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New App Helps Flyers Battle TSA Bigotry

Apps can accomplish lots of things, as we’ve learned from those ubiquitous Apple commercials. But can an app quell alleged racial profiling at U.S. airports?

Yesterday, the Sikh Coalition, a civil-rights group, rolled out a new app called FlyRights that allows travelers to rapidly report unfair treatment in the airport security line. With the app, flyers can file official complaints on instances of racial profiling by TSA agents as well as other kinds of discrimination.

According to a press release issued by the Sikh Coalition, “For years, Sikh travelers have complained of discriminatory screening and pat downs at airport checkpoints across the United States.” Sikhs, which are followers of the religion Sikhism, often wear turbans and long beards.

Travelers who feel they’ve been treated unfairly in the security line can use the app to file an official incident report directly with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with the Sikh Coalition, or, if you’re really mad, with all of the above. The app asks, “On what ground(s) do you believe you experienced discrimination?” Options include race, religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, or disability. (You can check more than one.) The app also requests the name and badge number of the TSA agent who screened you. It takes only seconds for the complaint to go through.

In addition, FlyRights features a guide to your rights as an air traveler, which includes links to resources such as the TSA’s official screening policies and security information in various languages. The app is free, and it’s available for download for iPhone and Android.

What does the TSA think about all this? A spokesperson from the agency told us that “[The] TSA does not profile passengers on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion. We continually engage with community organizations, including the Sikh Coalition, and individuals to help us understand unique passenger concerns and we support efforts to gather passenger feedback about the screening process. We encourage any traveler with a concern about potential discrimination to contact TSA directly through our numerous channels of communication.”

Those abovementioned channels include supervisors and customer-support managers at airports. Aggrieved travelers can also send an email through the TSA Contact Center, submit a message or complaint through Talk to TSA, or file a civil rights complaint with the TSA.

Since there are already several avenues in place through which travelers can submit complaints about the TSA, is this app really necessary? Possibly. It may seem like the TSA is forever fielding grievances from frustrated flyers, especially given the great number of news reports about security screeners gone wild. However, the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security received only 11 official complaints of inappropriate screening in the first half of 2011. (Data is not yet available for the second half of the year.)

What do you think? Is it fair to use an app that makes filing a complaint against an agent as easy as pushing a few buttons? Share your opinion in the comments.

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