TSA Backlash week

I travel a lot for work, and to see my family on the East Coast. As such, I keep a fairly close eye on changes in TSA screening, and have always been a bit squicked by the backscatter machines (or porno scanners, as I’ve seen them called). My issue is mostly discomfort with some random person looking at me naked; it’s an invasion of privacy that I don’t appreciate. The health arguments against them seem dubious, but then again, the security argument seems little better. No terrorist plot has been detected at the checkpoint. How large a risk of cancer should I tolerate for no obvious security benefit?

I didn’t get too worked up when the backscatter scanners first came out, because they were being used randomly alongside the standard metal detectors, and you could opt for a pat down instead, which wasn’t awful. But now the choice is between being digitally stripped naked or being frisked like a criminal suspect. As one security consultant put it: “It’s a better way to frisk, but we’re now subjecting the general public to the same frisking that police use with probable cause.”

I’m not a criminal. There’s no probable cause to search me. I’ve flown at least a couple times a year pretty much every year since I was born, and much more than that now that I get to travel for work. If I were a threat to aviation, I think it would’ve become clear by now. Before 9/11, I carried two pocket knives on every flight. I took a railroad spike onto a plane one time, with airport security’s knowledge and permission. I am not a threat to American aviation, and feeling me up or looking at me naked will not make anyone safer. And it certainly shouldn’t make anyone feel safer to know that the government can feel them up or strip them naked just because they want to come home from a business trip (let alone that they can be fined $10,000 for rejecting either option).

I don’t like the idea that flying requires being treated like a criminal. And I don’t know what to do about that.

Pilot Patrick Smith makes an important point:

Yes, the scanners raise health issues and some very important privacy issues, as do the pat-downs. But no less importantly, they are part of what has become an unsustainable security strategy: that is, treating each and ever passenger, from an infant children to uniformed crewmembers, as potential terrorists, and attempting to inspect their bodies and belongings for each and every possible weapon.

A friend today suggested that the solution would be to have one line for people who want to fly with people who have been screened, the other for people willing to fly with those who haven’t. The theory being that this is about herd immunity, that we’re all safer when we all get perved up by TSA.

But I’d pick the second line. Because starting with United 93 (and who knows what happened on the other flights on 9/11), every terrorist attack that got as far as the airport itself has been stopped not by TSA or other screeners, but by the passengers. So I’d rather have an airline system that encourages us to all work together, rather than a system that sets us at odds. Because I’ve flown lots of times, and I have every confidence that none of the other people on any plane I’ve been on would have tolerated any sort of nonsense. A sensible security system would build on that strength, the unity of passengers. Instead, we are instructed to trust and be groped by TSA screeners, the same people who think it’s funny to plant fake coke in people’s bags, and to lie about whether those naked pictures are actually stored. Little wonder that there’s a backlash.


  1. #1 Nescio
    November 16, 2010

    That’s fearmongering for you. No amount of propaganda can negate the fact that the number of hijacked planes is nonexistent compared to the number of annual deaths caused by malaria/AIDS/hunger/war of terror/heart disease/ et cetera. Note, these are all preventable deaths. If we would spend half the time and money of the WoT on these we would have already saved thoudansds. (An attempt to calculate the factual risk is here: http://contusio-cordis.blogspot.com/2009/11/what-is-fair-and-balanced.html )

  2. #2 Steve
    November 16, 2010

    “My issue is mostly discomfort with some random person looking at me naked”

    Good grief.

    Our country is like a room full of self-absorbed teenagers.

    1 – Look at the images generated by these scanners. No one is seeing you naked.

    2 – No one cares what you look like when reduced to a vague monochrome human image shape on a screen. No one is looking.

    3. Go to the gym, take a shower – walk around the locker room naked for a while. Know what? No one cares.

    If someone wants to look at people naked the www has 10^8 websites for that, and they don’t look like stuffed animal smurfs.

