Airport questions protocol

| December 02, 2010

Missoula International Airport (MSO) hasn't dealt with any of the high-profile "junk" that's plagued other airport security screening areas, but that doesn't mean there aren't concerns.

MSO Director Cris Jensen says he's fielded multiple complaints from travelers about the highly controversial, ramped-up security measures that went into effect nationwide Oct. 29, but no one has walked away from a screening at MSO. That's a relief, because Jensen's unsure whether airport security would be legally allowed to detain an individual who refuses a full-body frisk.

"As it stands," Jensen says, "if somebody chooses to walk away, we're not clear whether we can detain them."

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) maintains that it has legal authority to detain passengers who refuse to be patted down. The federal agency also argues it can levy a civil penalty of up to $11,000 if an individual were to opt out of a search.

The issue received significant media attention after John Tyner of Oceanside, Calif., refused on Nov. 13 to enter the body scanner at San Diego International Airport. Instead, Tyner told agents he preferred a hands-on search, but again bristled when he realized the TSA employee was going to touch his groin. Outraged, Tyner told a TSA agent, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested."

Tyner, who's blogged extensively about the recorded altercation, walked out of the airport and has yet to face any legal fallout from the incident.

Jensen says nothing like Tyner's incident has occurred in Missoula, pointing out that MSO has yet to unveil new advanced imaging technology, which displays passengers unclothed on a screen. But he remains unclear about what airport staff can or cannot do should something similar happen.

Jensen says the question came up during a recent meeting among MSO staff and a TSA attorney. Jensen told TSA that he won't stop individuals from walking away until the state's attorney general advises him on the issue.

"Until we have that, we're not going to detain anybody," Jensen says. "It's one of our big concerns. We want to make sure we're complying with the law."

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