New hand search security technique arrives at Sacramento airport


Nov. 05--Some passengers at Sacramento International Airport will find security employees more hands-on this holiday season.

Federal security officers have replaced the traditional patdown hand search with a new slide-down search that officials say is more effective in finding hidden objects.

Sacramento and other airports began using the new technique last week. It's one of several changes for the federal Transportation Security Administration, the agency that runs airport security checkpoints.

TSA officials declined to describe the new technique, but a network television video shows officers sliding their hands over passengers' shoulders, flanks, abdomen and around their legs. TSA officers pivot their hands near the crotch area, so the back of the hand brushes the passenger's body.

The first week with the new hand search technique has gone well, said Gail Levario, the TSA's new security director for Sacramento airport. She said the measure is used only on passengers selected for secondary screening.

The searches generally take place in a private spot, she said, and officers are trained to try to put passengers more at ease by explaining the technique.

"That's vital," said Levario, who transferred to Sacramento last month from Washington, D.C. "Officers (will) be able to tell people what we're doing and why."

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Linda Lye, however, called the technique "fondling" and said it is a huge invasion of privacy. "It's unclear if it is actually going to bring increased safety."

Lye said the ACLU also is concerned about new TSA body scanning machines that see through passengers' clothing.

The boothlike machines, generically called "whole body image scanners," are in use at San Francisco, Los Angeles and other airports as secondary screening for selected passengers. Sacramento security chief Levario said Sacramento could also be using them in the near future.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said the agency has taken steps to reduce privacy issues. Officers who view the images are in rooms away from the security checkpoint so they don't come into contact with passengers. The images from one scanner brand are altered to look more like "gingerbread cookie" body outlines. Images from another brand look like a slightly fuzzy photo negative. The images are discarded after use, he said.

Passengers at Sacramento International on Thursday expressed mixed feelings about the security changes.

Kellie Claflin, of the Southern California city of Ontario, said she has never undergone a hand search, but "in theory I have no problem with it."

Given a choice, though, she would choose the body scan machine. "No one is touching you. It's an impersonal booth. I'd even volunteer to get in that line if it's faster."

John Moad, of Shasta County, said he underwent a hand search last week. The TSA officer was pleasant, he said, but the search seemed unnecessary.

"Inch by inch, our rights are being taken away," Moad said. "I don't feel like I'm in danger."

Sacramento's new security head Levario -- a Bay Area native and Humboldt State University graduate -- said TSA's work at Sacramento airport is a critical part of the national security system.

"We are as vigilant as Boston, New York or Los Angeles," she said. "Passengers (or terrorists) can enter the system through any airport. That underscores what we are doing across the board."


Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059.