Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Will You Opt-Out of Being Scanned by TSA's Body Scanners?

After watching a video about a three-year-old girl being patted down by TSA in Chattanooga, TN I concluded that these pat-downs are both invasive and unnecessary.

I'm not the only one who feels that TSA's new security procedures have crossed a line. Passengers now have two unpalatable options: a full body scan or a pat-down. Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot who landed the US Airways plane in the Hudson and saved the lives of every passenger on board, also feels that these new screening procedures are unnecessary.

I'm willing to concede that full body scanners and "enhanced pat-downs" do improve security. But lots of procedures can: Forcing passengers to completely strip before flying and not allowing passengers to have any electronics on board would also make air travel safer. But should we do these things, too?

The pat-downs that TSA screeners give passengers (some of these screeners are contractors and not actual Federal employees) involve touching private body parts, namely breasts and genitals. If it wasn't the government doing this, the word used to describe these pat-downs would be "molestation." Indeed, the San Mateo, California District Attorney said that his office will prosecute any charges of illegal touching during a security pat-down.  San Francisco's airport is in San Mateo.

Body image scanners have two problems. The first is the privacy problem: TSA's screeners can see an image of a person's naked body (thought the image is far from "Playboy" quality). The second problem is that one of the two kinds of scanners uses X-rays. TSA says that the radiation dose is safe, but then again, TSA lied when it promised the public that the scanner equipment couldn't save images so people don't have to worry about that. We shouldn't trust TSA's insistence that the radiation from the X-ray body scanners isn't harmful. The answer to that question may not come for years or decades, at which time all we'll be able to do is express regret. And, of course, machines malfunction, so chances are high that some people at some point will receive a high dose of radiation.

Before you say to yourself, "it's only a quick, little X-ray," read this letter from a team of University of Southern California scientists about the potential dangers of backscatter X-rays. It's clear that the traveling public is being used as a vast biology experiment.

Parents of young children are torn between exposing their child to unnecessary radiation or having him or her touched on the genitals by a stranger.

National Opt-Out Day is Wednesday, November 24th. By encouraging all air travelers to opt out of the body image scanners, and opt in for a pat-down instead, the movement's organizers hope to send a message to Congress that Americans "should never have to explain to your children, 'Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it's a government employee, then it's OK.'"

Jeffrey Goldberg, writing for the Atlantic, suggests taking National Opt-Out Day one step further:  He says that all men should wear kilts -- and go commando. When the TSA screener touches your naked genitals, it's the screener who may want to opt out of the pat-down.

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