Body Scanners (and Groping?) Coming To A Train Station Near You?

If some security "experts" get their way, the security procedures we encounter at airports could start showing up elsewhere. Will Americans stand for it?

If Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has her way, the enhanced security procedures just starting to make their way into American airports will be showing up elsewhere in the near future:

The next step in tightened security could be on U.S. public transportation, trains and boats.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says terrorists will continue to look for U.S. vulnerabilities, making tighter security standards necessary.

“[Terrorists] are going to continue to probe the system and try to find a way through,” Napolitano said in an interview that aired Monday night on “Charlie Rose.”

“I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?”

In addition to mass transit, there’s also discussion about enhanced search techniques popping up in other places, like the nation’s Courthouses:

Taking a trip during the holidays isn’t the only time that people might get a full-body scan to pass through security. People heading to court to testify, get a restraining order, pay a ticket or answer criminal charges could also face a full-body scan at courthouses.

The U.S. Marshals Service, which is in charge of protecting federal judges nationwide, is exploring their use at federal courthouses. And two state courthouses in Douglas and El Paso counties in Colorado have already deployed full-body scanners that use radio waves to detect all objects on a person, including paper.


The new security techniques are meant to thwart plots by would-be terrorists to use liquid explosives and bombs hidden in shoes and inside underwear. Court observers note that the threat in a courtroom is somewhat different.

“What we are still worried about at a courthouse is angry divorce litigants with a gun,” said Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. “Metal detectors are pretty good at that.”

Honestly, I can see Americans eventually accepting enhanced security at airports given the history of security threats to the airline industry, and the palpable evidence we’ve all experienced of what can happen if those security threats are allowed to succeed. It becomes a different story, though, when you’re talking about making things like naked image body scanners and, presumably, enhanced pat-downs, part of everyday American life.

For one thing, the sheer logistical problems associated with subjecting everyone who boarded a train, or a subway in a city like New York or Washington, to some kind of security screening would grind both of those systems to a fault. It would be essentially equivalent to requiring every single car entering Manhattan to be subjected to a stop and search. It would make life, and commerce, unmanageable and it would affect the daily life of enough Americans that the revolt we’re seeing now over airport security would be a tempest in a teapot. That’s why I think, in the long run, it’s not going to happen except perhaps at some high-security federal installations.

For another, the liberty v. security trade-off has a different connotation when it implicates more than just the 45 minutes or so that you might spend in an airport security line. The idea of having to be felt up by a security officer every time you want to get on a train, subway, or boat is something that I would venture to guess the average American would not be willing to accept. Of course, that could change in the event of a wave of terrorist attacks aimed at these facilities but at that point, I’m afraid whatever is left of the American way of life as we’ve known it would be long gone.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dean says:

    That would be the end of mass transit as we know it. If you could drive or take a cab instead, why would you ever consider taking mass transit?

  2. John Burgess says:

    And after the first Madrid-like bombing of the train stations? Everyone would be asking why the scanners weren’t already in place. Tell me I’m wrong.
    BTW, when I used Philadelphia’s 30th St. Station last week, there were at least 20 TSA agents present in the terminal, watching over the ticket verification process that takes place before passengers go to the platforms.
    What scanners would interfere with is arriving late to the station hoping to make your train. Those who arrive early–as at airports–have plenty of time to pass through screening.
    Screening would definitely add to the suck-i-tude of commuting by train, though…

  3. Dave says:

    Is there any way you guys could maybe collect TSA-related stories throughout the day then post one larger write-up in the late afternoon covering all the developments? OTB to TSA is kind of becoming ESPN to Brett Favre at this point.

  4. john personna says:

    I think this is going to boomerang into TSA sympathy.  The search critics have overplayed their hand.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Doug – your party got this ball rolling, and now you have been manipulated into an agent of faux hysteria by Fox News. If you don’t fell like a chump, you should.

  6. Tano says:

    There is a new poll out from Gallup which should be studied by all those who were loudly accusing the CBS poll (I think it was) last week – that showed broad support for the scanners – as being horribly skewed since it didn’t focus on people who actually fly.
    Well the Gallup poll does that – including only people who have flown at least twice in the past year. There findings?
    71% say the system of scans and pat-downs is worth it to them given security needs.
    A majority, 57% are not bothered by the scans, only 18% angry about them.
    A plurality, 42% are not bothered by the pat-downs, 29% angry about them.
    24% have gone through the scans, 15% have had a pat-down.
    “Notably, more than two-thirds of those who had actually undergone the screening say it did not bother them -”

  7. Franklin says:

    71% say the system of scans and pat-downs is worth it to them given security needs.
    Great, but it still violates rights.  No amount of polling will change that.

  8. john personna says:

    If it did Franklin, someone should be able to win a court case.  I suspect that since it isn’t about searching people on the street, but is about maintaining a secure location, it will survive legal challenges.
    Courthouses out where I live have had metal detectors and bag searches for years.

  9. JKB says:

    How’s that urban lifestyle now?  Me, I’ll stick with living in free America and make trade offs if I wish to go somewhere I can’t drive.  So it’ll be people crying after being molested using public transportation and people moving about the country in their Ford F-350s and Excursions
    And the real stupid part, it is far more trivial to take out a whole train at any point along its track than to try to blow up one car by being on board.

  10. anjin-san says:

    > How’s that urban lifestyle now?
    It’s fantastic. Beautiful day in the bay area, heading over to SF. Only problem is I miss Giants baseball.  Give us a shout if you see something exciting like a cow patty while you are driving around “Free America”.
    I have to ask… do you even realize that your political thinking and general world view is being shaped largely by marketing professionals who work for Fox?


  11. Aubrey Kohn says:

    Two words: sadistic perverts

  12. Doug – the day of calling this the “land of the free” is far gone. They trample on your constitutional rights, multiple times, every day.
    Come join us as we make our voices heard and protest this new infringement, on December 1st. Shut Down the Airports protest is meant to cause them to take notice of us, using peaceful, but overwhelming force, and force them to stop breaking the law. You can find out more info at

  13. Franklin says:

    If it did Franklin, someone should be able to win a court case.
    Already been filed on 4th Amendment grounds, we’ll see how it pans out.
    Unrelated, I’m curious if people are on the same side of the battle as they were for the illegal wiretapping, which in my mind is the same principal.  Giving up rights in exchange for “security”.

  14. john personna says:

    No, i’m on opposite sides wrt wiretapping.  Because as I say, I see the airport or plane as a public place to be secured.  The phone is part of my daily, private, life.

  15. john personna says:

    BTW, I was slow to accept that an underpants load of explosive could bring down a plane, but I went out to youtube and found all kinds of videos of people blowing stuff up with similar amounts.  Search for “PETN”, amazing stuff.

  16. matt says:

    Yes John and personally I’m waiting to see how we’ll respond once someone gets around to surgically implanting PETN in themselves.. or hell just blow up the security checkpoint line…

  17. anjin-san says:

    I am opposed to wiretapping without FISA review. I have no problem with airport scanners. An airport is a secure location, just like a courthouse. You have no right to fly, any more than you have a right to drive. The effectiveness of the scanners is an open question at this point, but you can’t have it both ways. If we want to prevent terror attacks, we need more security. We should consider some of the techniques Israel uses, but they may not work here, as that is a tiny nation and this is a very large one.

  18. anjin-san says:

    Hey thats a nice website shutdown. Did you have a fifth grader build it for you?