  3. #3 andre3
    November 16, 2010

    I agree with Steve on the naked thing, it’s not a particularly good avenue for complaining. Our society has some real puritanical hang-ups on the idea of the naked body.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of valid arguments against the security process. But my theory is that if the government lessens security, the airlines will be even more intrusive. The reason? Liability.

    I’m surprised more airlines don’t already require, as part of their terms of service, the ability for a company representative to do a full body cavity search or some other measure. Right now the government is the scapegoat allowing airlines to not have to do the searching.

    Sure you may be fine flying with unsearched passengers, but when the plane crashes (a la Flight 93), but lets say crashes in a populated area, the airline would still be held accountable for the deaths and damages (and airlines are not raking in the money).

    Another thought, yes, you aren’t a criminal, but you don’t have any “right” to fly. Take a train or drive. The airlines have no responsibility to move you across the country. Airline travel will probably just be for the rich anyway in the future (such fuel use at low prices is unsustainable), get used to the change now.

  4. #4 Fear
    November 16, 2010

    By Steve and andre3’s logic there isn’t a time where a virtual or real strip search of an individual by security officers is not justified for safety reasons.

    The world Steve and andre3 would happily create is the very world dystopian science fiction writers have been creating for decades in their novels. It’s not a world I would like to live in.

    FYI, there is no evidence that these measures actually make us safer.

  5. #5 Vicki
    November 16, 2010

    I go to the gym regularly. I’ve noticed something in the locker room: a number of the other women there make a point of wrapping towels around their breasts or crotches, and a few change in the shower stall to avoid being seen naked at all.

    That I’m comfortable being seen naked in the locker room, or that you don’t mind the idea of being stared at by random strangers, doesn’t mean everyone feels that way. Or that they should.

    As for “nobody cares,” someone cares or the TSA wouldn’t be secretly storing those scanned images. Also, my trainer told me that a couple of months ago, she had to take away someone’s cell phone and wipe the pictures. Pictures that had been taken, without the other women’s knowledge or consent, in the locker room. There are people who actively prefer that sort of picture, taken of someone who doesn’t know she (or he) is being photographed, to pictures of willing models who might even be getting paid.

    There are numerous signs forbidding the use of cell phones or camera devices in the locker room. It’s not well enforced, but someone wanted that sort of voyeur picture enough to risk losing her gym membership to get them. When, as you note, it’s easy to go online and find lots of naked pictures.

  6. #6 cuco3
    November 16, 2010

    For the airlines, it’s not about liability it’s about money. Any airline which introduced a requirement such as andre3 describes would lose a lot of money as all their passengers left for less insane carriers.

    Whilst one may or may not have a “right” to fly, depending on what jurisdiction you’re in, personally I take the view that the government should have no right to interfere with whatever I choose to do without a damn good reason.

  7. #7 calculon
    November 16, 2010

    To those who think no one should have a problem with letting it all hang out when the government tells you to…why don’t you care about your rights? This could not have happened even a few decades ago.
    But pretend you are not an exhibitionist. What if you are a child? A rape survivor? A transgendered person? Don’t any of those groups have the right to not be seen naked or be touched by strangers?
    And there is no increase in safety for you giving up your rights. Most cargo is still not scanned.
    Cavity searches are only a matter of time if this becomes acceptable.

  8. #8 Sharon
    November 16, 2010

    I’ve begun a letter writing campaign. The thought that my sons will either be seen naked by an unknown adult or have their privates touched by an unknown adult male is completely and without hesitation unacceptable.

    And, if this is outrageous for children, how is it acceptable to face adults with those same choices? As much as I love to fly, we don’t. Sorry, Western-half-of-the-US.

  9. #9 Corbie
    November 16, 2010

    Maybe we should protest by showing up naked for flights.
    After all, we’d be making the screening easier, right? We’re just trying to help!

  10. #10 Deepak Shetty
    November 16, 2010

    Steve, Andre3
    You’ll are missing the point. Would you agree to probes in your various orifices next? You might be ok with the nudity , what about the potential safety hazard?
    The point has been that you are being made to sacrifice some freedoms/conveniences without probable cause and with questionable benefits.

