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Associated Press, Published November 19 2010

Would-be flier finds himself in spotlight after refusing TSA pat-down

John Tyner knows he's at minute 14.5 of his headlong rush into the national spotlight. And he couldn't be happier.

An audio recording capturing Tyner's don't-touch-my-junk showdown with San Diego airport security screeners a week ago brought the software engineer instant celebrity. His story has been featured on all the major news and late-night comedy shows. Bloggers have alternately praised and excoriated him.

A "Don't Touch My Junk ... and Don't Touch My Kid's Junk, Either" T-shirt is reportedly doing brisk business on the Internet. So are other commercial products co-opting Tyner's widely heard challenge to a Transportation Security Administration screener: "If you touch my junk I'll have you arrested."

But after a dizzying week of interviews explaining why he refused to submit to a full-body scan or a pat-down search, the former bicycle racer who considers himself a libertarian says he's ready to slide back into his normal life.

"I'll be back at work on Friday," said Tyner, 31, pausing at midweek for a brief interview between other media calls. "Hopefully I'll be able to get back on my bike again soon."

Tyner's story has touched a nerve with the flying public, dividing passengers into two camps: those willing to put up with invasive security measures for safety's sake and those saying enough is enough.

"If you don't like the screenings, take the train!" advised a host of blog commenters. Others confessed to their own personal humiliation at undergoing X-ray screenings that show the naked body, or to pat-downs so thorough that critics call them molestations.

One 32-year-old woman said she was in tears after a full-body scan earlier this week as she boarded a flight out of Los Angeles International Airport to attend a family member's funeral. Adriana, who asked that her full name not be used, said she had been molested as a child and that the screening experience was so traumatic that she is actually considering train travel for the first time in her life.

"People who have not been violated before can't understand how it feels for a stranger to see more of you than your doctor," she said. "Someone should try to explain the situation for those that quietly and continuously take the torment."

Sandra Elliott of Denver said she is no prude but that a recent pat-down at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif., was so humiliating that she is considering no longer traveling to see her grandchildren in Newport Beach.

"These women's hands were thrust firmly in my crotch. They pulled up my sweater and stuck their hands inside of my pants, plus thoroughly groped my breasts," Elliott said of her Nov. 1 flight back to Denver. "Please know that I am not a prude. I am not averse to being touched by others, sometimes intimately, but this was absolutely overboard."

She was so upset, Elliott said, that she filed a complaint with the TSA and contacted her congressional representative.

The media latched onto Tyner's refusal in part because it occurred close to Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel times of the year. The Senate also was preparing to hold a hearing on growing passenger complaints about the scans and a new, more invasive pat-down introduced by the TSA in October.

TSA Director John Pistole told committee members the technology is safe and is there to protect the public. To Tyner's relief, Pistole also said it's unlikely the TSA will follow through on a $10,000 fine a San Diego airport official threatened when Tyner left the airport without completing the screening process.

He didn't come to San Diego International Airport intending to take a stand, Tyner said, who is unflaggingly polite and well spoken. He was on his way to South Dakota with his father-in-law and brother-in law for a pheasant-hunting vacation. When he refused a body scan, a TSA agent took him to another area and explained the pat-down procedure, triggering Tyner's don't touch my junk challenge.

After a half-hour of haggling, the agent escorted him to the ticket counter, where he got his flight refunded. As he headed back to his home in Oceanside, near San Diego, his relatives continued on with their flight, he said. His father-in-law, who had urged him to just go ahead with the pat-down, was upset at first, Tyner said.

But by the time he touched down in South Dakota he had changed his mind, Tyner said.

"He called me and said, 'You know, I'm really proud you took a stand on something you believe in.'"

Tyner was raised in Orange County and attended a private Christian high school before enrolling in a computer science major at the University of California, Riverside. He writes software for communications and networking equipment for a local San Diego company, he said.

He and his wife, Suzanne, are parents to 1-year-old son, Jack, which keeps them busy. Before Jack's birth, Tyner used to compete in bicycle road races on weekends. Tyner is something of a political junkie, browsing dozens of articles from favorite websites such as The Libertarian Standard and Salon.com every day.

He didn't vote for Barack Obama or John McCain in the presidential election and thinks both parties are "terrible."

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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