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TSA lists myths, facts about passenger security measures

By the CNN Wire Staff
Full-body scanners at airports are drawing increasing numbers of protests.
Full-body scanners at airports are drawing increasing numbers of protests.
  • TSA says that pat-downs are only for those who set off metal detectors
  • They are also for those who opt out of an X-ray scan
  • Passengers have expressed displeasure with the pat-downs at airports

(CNN) -- The TSA is not as bad you think they are.

At least, that's what a list of "myths and facts" issued Thursday by the TSA about pat-downs and other security measures would like you to consider.

Many Americans have reacted with displeasure, or even outrage, over recent high-profile stories about intrusive searches at airports. In one of the instances that reverberated the strongest, a California man's video of his encounter with TSA agents went viral. John Tyner refused an X-ray scan and then famously told agents that, "if you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested."

In its fact sheet, the TSA says that pat-downs only occur when a passenger sets off a metal detector or opts out of an X-ray scan. The latter is what led to Tyner's confrontation with the TSA.

Some see the pat-downs as a punishment for refusing to get scanned, but the TSA says that is not the case.

"There is nothing punitive about it -- it just makes good security sense," the TSA said. "And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we've found during pat-downs speak to this."

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There are 400 full-body scanning machines at 69 airports nationwide, according to the TSA.

About 24 million air travelers are expected to fly over the Thanksgiving holiday period, according to the Air Transport Association of America, an airline trade group.

Grass-roots groups are urging travelers either not to fly or to protest by opting out of the full-body scanners and undergoing time-consuming pat-downs instead.

Industry leaders are worried about the backlash. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with leaders of travel industry groups to discuss the concerns.

Another myth that the TSA tackled is that all children will receive pat-downs. Children who require extra screening who are under 12 receive a modified pat-down, the TSA said. That news probably isn't reassuring for teenagers who draw a secondary security screening.

Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the hero pilot, has gone on record as a critic of the TSA measures. He said the use of full-body pat-downs and advanced imaging scanners for airline personnel "just isn't an efficient use of our resources."

Then there is the issue of whether the full-body scans, done in advance imaging technology, or AIT machines, are safe.

It is a myth that they are not safe, the TSA says.

The Backscatter technology used in the machines has been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute for Standards and Technology, the TSA says.

"In fact, a traveler is exposed to less radiation from one AIT scan than from two minutes of an airline flight," the fact sheet says.

Passengers have also expressed concerns that the images from the scanners can be saved or transmitted to other devices.

The TSA also calls this a myth, saying that the scanning machines do not have the capability to save or transmit images, and that other devices, such as cell phones with cameras, are not allowed in the screening rooms.

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