I showed up at JFK’s security checkpoint just like I have dozens of times before. Belt-less, shoeless, jacket-less, liquid-less, with my shoes and laptop on their own trays for inspection. Today, however, security had another requirement. “Are you wearing anything under your sweatshirt?” shouted the screening agent. “Yes, an undershirt” I replied. “I need you to remove your sweatshirt.” The person ahead of me was wearing a polo shirt over a t-shirt as were several people around me but for some reason I had to remove my Sweatshirt and go through security in my undershirt. I’m not that shy of a person but I felt as though TSA security carried things a little too far — and although I was far from any significant state of undress — I felt somewhat violated. I asked two agents for an explanation as to why I had to remove my sweatshirt. The first agent said “You must remove your outermost layer of clothing.” which I had already removed — my jacket. I asked why others didn’t have to remove their shirts and the agent walked away. I then went to the TSA desk just inside security. I asked the same question — why did I have to remove my shirt and was this now policy for sweatshirts. The response? “I will not comment on screening procedures.” I asked again and received the same response. Upon asking a third time he responded “I will not comment on screening procedures. What is being done today may not be done tomorrow. We are constantly changing screening procedures. What is normal for you may not be normal for everyone else.” Clearly the conversation was going nowhere and I got the distinct impression that if I continued to ask for an explanation I would be detained so I simply walked away.
Ok, so I know some of you are thinking what’s the big deal? They didn’t leave you standing there naked. The big deal is that I was forced to remove my shirt…without explanation…while on American soil as a requirement for gaining entry to the airport for a domestic flight…and this was being done as a primary screening procedure. Not a secondary screening because something else was discovered during primary screening. If there are new procedures requiring additional removal of clothing they should be posted. It should be open policy. People should know what state of dress will be required while passing through security. The TSA shouldn’t be permitted to operate in such a manner that the forced removal of clothing is acceptable and concealed under a veil of secrecy. At what point should we as citizens draw the line?