Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giving New Meaning to the Phrase "Fly the 'Friendly' Skies"-- TSA and New National "Security" Guidelines

Over the past few days I've been reading story after story about the new security procedures that the TSA has put in place, including the new full-body x-ray scanning machines and "enhanced" pat-downs that include touching of the face, hair, breasts, and groin with the palm and fingers of the TSA agent, in full view of everyone else waiting to go through security.  My understanding is that these new full-body scans will eventually replace the metal detectors at all airports, and anyone who refuses to go through one (or who sets off any alarms, or in other way seems "suspicious" (or just if they decide to do a random screening on you) will have to go through the enhanced pat-downs.  Here are several links with more info and personal stories:

So. Basically, it seems that if you want to fly your options are 1) to go through a machine that will show strangers in a different room an image of you naked 9and image that may or may not actually be deleted afterwards) and that could possibly give you cancer, or 2) have your privates groped by a stranger, in public.

I tried to find info on the TSA website about these new security procedures. All I could find was this:

Pat-Down Inspection
A pat-down inspection complements the hand-wand inspection. In order to ensure security, this inspection may include sensitive areas of the body. Security Officers are rigorously trained to maintain the highest levels of professionalism.  You may request that your pat-down inspection be conducted in private.

(There's also a post on the TSA blog on the new "enhanced" pat-downs, but it's even more vague)

From my own experience, I started thinking about the logistical nightmare that all this means for a parent traveling alone with young children.  Under the TSA's page on travel with children, they specify that they will never ask you to be separated from your children... yet the mother in the 3rd story above had to set her daughter down for the pat-down.  Luckily she had a stroller right there-- what if she hadn't?  What if she'd been relying on a sling to carry her infant, would she have had to set her down on the floor? (The TSA page also says that you cannot hand your child to an agent to hold).

What about going through the machines?  My understanding is that you have to take everything out of your pockets to go through the scanner, then stand with your arms up and hold still for 3 full seconds while the machine scans you.  I imagine this means you can't hold your kid as you go through (unlike going through the usual metal detectors).  Also, it sounds like while you're in the scanner you cannot see out very well, so lose sights of your belongings... and wherever you set down your child.  I was hoping to see info on how to handle this on the TSA website, but... nothing.

Also, since kids (especially toddlers and younger) can't exactly hold still for 3 seconds to get scanned, does that mean they all have to be subjected to the full groping pat-down?  I just wrote a post last week on teaching our kids to not accept being touched inappropriately by anyone, I'm not exactly keen on watching a stranger in an airport fondle my son's junk (whether it be at 2yrs, or 5yrs, or 10 yrs old, or at any age).

And then I haver to think, if this makes me uncomfortable, what about someone who's been sexually abused or assaulted?  What about a transgender person?  I hear people saying this is "no big deal" but what do these measures even really do?  The next step (which neither the full-body scans nor the current pat-downs would detect) is for someone to stash powder/gels/etc inside a body cavity.  Will we then all have to be strip-searched to get on a plane?  Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence?

I understand that we're trying to protect our safety in flight travel, but I seriously wonder if any of this makes us any safer.  I keep hearing references to the "underwear bomber" from last Christmas as part of the reason why these new measures are being put in place.  I have no idea if any of this would have stopped him.  What might have? Better intelligence, that caught the RED FLAG of someone buying a one-way international ticket and not checking any bags.  I sincerely hope (though somehow doubt) that those security and intelligence holes have been patched before anyone decided to start groping regular American passengers.  (I also think back to the few times I've left, say, a bottle of water in my backpack, and it's gone through security without any issues, and, well, it doesn't make me feel all that confident in the procedures we already have in place)

Last thing-- here's a reminder of the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution:
'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.'
Many people are swearing not to fly until these new measures are removed.  We usually fly 2-4 times a year to visit family, though with the baby coming we already knew we weren't going anywhere for Christmas and likely won't travel for several months after (if not till next Christmas).  I don't know what I'd do if we had tickets already bought to go home next month... I'm glad I have time to see what happens with all this.  I don't want to subject any of us to either the scans or pat-downs... yet not flying at all isn't a realistic long-term option for us, since we live so far away from our families.  As luck would have it, Zach's actually in the middle of a series of business trips this week, flying once a day.  He says so far he hasn't seen any of this-- I think it's still only select airports that have the machines/new regulations.  But it sounds like the goal is to soon have them everywhere.  So I guess we'll see what happens...

I did send a message to my congresspeople and the White House expressing my concern/outrage about all this.  If you feel the same, I hope you will, too.  Also, if you are flying next week, consider participating in the National Opt-Out Day:


Edit: The ACLU put together this guide of what your options are at security.  (It doesn't exactly match some of the stories I've read from others' experiences, but at least gives you some idea of what to expect... and contact info in case you need to file any complaints)

Rep. Ron Paul introduces HR 6416 The American Traveler Dignity Act.  Requires TSA officials to follow all the usual US laws when dealing with passengers (makes sense, huh?).

Risk of dying from backscatter radiation may be about the same as risk of getting killed by terrorist.


