Will TSA Ever Max Out on the Touchy-Feely Security Measures?

Illustration for article titled Will TSA Ever Max Out on the Touchy-Feely Security Measures?

Just in time for the holidays—the only time many Americans fly—the Washington Post reports on the Transportation Security Administration's new passenger pat-downs, which involve touching and feeling around people's private areas. What more could they do to us?


According to the Post, the new pat-down policy comes in the wake of terrorists' uncovered package bomb plot to blow up planes over Canada. Again: that incident involved package bombs, and no pat-down would have prevented it. But what the hell—we gotta do something new, right? This is about TERRORISM, so all bets about personal boundaries are off.

TSA will continue using their full-body scanning machines, which see through people's clothes but don't show people's genitals or faces. But if the machine -happens to turn up "something strange"—an Osama bin Laden nipple ring?—or a passenger declines to pass through the scanner, then an officer can "perform a more personal search" of breasts and genitals. The search is done by officers of the same sex as the passengers, which is some small consolation. Yet it could get a bit tricky in situations where a person is undergoing sex reassignment therapy. (Will TSA officials receive any sort of training to handle such situations without embarrassment to passengers? Might be a good idea.)

The TSA says the new procedures "make good security sense." But an increasing number of people are saying they've had it. A National Opt-Out Day, planned for Thanksgiving Eve, is encouraging travelers to speak out against the invasive new security measures. "You 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," says the campaign's website.

Another effort, We Won't Fly, gives people advice on how to opt out, including telling people not to fly at all. This might not be practical—many people can't spend a few days driving across the country to see relatives, which only adds to the frustration—but it could be useful for getting airlines more on board. We Won't Fly is also collecting stories from travelers who try to opt-out of the searches. Their language seems a bit over-the-top—"TSA Fondles Women and Children Refusing Airport Naked Body Scanners," says the title of one post—but is it? Fondling women and children is what's going on here, all links to videos by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones aside.

Even pilots are calling the measures "out of control" and "blatantly unacceptable." It does seem nuts that people should be treated as common criminals and subject to personal boundary violations just because they want to go somewhere—especially when such measures might not even be effective against terrorism, as some security experts say. So far, we've tolerated these intrusions on our personal space, but maybe this latest round of security measures is where we draw the line. Seems that somebody has to, sooner or later.


New searches too personal for some air travelers [Washington Post]
Pilot anger over pat-downs and scanners [Australian Business Traveler]


Baberaham Lincoln

In general, I'm a pretty immodest person. I'm comfortable being naked, even around strangers (within reason), and have tried to take TSA measures in stride. I fly a lot, so I'm at the point where I can expertly whip off/out my belt and boots, all outer layers, laptop, and plastic baggie full of tiny toiletries in under a minute with little thought or resistance.

But the last time I flew I got selected for the full-body scanner. I really hadn't been paying attention so I wasn't aware you could request a pat-down instead (which I would have absolutely done). The entire experience was humiliating and dehumanizing. I wasn't told about an alternative, so I didn't know that I could actually refuse the scanner. It was the first time at the airport that I literally felt helpless and scared - I was being forced to do something super violating that I DIDN'T WANT TO DO. I'd seen the images the scans produced and I sure as shit didn't want one of me floating around. I have several under-clothes piercings and a ParaGard (copper) IUD, which I'm assuming show up. Why does some stoner in a bunker get to know what kind of birth control I use?

You have to stand there, in front of hundreds of other passengers, spread your legs uncomfortably and embarrassingly far apart, hold your hands up like you're about to be fucking executed (it's literally the position police tell criminals with weapons to assume), while this giant camera whirls around and photographs your naked body from every angle. You have no idea where the photo's going, who's going to see it, what happens to it later. It felt similarly to when I caught a guy secretly filming me when we had sex (yes, that happened) - same helpless violation. It was so upsetting I got tears in my eyes. I was actually surprised at how I reacted, since, like I said, I'm not hypersensitive about things like this, but it just proves how crazy security theatre has become.

So yeah, never going through one of those things again. I will always request a pat down, even though it's just as invasive, but at least this way I know some perv's not beating off to my picture in a back room. Plus, I have the awesome opportunity to yell "RAPE!" when she gets to my crotch.

(Also, serious question: if the device is meant to see if people are carrying anything in their body cavities, what happens when women are wearing tampons or menstrual cups?)