By Wayne Risher
Memphis Commercial Appeal
Two commercial airline pilots filed suit against the federal government Tuesday claiming new airport screening procedures violate their constitutional rights.
Michael S. Roberts of Memphis, a pilot with ExpressJet, and Ann Poe of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a Continental pilot, sued the Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration in federal court in Washington.
Roberts and Poe have been grounded since separate incidents in which they refused to submit to full body scans or the alternative, enhanced pat-downs by TSA officers.
Saying the screening violates Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the lawsuit asks a judge to bar whole body image scanning technology or enhanced pat-downs as the main method of screening air passengers. It seeks damages for Roberts and Poe, who say their livelihood is threatened by the TSA policy.
The legal action comes as airports brace for holiday crowds and criticism of screening procedures crops up on the Internet, from pilot groups and among passengers.
Roberts and Poe, represented by conservative civil liberties advocate The Rutherford Institute, are blogging at fedupflyers.org. A passenger, John Tyner, posted on the web an audio recording of his run-in with TSA officers at the San Diego airport. Another website, optoutday.com, urges passengers to decline full body scans next Wednesday, Nov. 24.
Roberts hasn't flown since mid-October, when he balked at screening alternatives at Memphis International Airport. He's on unpaid, administrative leave from his regional airline employer, and the lawsuit says his family's health insurance has been cut off.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and TSA administrator John Pistole have gone public in recent days with statements backing the screening as vital to safe air travel. They stressed that the screening technology is safe and that the system safeguards individual privacy.
A TSA spokesman said Tuesday the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Roberts said he's encouraged. "It it gaining momentum," he said. "John Tyner essentially is a passenger who did what I did. I think that's awesome."
"I think the outrage has reached a point where Napolitano and company had to respond."
Roberts added, "I'm hopeful, but I still don't believe the lawsuit is the total answer. We can't let ourselves be abused until some judge says they can't do it anymore."