  1. This is so wrong it makes my stomach hurt and my eyes get all weepy. They better change this soon. It's just. So. Wrongggg.

  2. Anonymous11:23 AM

    I usually agree with everything you write or say... we would get along great in real life. However on this topic I don't feel the same. It's not that I am totally thrilled about this sort of thing, but I myself have experienced first hand the body scanner this summer when traveling abroad this summer. My flight connection was in Chicago where I did a body scanner. The people were very very nice and clear about the process. No one was gonna see my boobies in the immediate area and they would be too busy to care anyways. You know... it's like being a nurse. After the first poops and wounds and butts you see it becomes totally nothing after your first shift at the hospital. It becomes your work and you are professional.

    I have a fear of flying. I am lucky in the fact that all I need is a full can of beer and I'll be "drunk" enough to relax my leg muscles enough to enjoy sitting in one position for 3-4 hours at a time - then I need another beer. So someone messing up my life by wearing a bomb in his underwear would totally suck. The odds of it happening to ME are zero to small, but the odds of it happening again on a larger scale to someone else are still small. However I do believe air transportation is a very easy target and the probability of some sort of wackoness happening on a plane again is pretty high.

    I don't live in fear but when it comes to flying I sorta do. I am MUCH more worried about careless mechanic work or a tired pilot than I am a terrorist. I am one of the few willing to pay bigger bucks per ticket if it meant the plane was totally safe and major airliners weren't subsidizing their flights with smaller airplane companies and not making things cheaper by cutting corners. Like the meat industry ... I am willing to invest more in good quality foods to know my protein didn't live a total shit life.

    So somehow that brings me back to my rational for keeping me and my plane safe.

    Oh, I also went through some screening in Europe. The screening in Chicago was like a five star experience when you consider in a foreign country they just randomly pick you by the arm as you are walking onto the plane to step inside a machine that is zapping you with air and stuff without evening giving you warning or telling you why. All the while you have every Jack, Dick, and Harry pointing at you laughing because this in the MIDDLE of the gate. Totally unorganized. So ... the body scanner thing was like... no big deal to me.

    I am sure if you had your baby with you the kind people working at the station would hold him right there while you stood for 3 seconds to get viewed. The people were very nice and professional.

    Okay! Cool... just thought I'd share my view point. I watched the nightly news thing on it last night and was sorta like... Meh.

  3. Anonymous11:33 AM



    on the front page of yahoo after i was done writing the last comment.

    this sorta stuff does not help when i am gaining altitude over the windy sierras going up and down. ugh.

  4. Anonymous-- Part of my concern with the scanner isn't just the "naked" thing but more so the health concern. I accept that in life we are all exposed to carcinogens, from routine x-rays with doctors to the flight itself. But, I'd like to KNOW what the risk is (it doesn't sound like these machines have been properly & thoroughly studied) and also limit my exposure as much as possible. I don't like the idea of myself or my kids being guinea pigs while we figure out what these scanners will do to our bodies.

    I know some security check-points have staff that are very courteous and nice. I've also had some pretty crappy experiences. I wonder about traveling with a young child partially b/c in the past I've been yelled at by TSA agents for things like setting my just-barely-walking son on the table for a few minutes while trying to get everything ready to go through the x-ray scanner. Instead I had to set him on the floor while I got my things together, no offer at any time to help.

    And, again, I'm not convinced that either the machines nor the pat-downs prevent much of anything. The next terrorist will probably hide the explosives inside his body, and then we'll be on to the next more invasive "security" procedures.

  5. My issue with this is that it is stupid stupid stupid. An alert public and intelligent law enforcement will stop terrorism. Let's piss off travelers so they don't care to help and make agents go through a checklist so they don't use their intuition. There is a security-industrial complex that works to sell these useless machines for 100s of thousands of dollars to us with the trojan horse of fear as their selling point. None of these methods would have stopped 9/11.

    We're all being snookered and don't even realize it.

  6. It's not a "pat down" it's a full body clothed search. They can run their hands over your breast, bumm and genitals. I have had it happen to my three year old too - even though reports say it doesn't to anyone under 12. Doesn't matter your age, how can we say to our children don't let anyone touch you/teen don't let things go too far and then give permission to a total stranger to touch them?

  7. Nice roundup on the issue. This choice is making me sick, too. Both are humiliating and degrading and I don't believe the government when they declare the scanning technology safe. And for what? If they're not doing body cavity searches, what is the point? I guess that will be next. I plan to keep myself and my kids away from the airport for as long as possible, but our family lives far away.

  8. @Lisa - nope, happening to little kids.

    @Anonymous - maybe *some* TSA agents are professional, but many of them have criminal histories - a clear history isn't a prerequisite to employment. there are actual verified instances of sexual assault of 12, 16 year-old girls, done in "private" rooms. There was the pilot flying with his 18 year-old daughter who heard "look up, cutie coming through" over his earpiece as his daughter stepped into the body scanner.

    SO completely offensive. And it's not making us safer.

  9. Thank you for all of the links and the commonsense perspective on it. I am flying with my almost-3 yr old next week - who is NOT ok with others touching him, and I am very nervous!!



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