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I wrote recently that I considered TSA’s new enhanced body pats and the new Advanced Imaging Technology full body scanners over the top. I still think so, but I cannot support National Opt-Out Day, tomorrow November 24, primarily because I think it’s pointed in the wrong direction.

Full body scanners and the naked x-ray images they produce are, in my estimation, invasive and an unnecessary security measure. They’re unnecessary in that there are other ways, several of them, that TSA can employ to accomplish legitimate security checks. My point is: we’ve settled. Better technological tools are available to us.

But in the meantime, if I have to choose between going through a scanner I consider a virtual strip search or being patted down, which is to say groped, by some agent, which is to say some male person, I’ll opt for the scanner. I won’t opt-out of a scanner for a physical procedure I consider an even greater personal affront.

That’s what I mean by the wrong direction. National Opt-Out Day would make more sense to me if it called for opting out of enhanced pat downs. But then again, I resonate with people’s outrage about scanners too.

Still, I would not recommend people opt-out tomorrow or any other day from going through a scanner. Being seen by a stranger is better in my book than being touched by one.

Several things bother me about all this, including:

--the way TSA and the Department of Homeland Security have basically said, “This is it. Take it or be labeled uncooperative, not be allowed to fly, and be fined,”

--the lack of communication before this was leveled on the American public,

--the other options that have been set aside,

--the complete lack of moral or ethical discussion about these systems,

--the failure of TSA and Homeland Security to convince us this sort of Draconian measure will actually deter terrorism.

Again, in discussing these things I’m not contending there’s no terrorist threat nor am I attacking individual TSA agents who’re doing their job as they're told to do them.

I’m questioning TSA and Homeland Security’s policies and procedures. In a free society that once prided itself in its innovative spirit, both the policies and the procedures need reworked.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

DFW female TSA searching a lot of women, thoroughly, pretty invasive, touching nearly everywhere, fingers inside belts, more”—my Twitter post from last Wednesday.

Later on Facebook, I reposted the tweet and added this comment: “I couldn't believe it when I saw it. Turns out, new Federal law requires this "enhanced body pat,” but in my book it goes beyond necessity and decency. Scanners already reveal all and it's only a matter of time before scan pics show up on the Internet. Got to be a better way than this to promote security.”

The reaction has been interesting. Most responders have agreed or offered some parallel sense of being violated, i.e., that enough is enough and this is enough. Some comments have been supportive of TSA if not the Federal government’s attempts to do what it can to make air travel safe from terrorists or other violent activists.

But public reaction is heating up now that about 300 full-body scanners are operational in 60 U.S. airports, and TSA is apparently planning to install up to 500 by the end of 2010.

The ACLU has called the Advanced Imaging Technology scanners a “virtual strip search.” Let the record show this is the first time in my life I’ve agreed with the ACLU.

In Germany, body-scanner protesters took off most of their clothes and walked through airports to dramatize their feelings. In San Diego, a young man recorded on his cell phone an exchange with TSA agents in which he refused the scanner, was approached for the “enhanced body pat” now required when one refuses the scanner, and said to the agents he’d have them arrested if they touched him inappropriately. Needless to say, he used other language. In any event, he’s now subject to up to $11,000 in fines.

Travelers claim the body pats and scanners are adding more delay to airport entry, treat them like criminals, embarrass them, subject their children to emotional trauma, make them extremely uncomfortable, and a lot more. I have to agree, because I’ve experienced it and seen it.

Meanwhile, the issue has become a national news story. “Anderson Cooper 360” debated the issues on multiple nights, including with guest Kate Hanni of flyersrights.org. She and her organization believe the scanners violate travelers’ rights.

Facebook features at least two related pages: Boycott Airports With Full Body Scanners, and another one that just shoots the moon to Boycott Flying.

The Boycott Flying page includes this introductory description of its mission: “This is a place for those of us who refuse to be treated like cattle, sheep, slaves or criminals by the TSA. We will not be poked, prodded, groped or nuked with naked scanning machines.”

Activist Brian Sodegren, an anti-body scanner or pro-airline traveler rights’ person (depending upon your point of view), has organized a “National Opt-Out Day,” next Wednesday, November 24, 2010. Sodegren’s website says, “The goal of National Opt-Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change. No naked body scanners, no government-approved groping. We have a right to privacy, and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has attempted repeatedly this week to defend the government and TSA’s position in all this, claiming security is paramount and that’s all that matters.

So we have a problem. Terrorists have made us afraid and with good reason. Planes have gone down due to terrorist activity. There are bad guys out there who hate us, so we need security.

On the other hand, people in a free society should not have to subject themselves to any and all techniques—and be quiet about it (Napolitano says “Everyone has to play their part.”) when someone plays the security trump card.

I’ve done a lot of traveling, been through more than my share of airport checkpoints. I’ve had to run the security gauntlet, gone through metal detectors, wind-poof machines, and body scanners. I’ve been wanded and been enhanced body searched.

I remember one security agent in Turkey—I didn’t know whether to thank him for his thorough search or punch him. Needless to say, he was more than friendly.

I was traveling with two international friends in California and an agent at John Wayne Airport in Orange County pulled the lady aside, touched virtually every part of her body in view of everyone and then made her take off her shoes and checked the bottom of her bare feet. For what? I can understand why and how people feel violated.

I think the latest efforts are over the top. I stood in Dallas/Fort Worth airport last week, shocked because I hadn’t seen this before. I’ll get specific. What prompted the DFW tweet was a female TSA agent who pulled aside three women in a row, made them stand arms out in front of everyone, ran her fingers insider their waistbands, ran her hands up their legs and into their private areas, and then did sculpting movements with her hands around and between the ladies’ breasts—this is all in broad daylight in front of the world. The women subjected to this looked embarrassed to say the least.

This should not happen, publicly or otherwise.

I also don’t think the new body scanners are justifiable in a society that values individual dignity and liberty or that they are morally defensible. These machines are a modern application of Superman’s X-ray vision, every teenage boy’s fantasy. They literally see through clothes exposing body parts. And no one really knows what kind of negative physical impact the scanners' radiation is making on people exposed.

The government says these scanner pictures are destroyed and will never move from the machine. Yeah, tell me about it. We hear the same thing re private documents in hospitals, yet we’re periodically treated to confidential information hitting the media. It’s only a matter of time before some celebrity’s body scan picture shows up on the Internet.

I think the public and maybe me too would be more amendable to this latest social experimentation if we actually believed it worked. But security is so inconsistent. One airport requires you to take off your belt, the next one not. One wands every other passenger, the next waves people through like they’re entering church. Sometimes you’re made to remove your bagged liquid bottles, other times not. Supposedly this inconsistency is a planned absence of pattern to confuse would-be terrorists, but I don’t buy it. More likely, it’s a mish-mash of policy applications as only big government is capable of doing.

Please understand: I am decidedly not criticizing TSA agents, at least none other than an occasionally overzealous individual. They are doing their jobs as best they can as they’ve been directed. I’m not saying security measures aren’t important or aren’t ever effective. I am saying that the latest amped-up effort has gone too far.

There’s other technology and other ways creative people can find to resolve this situation, even further enhance security. We just need to find them. Meanwhile, the enhanced body pats and virtual strip-search scanners should be put in mothballs.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow Dr. Rogers at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.