Harvard Students Sue TSA Over 'Intrusive' Searches

Two Harvard Law School students filed a lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration for its use of “intrusive” full body scanners and pat down procedures late last month.

Jeffrey H. Redfern and Anant N. Pradhan, both second year Law School students, allege that the scanners—which generate images of travelers’ bodies—and the TSA’s “enhanced pat down” technique which requires “the touching of their genital areas” are a violation of the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, according to the complaint filed on Nov. 29 at a U.S. District Court in Boston.

Currently, passengers are permitted to opt out of a full body scan, but upon doing so must submit to an enhanced pat down.

Both Redfern and Anant opted out of the full body scan while traveling on separate occasions and found the pat down “highly intrusive,” according to the complaint.

In an interview with the Harvard Law Record, Pradhan said an agent put his fingers inside the waistband of his pants, lifted his buttocks, and felt his groin. “They’ll go all the way up until—well, they go all the way up,” he said, according to the Record.

In the complaint, Redfern and Anant said the TSA should be required to have reasonable suspicion of travelers in the pursuit of the “prosecution of suspected terrorists” before subjecting them to the new security procedures.

According to the complaint, the enhanced pat down “if done non-consensually, would amount to a sexual assault in most jurisdictions.”

But the lawsuit may not be easy to win.

“I’m glad that our students are learning how to be lawyers, but I wouldn’t bet on their winning this lawsuit,” wrote  Law School Professor Mark V. Tushnet in an e-mailed statement to the Record.

“It might survive a motion to dismiss, but once the TSA puts forward something about the technology and the threats it’s dealing with, the lawsuit’s chances will drop precipitously,” he wrote.

The TSA’s procedures became the focus of national controversy as the holiday travel season kicked off last week.

Travelers organized a protest for Nov. 24—the day before Thanksgiving—that encouraged people to opt out of the full body scans, in favor of the more time-consuming pat downs.

The HLS students’ lawsuit is one of several filed across the country that claim that screening procedures violate passengers’ privacy.

—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinberg@college.harvard.edu.

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