Virtual strip search boycott on TSA Opt Out Day

Airports across the United States are bracing themselves for travel chaos today as passengers take part in 'National Opt-Out Day', refusing the body scanner checks required by aviation security agency, the TSA.

Campaigners organised the day of protest at the introduction this month of full body scanner or 'backscatter' X-ray checks at airports. The devices have been dubbed a 'virtual strip search' because images of passengers' naked bodies are visible to operators.

More than 400 of the units are now being used at around 70 US airports. According to the TSA, 34 million passengers have undergone the procedure since the new regulations came into force on 1st November.

Passengers who refuse a body scan must instead submit to an invasive 'pat-down', with security staff touching their groin area - a requirement that has seen a storm of protest, with Californian man John Tyner telling staff, "Touch my junk and I'll have you arrested."

In another incident, an airport security official was caught on camera manhandling a screaming three-year-old girl. The video has been widely viewed on YouTube, fuelling protests.

According to the TSA, less than three per cent of travellers have opted to be patted down. But the American Civil Liberties Union says it has received more than 600 complaints over the procedure, and ACLU legislative counsel Christopher Calabrese says the pace is accelerating.

The TSA last week announced a partial climbdown on the security measures, with security arrangements being relaxed for pilots, who had been forced to submit to the same checks as passengers.

Doubts have also been cast over the safety of body scanners. Congressman Rush Holt calling for the scrapping of the scheme in a letter to TSA chief John Pistole, citing research that suggests a potential link to brain tumours.

Pistole today pleaded with US passengers travelling today for the Thanksgiving holidays not to boycott the full-body scans, saying that it would only cause chaos and "tie up people who want to go home and see their loved ones".

"We all wish we lived in a world where security procedures at airports weren't necessary," Pistole said, "but that just isn't the case."