  11. #11 Padre
    November 16, 2010

    There are many American’s who believe that if their jail is to big to walk out of then they must not be in prison! I’ve seen comments on other articles where TSA’s actions are defended. I bet that most of these pro-gropers are the same people who duct taped their windows and doors during the anthrax scare. The ones who think “Reefer Madness” was a live documentary and vote against marijuana laws (a substance that has never killed anyone) while cheerfully downing (or feeding to their families) FDA approved drugs that have killed tens of thousands.

    For those who need numbers: I would venture to say that none of these “safety at all costs” people have looked at the actual list of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft.

    See the following:[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_incidents_involving_commercial_aircraft]

    Look at the numbers from 1991 to 2001, then from 2001 to 2010. You’re more apt to die, by better than 10 to 1 odds, of pilot error or a mechanical failure crash than bombs or hijackers. This whole security issue is a non-event. It does not make you safer. These rules allow TSA employees handle men, women & children in an inappropriate and/or illegal fashion if done anywhere else by anyone else.

    Fascism exists when corporations run the government, not the people.

  12. #12 Don
    November 16, 2010

    Steve & andre,

    It’s all very well to say that American in general is puritanical, but here’s the thing: there is a right to privacy, and getting naked for the government is well over the line. It’s not up for discussion. The claim that no one cares what I look like under my clothes, while accurate, is irrelevant.

    If you disagree, by all means drop your pants in public and enjoy the breeze.

  13. #13 Anonymous
    November 16, 2010

    I sort of feel sorry for the poor TSA guy who gets to look at my testicles.

  14. #14 Randy
    November 16, 2010

    I keep hearing that these security measure make us no safer. How can that be? I’d hazard a guess that security measures always make something safer than no security. Would anyone prefer we not have any security for airlines? And if not, then what practices/level would be considered sufficient?

    There seems to be a lot of bloviating on this topic with no alternative solutions offered.

  15. #15 Lorax
    November 17, 2010

    Americans seem to only be #1 when is comes to being scared little kids eager to have big brother government make it all better. Israel, England, Spain, India, etc. all have and have had many more terrorist attacks. Don’t see them running to get a bunch of high school graduates employed to feel up, analyze, and otherwise intimidate complete strangers.

  16. #16 tütüne son
    November 18, 2010

    It’s all very well to say that American in general is puritanical, but here’s the thing: there is a right to privacy, and getting naked for the government is well over the line. It’s not up for discussion. The claim that no one cares what I look like under my clothes, while accurate, is irrelevant.

  17. #17 Ole
    November 21, 2010

    Here’s what I suggest: 48 hours before your next flight, start to eat lots of brussel sprouts, onions and cabbage, opt out of the full-body scan and, when the TSA agent bends down for the crotch grab, fart her/him loudly in the head. TSA won’t give us any dignity, we shouldn’t give them any.

  18. #18 eTourist
    November 21, 2010

    Maybe we should all give a little wiggle at the appropriate time in the grope. Then ask the screener to do it again because it felt so good!

  19. #19 Oyunu oyna
    November 22, 2010

    I sort of feel sorry for the poor TSA guy who gets to look at my testicles.

  20. #20 Podunksunshine
    November 22, 2010

    Is our right not to be assaulted less of a right than terrorists have of NOT being profiled? I wish our government would error on the side of it’s citizens for once instead of worrying about what terrorists think about us.

  21. #21 E-liquid Nicotine
    November 22, 2010

    Well said, Padre!

    It really is time for the average American to wake up and see the US for what it is, a Fascist Government that is incrementally overstepping bounds. This will not stop until
    1. It collapses
    2. There is a people revolution

    Modern day Americans forget why the Bill of Rights and Constitution were so important. So absolute rule would not corrupt…. is it too late for the US?

    To Podunksunshine: This “War on Terrorism” is a False Flag. This is a war on American citizens with a facade/spun story against a invisible threat. Hey, war makes lots of money.

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