-than-expected passenger traffic, suggesting that some travelers may have decided to “opt out” of the screening procedures by not flying at all.

“One day before the the pre-Thanksgiving wave crests, Atlanta’s airport was notably subdued, vendors and travelers said, with minimal wait times and limited, if any, use of the controversial full-body scanners,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Atlanta-Hartsfield, a Delta hub, is the busiest airport in the nation.

The report from Atlanta was similar to one from Newark on the same day: the New Jersey Star Ledger reported that “the majority of Newark’s full-body scanners were idle throughout much of the day, depriving most passengers of the chance to opt out of the controversial screening procedure even if they had wanted to.”

TSA gloated on its blog that “opt-out day” turned into “opt-in day.” Cute, “Blogger Bob.” The agency also posted wait times and opt-out statistics on its blog. Nate Silver asks the right questions about how many people were actually subjected to porno scanners, identifying data points missing from TSA’s self-reporting:

Throughout the day on Wednesday — traditionally among the busiest travel days of the year — the Transportation Security Administration updated its blog with the happy statistics. “Minneapolis: Wait times are currently 5-10 mins. No incidents,” went a typical report. “Detroit: 25,000 passengers screened today, and 57 AIT opt-outs. All were screened and continued to their flights.”

I have no reason to doubt the two specific claims that the T.S.A. has made: first, that security lines at most airports were manageable (if not, I’m sure we would have seen plenty of evidence to the contrary, between tens of thousands of passengers with cellphone cameras), and second, that a relatively small number of passengers opted out of the new screening procedures.

Nevertheless, there are several things that the T.S.A. isn’t telling us — pieces of information that would seem to be critical to any comprehensive assessment of the efficacy of the new procedures. [...]

Here, we are told the number of opt-outs (113), as well a the overall number of passengers at Los Angeles International Airport (50,000). What we aren’t told, however, is how many of those 50,000 passengers were asked to pass through the full-body scanners — what the T.S.A. calls “advanced imaging technology” or AIT — in the first place.

In the week before Thanksgiving, TSA reported that at least 170,000 passengers – and up to 1 million – were groped by the agency. Excuse me if it’s a bit hard to believe that fewer than that number were similarly groped during the biggest travel days in the year.

There’s much more going on with TSA’s porno scanner manipulation, and it’s partly why almost 40,000 Firedoglake activists have called for Congress to investigate the TSA’s abuses of power. Hopefully Bob Barr’s FOIA will turn up useful information, assuming it’s not deemed part of “national security” to deny the FOIA.

Finally, one point about opt-out day. Regardless of whether the TSA did engage in funny business around opt-outs before Thanksgiving, this incident shows some basic pitfalls in “organizing” without organizers. Opt-out day was organized by random people on the Internet, and quickly picked up steam as a way for people to stick it to the TSA. The media seized on opt-out day as part of the storyline, the climax, if you will, around the TSA outrage.

But really, opt-out day was not organized. It was left to individuals, at their choosing and on their way to see family for Thanksgiving, to protest TSA and delay the security lines in order to make a political point. Without a central organizing body to pull off a day of action, it was a crap shoot if anyone would opt-out in any way to get the point across to the media that had already eaten up the story.

The TSA’s abuse of power is very real, and as I previously stated, the basic facts of TSA’s arrogance and abuses of power have not changed. What’s needed now is a way to restart the anti-TSA campaign, and to recapture the now-latent public outrage that exists when the government’s policy is to photograph its citizens naked and to sexually molest them in the name of airport security.