Alaska Democrat Heads to Washington to Fight TSA Pat-Downs
Homeland Security officials and a congressional committee will get an earful from an Alaska politician this week. Rep. Sharon Cissna (D-Anchorage) is heading to Washington to argue that enhanced pat-downs at airports go too far and amount to air passengers being "felt up" rather than a smart security measure.
Office of Rep. Sharon Cissna
Her goal is for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to revert to its previous, less-invasive procedure where pat-downs used a light touch, with screeners using the back of their hands, she tells AOL Travel News.
Cissna has some weight behind her cause. On Friday, the Alaska House of Representatives passed a resolution asking the TSA to end its invasive pat-down procedure implemented last year and immediately revert to the prior, less invasive, protocol. The state senate is expected to vote on a similar measure on Monday, Cissna says.
The politician, who is also a breast cancer survivor, became a face for those who oppose the intrusive, hands-forward pat-downs last month when she was singled out for the procedure by screeners at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after a full-body scanner showed scars from her mastectomy.
Cissna said at the time she had experienced the "invasive, probing hands of a stranger" during a prior airport pat-down and wasn't going to go through that again. Her decision to instead leave the airport, and make a four-day journey back to Juneau – where the legislature was in session – gained national attention.
The politician says invasive pat-downs can be particularly demeaning for those with medical conditions – including scars and prostheses – and survivors of sexual assault.
"I came back from the experience I had been dealing with, with the TSA security procedures, and knew that one of the things we could do right away was to get the state legislature to put its own feelings into this," Cissna tells AOL Travel News. "It seemed the important thing to do just for starters."
The Alaska resolution was co-authored by Cissna and Representative Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage).
"Americans, and especially Alaskans, depend on air travel, and these searches infringe too far on our individual freedoms and rights to travel," says Rep. Tuck. "We have to find a better way to keep people safe without treading on the dignity and liberties we cherish."
In addition to calling for an end to invasive pat-downs the resolution also urges Congress to exercise more oversight of TSA to protect the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens. The measure passed 37-1, opposed by one Republican.
A legislator for 13 years, Cissna says she is overwhelmed by the support she received from her peers during her trip home from Seattle and as she pushed for action.
"That was really an amazing feeling for me," she says, "They were supporting what I had done," she says. "To know they were behind me and this was bipartisan was really a wonderful thing."
Cissna says she has heard from people throughout Alaska and across the country expressing their concerns, and she has a clear message to bring to Washington, where she will appear before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Wednesday.
"We're asking Congress to go back to the physical scanning that was done before. People didn't have a problem with it. I didn't have a problem with it. A light pat-down and sometimes they use a wand. The way it used to be."
The TSA has argued that when anomalies appear on full body scanners the enhanced pat-down is necessary to make sure those anomalies are not dangerous items such as explosives and bomb parts.
Says Cissna, "We want safe skies, believe me. I want people safe. But there's no proof this (invasive pat-down) is keeping people safe."
She says her husband has mapped out a route for her trip to Washington that will only include airports that do not yet have full body scanners but rather use metal detectors, which do not red flag her scars.
Cissna will share her own experience with Congress, she says.
"I'll be talking about the human part. And my fellow representatives have just added a piece of the human part. The people of Alaska will be heard in Washington D.C., will be heard across America," she says. "This procedure is a feel-up. That may be harsh, but it was harsh."
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