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Officials Defend Airport Security Procedures

An Oceanside man who blogged about a confrontation with transit officials at the San Diego airport could be slapped with a civil penalty of up to $11,000 for violating federal law, a Transportation Security Administration official said today.

Michael Aguilar, the TSA's federal security director in San Diego, told reporters at a news conference outside Lindbergh Field that the agency has opened an investigation, which could result in a civil penalty because the man refused to complete the security scanning process.

"Once a passenger has entered into that screening process, he cannot opt out of it,'' Aguilar said.

John Tyner, a 31-year-old software programmer, was headed to South Dakota for a vacation when TSA officials directed him to a full-body scanner in the airport security line.

He refused the full body scan and opted for a traditional scan and pat- down, Aguilar said. However, Tyner refused to submit to a "groin check,'' which led TSA agents to eventually deny him the ability to board his flight.

According to Tyner, he was escorted from the security area and was given a full refund for the ticket at his airline's ticket counter.

After getting the refund, Tyner was approached by a TSA official who said he must submit to the full screening process before leaving. Tyner said he was threatened with a civil lawsuit if he left the airport, but he was also told that no one was forcing him to stay. He then left.

Tyner recorded the entire event on his cell phone's video camera, which he turned on after being directed to the scanner. He posted the audio and his account of the full event on his blog two hours after leaving the airport.

Because Tyner recorded the interaction, Aguilar said it is possible his behavior was "intentional,'' meaning the interaction might have been staged.

Despite the publicity Tyner's blog post has generated, Aguilar said the TSA has no plans to change its screening practices, and that every piece of the screening procedure is there for a reason.

"We want to be sure that everyone on a plane can be assured that the people with them received the same screening process,'' Aguilar said.

Aguilar said any passenger can opt out of the full body scan and instead choose a pat-down, and that the TSA has a procedure in place that blocks out the groin area on a full body scan.

"It ensures the official never sees the image on the display screen,'' he said.

Aguilar called rumors that groups might be planning an intentional slowdown of security screening on the day before Thanksgiving "irresponsible.''

"We have a commitment to public safety, and a commitment to our mission to protect the freedom of movement of passengers,'' he said. "We're not going to allow anyone or any group to detract from our mission.''

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