Why the TSA’s Latest Policies Bother Me…and Why I Won’t Say Anything When It Happens to Me

As you have doubtless heard from news outlets, friends, and/or colleagues, the TSA has installed back-scatter body imaging devices at airports. These body scan machines emit low level radiation to be able to “see” objects that are hidden beneath your clothing. They also, as a result, end up with a pretty good picture of what you look like naked. (Yeah, it looks like the image is not overly detailed, but that’s because it’s a negative. Pop that sucker into Paint and click “invert colors”, and you get a porn-ish NSFW image, in which you can clearly recognize a face as well as see pubic hair.) As one TSA agent put it, the machine is a “dick measuring device”. If you happen to end up in an imaging line (or if those are the only lines available), you cannot leave the line without facing possible legal action. In case a naked picture isn’t de-humanizing enough, you also have to stand with your arms raised while the machine scans you, for 15-20 seconds. This pose is familiar to most of us as “stick ’em up”…a pose associated with criminals being arrested.

If you do not want the TSA to have a naked picture of you for whatever time period they deem appropriate, with whatever level of privacy they determine, you will be subject to an aggressive pat-down search. Your groin, genitals, and breasts will be touched, with whatever level of pressure the agent feels necessary. Various TSA sources have said that it’s a “back of the hands” pat down and that they are to not touch more than is necessary to “meet resistance”. Nonetheless, individual passenger accounts tell a different story. Even by their process, if you are a woman wearing an underwire or padded bra, you may be asked to remove it or may be subject to “more aggressive” search. You can, of course, ask to be patted down in private. Honestly, I’m less nervous about being pulled into the “back room” at a casino than I am about going into a private room with the TSA. At least a casino has to worry about me going public, whereas the TSA has a massive PR machine just waiting to discredit people who object to their practices. Plus, if I were a person who got off on feeling up people against their will, guess what job I’d be going after? (BTW, if any TSA agents out there are offended by that, recognize that every bit of this policy assumes that I’m a criminal, and I figure it’s only fair that the assumption goes both ways. None of us are guilty, yet.)

So, first and foremost, these scanners accomplish neither of the two main objectives of passengers in screening: security and convenience. When these were being initially mentioned as a possibility (when the very first naked scanned lady pictures came out), it was touted as that you’ll be able to keep shoes on, belts on, outerwear on, and even carry a small handbag. They said it would be faster than the disrobing+X-ray process. In reality, it is slower, by a good 15-30 seconds per person, not counting the time for voluntary and involuntary pat-downs. You still have to disrobe. You still have to put your bags on the conveyor, pull out toiletries, etc. Being that these scans don’t also increase security significantly, this enough should be reason for the machines to never have been purchased, IMO. Certainly, at my company, before making this level of investment, those two things would have had to be proven via a beta test. The supplier would have had to prove the claims. The amount of lost productivity as a result of these scanners, if you figure the TSA agents and the passengers at just minimum wage for their time, will total in the millions before the end of this week. Any company worth its salt weighs risk vs. reward when making an investment. There are formulas to estimate the value of lost time, the value of lost property, and even the value of lost human life. (The cost of insurance isn’t a shot in the dark, after all.) As Secretary of State Clinton pointed out on Face the Nation, we need to consider the real risk of terrorism and what we’re costing ourselves trying to avoid it.

What is even worse to me though is that, even before this came up, I already felt incredibly powerless at the airport. I feel like I can’t express emotions or thoughts that are natural, that I’d express in any other service situation. If a TSA checker does something wrong and I object, whether I’m right or not, whether I’m polite in my objection or rightfully angry, I’m putting hundreds of dollars of travel expense at stake, not to mention my personal time and energy. The obvious best course of action is to *not* object, to be pliant, submissive, and quiet…even when I’m wronged. And that bugs the crap out of me. It makes me seethe inside, even when nothing has gone wrong, when no one has done anything bad to me…simply because they *can* be a dick about things and there’s nothing I could reasonably do about it. Now, with this…I know, going to the airport later this week, that something wrong is going to happen to other people if not to me directly, something that I feel violates human rights let alone my/their rights as a US citizen…and every part of me will want to scream and object and protest, loudly and logically.

But, just as John Pistole wants, I will feel guilty for my anger. I will think about my nephews who are dying to see me, the presents for them in my checked bag. I will think of the fun I’m going to have with family and at WDW. I will worry that my objections will cause problems for people behind and around me, that those people will complain, call me names, and not support me even though I’m trying to do what is right. I will think about the TSA employees, who are likely good people trying to do their work and get paid, same as me most of the time. I will think of the money and time I will waste, and how even if I waste it, how nothing will change. In the end, I, like thousands of others, will be pliant, submissive, and quiet. I will be weak. And I will hate myself for it and cry afterward, even if nothing goes wrong.

2 thoughts on “Why the TSA’s Latest Policies Bother Me…and Why I Won’t Say Anything When It Happens to Me”

  1. “The obvious best course of action is to *not* object, to be pliant, submissive, and quiet…even when I’m wronged. And that bugs the crap out of me. …

    … And I will hate myself for it and cry afterward, even if nothing goes wrong.”

    Do cry. Sit quietly in your airplane seat and weep. Not because you did nothing (or could do nothing), but because you have to protest some how and maybe, just maybe, some honest, righteous TEARS will sink into their dithering headbones, where yelling & pitching a fit would just get you (anyone) arrested.

    For me, I have chosen to refuse going forward to fly. Period. My protest will be to hit the concept with my dollars. (nor, technically, to NOT hit it)

    If that means it takes me 23 hours driving somewhere then I will. If that means it takes me 34 hours on a bus, then I will be on a bus. Forget about trains. Amtrak hasn’t loved the southern states since its inception.

    I’m sorry for those (business or leisure) travelers who can’t avoid flying, but I refuse, as a human being, to be “fondled” in the name of security. My dignity is worth more than any airplane trip…no matter how urgent the destination.

  2. This is very well said. Have you considered a letter to the editor, or a submission as a guest editorialist to one of the major newspapers? (Yes, I said newsPAPER. They all have web versions, but getting it in the paper version, too, gives it more credibility.)

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