Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is This Necessary?

Ever since September 11, 2001, things have never been the same at the airport. While I regret that so many changes have been required because of the activity of terrorists who have no regard for human life, I am grateful that measures have been taken to ensure our safety and security in the air. However, I haven’t always believed that some of the security measures are always necessary or even useful in keeping our airports and flights safe.

For instance, there is a security threat level announced routinely, supposedly to give an indication of how likely we are to encounter another terrorist attack. Originally, the level would fluctuate, based on the likelihood of terrorist activity. Several years ago, however, something happened that caused Homeland Security to raise the threat level from Yellow (Elevated) to Orange (High). It has remained at that level ever since, and as a result, has become as meaningless to travelers as the announcement that only two carry-ons are allowed. Perhaps the possibility of airport terrorism indeed remains high, but to the frequent traveler, it seems as though the threat level system has been abandoned, yet not eliminated. However, this is just a minor annoyance. Especially when compared to the newest security measure that is now popping up at airports around the country.

I first heard about full body scanners several years ago, when they were introduced on one of the morning news shows. I was appalled. The image taken had to be blurred out for TV, because it was so explicit. These machines essentially take a picture of your body, almost as if you had no clothing on. I remember thinking to myself that I would never submit to that type of screening. It seems an incredible invasion of privacy. And as I watch these scanners being installed at more and more airports, I have to wonder about the airports that do NOT have the scanners. Are we less secure there? Have we for years now been less secure than we thought, simply because TSA agents have not been able to see underneath our clothing? Why are metal detectors no longer sufficient?

My first encounter with the full body scanner was earlier this year in Boston. When I realized what was about to occur, I decided to “opt out”. Not that I’m overly modest, but I felt like I was standing on the principle that this was an unnecessary invasion of privacy. As an “opt out”, I was subjected to a rather complete body pat-down by a male TSA agent. It was annoying and time consuming, but I felt like I needed to stand my ground. Particularly because right next to the body scanner was a standard metal detector, and quite a few other passengers were permitted to pass through it as normal, without having to be exposed to the body scanner. When I opted-out of the scanner, I would have expected them to let me use the metal detector.

My most recent encounter with the full body scanner was unfortunately at my home airport in Raleigh. I never noticed the new machine, and I randomly selected the line that was sent to the scanner. Had I chosen the other line, I would have only encountered the metal detector. Once again, I opted-out. Once again I was subjected to the complete body pat-down. And once again, right next to the scanner, many passengers were told simply to walk through the regular metal detector. I was not a happy camper. Especially when I learned that within a month, all security lines at RDU will include the full body scanner. From what I can tell, it will simply be the “luck of the draw” as to whether you’re asked to submit to the full body scan or permitted to pass through the standard metal detector instead.

It seems that I have two choices for airport security going forward. Either get used to the idea of the full body scanner, or be prepared to submit to a time-consuming (and somewhat uncomfortable) physical pat-down every week. I’m not sure what I’ll do. Yet, even though I’m assured that the TSA agents viewing the incredibly revealing photos of passengers are far away from the actual screening site and behind closed doors, and that the photos are not retained in any way, I still believe that to take a photo of someone that looks as if he/she has no clothing on is a terrible invasion of privacy, and one that is unnecessary for maintaining the safety and security of air travelers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Advanced Imaging Technology" is a euphemism created to make people think they are getting "scanned." No one is getting "scanned" -- they are getting strip searched.

The fundamental privacy issue is whether our government has the right to make strip searches routine and mandatory.

There is no question that these machines violate the 4th Amendment.

There are also health issues. Researchers are already coming out saying that the machines aren't safe and could cause cancer.

Please check out the brochures at:

and join us on Facebook
All Facebook Against Airport Full Body Scanners

and join in on Flyertalk.com
Organized resistance to WBI/invasive patdowns