Train in, Drive on, Opt Out on National Opt Out Day.

Celebrate Thanksgiving by giving thanks for what remains of our eroding civil liberties by opting out of TSA’s new body scanners when you travel home for the Thanksgiving holiday on November 24th.

Recently, TSA has been under fire from groups sprinkled over the entire political spectrum left to right.

Individuals concerned with health, safety, cost effectiveness, religious liberty, profiling, privacy, and security are all rising up to protest the implementation of the new Advanced Imaging Technology (known as AIT) and accompanying security measures. You may have noticed the media buzz about the poor decision TSA made when it decided to roll out its new Advanced Imaging Technology accompanied by the ‘optional’ prison style pat down.

TSA’s new AIT security strategy is coming under fire in part due to the graphic images AIT body scanners produce which have civil liberties and privacy rights advocates up in arms.

UNITED SIKHS lawyers have been in constant communications with TSA officials over the years, advocating on behalf of the religious freedom rights of the Sikh community and educating TSA staff about the implications of their security systems on individuals of the Sikh faith.

Alas, it appears that our efforts fell on deaf ears. Despite the consternation expressed by the Sikh community, TSA has continued with its roll out of the AIT scanners –which some have termed ‘naked body scanners.’ If a traveler refuses to undergo this virtual strip search (which is invasive enough- in and of itself impinging upon Constitutionally protected privacy and religious rights) then they are forced to submit to a rigorous prison style pat down –which the ACLU has referred to as ‘really aggressive groping’.

Recently, a TSA security official executed a pat down of a 3 year old child using this new highly invasive method –with the poor child hysterically crying the whole time. How many 3 year olds have to learn firsthand what it’s like to be searched like a prisoner before TSA realizes this new security strategy doesn’t work? (Click here for an emotionally charged article about the pat down procedure).

A young man who refused the body scanner and vociferously expressed his concern at the prospect of TSA security officials touching sensitive areas of his body now faces civil charges and up to a $10,000 fine. Another woman ended up in handcuffs.

Some activists are laying bare their dissatisfaction for all to see –quite literally. A group of Europeans arrived at an airport terminal in only their undergarments to display in real time what it is that the AIT images actually produce.

UNITED SIKHS along with SALDEF and Sikh Coalition recently sent out a community advisory alerting the Sikh community of the new invasive TSA security measures and discussing how this will adversely affect the practice of their faith.

Additionally, these 3 organizations sent a joint advisory letter to several government entities urging government action to stop this tidal wave that is sweeping away the Constitutional rights not only of the Sikh community but of the entire American citizenry. There has been no response so far, although UNITED SIKHS staff continues to look forward to collaborative communication with TSA to address the current issues.

Although AIT spells bad news for the rights of all Americans, for Sikhs however, things are worse. Typically, for a Sikh to get through security unimpeded requires them to shed at least one of their articles of faith all the time (the kirpan). In essence, if a Sikh traveler wanted to be screened in the same manner as other Americans are, Sikhs would have to shed their distinctive identity (TSA officials informed UNITED SIKHS attorneys that not only folds of cloth on the head but also long hair can trigger an anomaly in an AIT scanner). If a Sikh –with their articles of faith intact –goes to the airport now, they are literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. One option (let’s call this ‘the rock’) is to choose to go through AIT and allow complete strangers to view your entire body naked. It is bad enough that this is an affront to the principles of modesty and dignity but what is even worse is that the dastaar will be picked up as an anomaly by AIT machines due to its folds of cloth. This will require a Sikh traveler to go through secondary and even tertiary security screenings of the dastaar, while other Americans will pass right through. The second option ( ‘the hard place’), is for a Sikh traveler to decline the AIT body scan and choose to be subjected to a rigorous, groping form of hand pat down –which will make even the most stoic individuals blush. In totality, this means that those wearing religious head wear will be substantially more burdened by the current security policy than secular Americans. Now, Big Brother is not only watching, he is touching too.

As if the strategic implementation of technology that results in the profiling of certain religious groups and subjects them to heightened security searches wasn’t bad enough, TSA’s new AIT machines bring with them a slew of health concerns due to the radiation levels emitted.

Even pilots are unhappy –TSA’s own employees are concerned about the increased risk of cancer that AIT scanners bring with them. There are studies indicating that such scanners may even damage human DNA.

And TSA still claims this makes us safer?

Civil rights organizations focusing on privacy issues are also up in arms. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (known as EPIC) has filed a suit against the Department of Homeland Security (parent to TSA) and UNITED SIKHS attorneys are working with them to provide EPIC with a Sikh perspective on this issue.

Fiscal conservatives are displeased too –the cost of this new security system is astonishing considering the economic climate of the nation.

Also, there are many who feel that this system, not only too costly, will actually make people LESS safe. [Click here to see another discussion of both health and safety concerns.]

Although TSA is trying to show us a Brave New World in which our religion, privacy, dignity, modesty, health, finances, safety and security can all be sacrificed in the name of knee-jerk reactions to address purported national security interests, it is our job to respond back and say, ‘NOT ON MY WATCH!’

UNITED SIKHS legal team, staff and volunteers are all actively advocating for TSA to change its current policy –and implement a policy that actually makes us safer as a nation and doesn’t single out religions to bear the burden of implementation.
We are spreading the word so that the voices of the community can be heard.

What can you do? GET INVOLVED!!! Here’s how:

1) National Opt Out Day is November 24th –we are urging all air travelers to join this national campaign and OPT OUT of AIT! Show TSA THIS IS NOT OK!

2) Write to your Senators and Congressman and urge them to take action against TSA’s current security policy.

3) Write TSA officials and fill out TRIP complaints every time you travel and are subjected to additional screenings based on your religious identity.

4) Fill UNITED SIKHS turban screening survey on our website every time you travel.

5) Ask TSA to conduct a self audit of its security checks to get data on how frequently Sikhs are screened (we know the numbers but they need to start counting!).

6) Volunteer for UNITED SIKHS –sign up to get involved!

7) Donate to our Protect Our Identity campaign: Visit our website to make a donation -your support allows us to continue our fight for justice on this issue and many others!

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