San Diego Man Refuses TSA Search, Kickstarts Revolt Against Airport Security


John Tyner, a software programmer in California, is on his way this weekend to becoming a folk hero for refusing to comply with Transportation Security Administration security procedures at San Diego International Airport, including the controversial backscatter x-ray machines, which can see your naked body. Tyner was allowed to opt out, but was told he must submit to a pat down instead. “You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested,” he told the guard. Ultimately, he did not get on a plane, but he did get the whole ordeal on camera.

Like any good American, Tyner came right home and put the story on his blog, where it has gathered north of 70,000 hits and 600 comments. The story has already been picked up by the San Diego Union-Tribune, but you can bet he’ll be on Good Morning America by Thursday.

Tyner’s version of the events includes a preliminary internet search made before his flight indicating that San Diego did not have the offending technology. Tyner was clearly worried about his rights from the beginning and prepared to stand against a system he sees as “ineffective, out of control, over-reaching.” Maybe they could see the opposition in his eyes, because Tyner was selected for the backscatter machine:

When asked, I half-chuckled and said, “I don’t think so.” At this point, I was informed that I would be subject to a pat down, and I waited for another agent.

A male agent (it was a female who had directed me to the backscatter machine in the first place), came and waited for me to get my bags and then directed me over to the far corner of the area for screening. After setting my things on a table, he turned to me and began to explain that he was going to do a “standard” pat down. (I thought to myself, “great, not one of those gropings like I’ve been reading about”.) After he described, the pat down, I realized that he intended to touch my groin. After he finished his description but before he started the pat down, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “if you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” He, a bit taken aback, informed me that he would have to involve his supervisor because of my comment.

A TSA manager eventually said that if Tyner would not agree to be patted down, he should be escorted from the airport. After a bit of a hassle with American Airlines, Tyner’s ticket was refunded, but as he went to leave, he was stopped again by the TSA manager and another man who informed Tyner that should he complete the security check he could be “subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine.”

I replied that he already had my information in the report that was taken and I asked if I was free to leave. I reminded him that he was now illegally detaining me and that I would not be subject to screening as a condition of leaving the airport. He told me that he was only trying to help (I should note that his demeanor never suggested that he was trying to help. I was clearly being interrogated.), and that no one was forcing me to stay. I asked if tried to leave if he would have the officer arrest me. He again said that no one was forcing me to stay. I looked him in the eye, and said, “then I’m leaving”. He replied, “then we’ll bring a civil suit against you”, to which I said, “you bring that suit” and walked out of the airport.

At multiple points through his adventure, Tyner was filming with his cell phone. Though nothing really happens on the video, the audio is clear, more or less corroborating Tyner’s story. All of the video clips, about 30 minutes cumulatively, are on Tyner’s blog. Here’s a sample:

Tyner’s soon to be very public ordeal comes amid a wave of backlash against invasive security measures in airports, reported last week in the New York Times, as well the Chicago Tribune and Seattle Tribune.

For more on the Tyner saga:

TSA encounter at SAN [Johnny Edge (Tyner’s personal blog)]
TSA ejects Oceanside man from airport for refusing security check [SDUT]