Activists take a stand against airport security with National Opt Out Day

Rep. John Mica, R-FL, said TSA, the organization he helped create, needs to be reformed. (Source: CNN)
Rep. John Mica, R-FL, said TSA, the organization he helped create, needs to be reformed. (Source: CNN)

PHILADELPHIA (RNN) - A grassroots movement is organizing around the country in protest of new airport security measures that critics say are invasive.

Wednesday is "National Opt Out Day," a day in which activists like Jim Babb are encouraging passengers to cancel their flights in protest of what they call "radiation strip searches" and "sexual assault."

Babb's description refers to the new Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) screenings, which requires passengers to go through a fully-body X-ray scan, or if that is refused, submit to a "thorough" pat-down before entering an airport's secure area.

The procedures were introduced following an incident last Christmas in which a Nigerian traveler tried to ignite a bomb in his underwear in an attempt to take down a Detroit-bound plane.

The measures concern Babb, who feels that they are a threat to privacy and health. That's why he co-founded, "We Won't Fly," a grassroots internet movement aimed at educating passengers and pressuring the airline industry into making changes.

While he doesn't have exact numbers, Babb expects Wednesday's protests across the country - including his in Philadelphia - will be huge.

"There's a fundamental issue here of human decency and inherent rights," Babb said. "We have inherent rights to our own bodies. And when we give up that, we give up everything."

Babb said the government doesn't need to see us nude in the imaging technology, grope us in the pat-downs, or touch our children. To Babb, that isn't democracy.

"If the government decides they own our bodies, then we're living in total tyranny," he said.

Babb's group also questions the X-ray technology used in the full-body scanners. A group of faculty members at the University of California, San Francisco, raised concerns about the "potential serious health risks" that the machines pose, including cancer.

Babb encourages those forced to fly Wednesday to say they "opt out" of full body X-ray scanners in favor of pat-downs.

"For those I care about, I'm urging them to just not participate, to just not fly that day," Babb said on his website. "I hope to see deserted airports. But if you want to do it, I say have some fun with it, be creative. Wear the kilt. Leave your phone on record. You could be the next YouTube star. These TSA people need to be humiliated. What they are doing is inexcusable."

A mass request for pat-downs will lead to long lines at airports and potentially cause delayed or missed flights.

On its website, "We Won't Fly" said that because the government has failed us, it hopes "National Opt Out Day" will do three things: Educate passengers to make informed decisions; force positive change on TSA policies; and encourage airlines to advocate on behalf of passengers.

And that's why Babb hopes passengers will be vocal about their discontent Wednesday.

John Pistole, chief of the TSA, said Monday that while no immediate changes will be made, the agency is reviewing its controversial policies.

"They have no choice but to respond," Babb said. "The American public has risen in opposition to their bologna security theater."

The activist said the TSA will soon be irrelevant if it does not adapt adequately to the concerns of the public. That's one thing a politician close to TSA has already come out and said.

Rep. John Mica, R-FL, has urged the nation's busiest airports to choose private security over TSA.

"It's a massive bloated bureaucracy," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fl, who is poised to head the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in January. "It needs to be trimmed and tamed."

Mica, who co-wrote the law that created the TSA, included a provision that allows airports to use private security over TSA as long as they comply with Department of Homeland Security regulations.

Still, Mica does not support the actions of National Opt Out Day.

"I think the public needs to work with us, and we'll get right," he said Sunday on CNN's "Face the Nation." "I'm not going to support that. But we need to get it right, and we will."

Related stories

Copyright 2010. Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.