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The Rutherford Institute Agrees to Represent Michael Roberts, Airline Pilot Who Refused to Submit to Virtual Strip Search

Contact: Nisha Mohammed, The Rutherford Institute, 434-978-3888 ext 604, 434-466-6168 cell, nisha@rutherford.org

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Oct. 21 /Christian Newswire/ -- In a case involving the continuing encroachment of modern technology upon personal privacy, The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of an airline pilot who refused to submit to airport security screening that exposes intimate details of a person's body to government agents. Despite passing through a metal detector without triggering an alert, pilot Michael Roberts was required by Transportation Security Agency ("TSA") personnel at Memphis International Airport to submit to Whole Body Imaging ("WBI") scanning or be subjected to a full pat-down frisk of his person. Upon his refusal, Roberts was prevented from passing through a security checkpoint and unable to report to work. The Rutherford Institute has agreed to represent Roberts and assist him in his claim that the TSA's use of full-body scanning technology as a primary security scan violates the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures contained in the U.S. Constitution.

"Forcing Americans to undergo a virtual strip search as a matter of course in reporting to work or boarding an airplane when there is no suspicion of wrongdoing is a grotesque violation of our civil liberties," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Indeed, it completely undermines our right to privacy and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents."

On October 15, 2010, Michael Roberts, a pilot employed by Houston-based ExpressJet Airlines, Inc., attempted to pass through the security line at Memphis International Airport (MEM) as part of his commute to work. For Roberts, who had regularly passed through the MEM security checkpoint over the past 4 1/2 years, this was the first time at that airport he had encountered the TSA's new security scanning technology that involves Whole Body Imaging (WBI). WBI full-body scanning devices enable screeners to see beneath people's clothing to an extremely graphic and intrusive level of detail. The scans have been likened to "virtual strip searches."

After Roberts loaded his bags onto the X-ray scanner belt, a TSA agent told him to remove his shoes. Roberts, who was in his pilot's uniform, questioned the agent about this and was told it was necessary for the WBI scanner. Roberts then stated that he did not wish to submit to the WBI scanning. The TSA agent stated Roberts could keep his shoes on, but directed him through the metal detector that had been roped off, and called out somewhat urgently to the agents on the other side: "We got an opt-out!" The agent also reported the "opt-out" into her handheld radio.

On the other side, Roberts was informed by another TSA agent that because he had refused the full-body screening, he would have to go through secondary screening which involves a full pat-down search. Roberts again refused and was told by a TSA agent that, pursuant to TSA decree, he could not pass through security without submitting to full-body scanning or a pat-down search. When Roberts asked if he was suspected of concealing something dangerous after he had passed through the metal detector without triggering an alert, or whether they believed that he had made any threats or given other indications of malicious designs to warrant treating him, a law-abiding fellow citizen, so rudely, he was told that was not relevant. Because Roberts could not pass through airport security, he was prevented from showing up for duty as required and is facing possible disciplinary action from his employer.