13 November 2010

Opinion: New TSA Security Measures Go Too Far: Be Seen Naked or 'Enhanced' Pat-Down? I'll Drive, Thanks.

UPDATE:  See also "Security or Unreasonable Search?  Stop Treating Americans Like Suspected Terrorists"

at Catholic Online

I see long car trips in my future.  Lucky for me I don’t mind driving.  Barring unexpected emergencies, I think my flying days are over.  Count me among the many, many Americans who are unwilling to be seen virtually naked and/or physically groped by a government employee.

The reports coming from all over about the Transportation Security Administration’s new airport security measures are alarming.  Since late October, airports around the country have begun requiring an “enhanced pat-down” procedure for anyone who refuses the full-body scan.  People who have experienced this pat-down tell a very different story than the official statement given by TSA.

First, travelers describe the shout-out:  “We’ve got an Opt-out!” which is yelled at the top of the agent’s lungs so everyone around can hear.  Next, they’re taken to a roped-off area usually still in view of everyone else going through security and the “pat-down” begins.  The agent begins at the ankles and works his way up, now using the palms of the hand and the fingers when necessary, feeling every inch of the traveler’s body – including the genitals and breasts.

What used to be done with the backs of the hands is now done with fingers and palms, and much more thoroughly and intrusively.  Passengers are describing it as fondling, groping, aggressive, humiliating, and over the line.

TSA swears that these pat-downs are done by a person of the same gender, but the reports I’ve read this past week say otherwise, that woman are being patted-down by men, and that even small children are being searched by agents of the opposite sex.  Though frankly, there’s NO WAY this side of eternity I would allow any adult to search my child’s body and touch my child’s genitals, man or woman.

This is going way too far.  This to me is simply the beginning of the end of appropriate bodily privacy.  This is a forced invasion under the guise of safety. The underlying goal is that people will gradually become accustomed to having their modesty shredded in public and their bodies exposed or groped whenever the government deems necessary.

Thanks to the Shoe Bomber we’re all walking through security barefoot.  Fine, I don’t care how many people see my feet.  But the latest bombing attempts – have they been discovered on a terrorist’s person?  No, they’ve been found in the baggage beneath the plane.  Meanwhile, we’re doing virtual strip-searches and groping people’s genitals.  Doesn’t it just seem like the terrorists are two or three steps ahead of us?

Along with the gross bodily invasion, my objection to these new security measures lies with TSA agents themselves.  In the last ten years, I have flown numerous times with my small children and sadly, my encounters with TSA agents have been ridiculously consistent.  There surely are some agents who defy the trend, but time and time again, I found them to be unhelpful and indifferent.  Traveling alone with small children isn’t easy and security after 9/11 made it even more difficult.

Trying to manage a stroller, car seat, carry-on’s, plus two or three kids under age 4 is exhausting.  Removing everyone’s shoes and jackets; collapsing the stroller while holding the baby; hoisting the stroller and car seat up onto the x-ray machine belt while holding the baby; having my walking child(ren) pushed by the agent through the metal detector alone; trying to keep my eyes on my child(ren) while the agent stands there waiting for me to dismantle everything with one arm; finally making it through with the baby only to find our shoes, bags, stroller, car seat, & jackets left in a heap for me to collect.  All the while, the TSA agents just stared, or glared if I wasn’t moving fast enough.  These excursions through security always left me sweating, worn-out, and angry.

On my last flying adventure, I was battling food poisoning from the day before.  I was dehydrated and barely able to keep myself upright.  Going through security, the agent confiscated my small water bottle despite my pleas and then “selected” me for a more extensive carry-on search.  I was carrying my infant daughter and I begged to be allowed to sit down before I fell over, but the agent refused and forced me to stand there while she spent ten minutes going through every article in my carry-on.

So no matter how often the TSA assures the American public that their employees are “professionals” who are “specially trained” to handle these enhanced security measures in a “respectful manner,” I don’t buy it for a second.  I’ve seen otherwise.  And now more than ever, passengers are at their mercy.

We’re supposed to trust that these images are never saved but deleted immediately.  Sorry, but I don’t buy that either.  Suppose someday, God forbid, another lunatic successfully boards a plane with explosives on his/her body somewhere and blows up the plane.  You don’t think TSA is going to want to be able to go back and review the scans from that day to try to find out who the terrorist was, how the explosives were missed and which agent missed them?

Knowing human nature, is it so implausible to think that since these incredibly detailed full-body scans are randomly selected, more physically attractive people will just happen to be randomly selected for the honor?  The counter-argument is to make the scans mandatory for everyone then, right?  Even infants?  Little children?  The elderly?  The disabled?  Am I the only one who thinks the terrorists would be laughing their heads off at our clueless, politically-correct inability to actually protect ourselves?

I do not trust the TSA to handle images of people’s naked bodies with respect or to keep their word that these images will be deleted immediately and not stored.  I’m not at all okay with being intimately felt up by a TSA agent in places only my husband has the right to touch, and I see absolutely no reason whatsoever why children should be subjected to such a violation at the hands of an adult stranger.

Did you know that TSA’s background check procedure only requires employees to disclose felony convictions that occurred in the previous ten years?  Department of Homeland Security guidelines list 28 disqualifying convictions, one of which is rape and aggravated sexual abuse, but it does not specifically mention crimes against children.  Is it possible the TSA agent patting down you and your children was convicted 11 years ago of sexually assaulting a child or raping a woman?  Sure seems that way.

It will be interesting to see how TSA responds to the new instructions given to Muslim women this week by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR):  “In the “special recommendations for Muslim women who wear hijab,” it states: “Before you are patted down, you should remind the TSA officer that they are only supposed to pat down the area in question, in this scenario, your head and neck. They SHOULD NOT subject you to a full-body or partial-body pat-down.”

Will TSA back off from giving Muslim women the “enhanced” pat-down?  This confrontation is sure to play out very soon.

We all want our planes to be safe.  No one wants to be afraid to fly.  But there has to be a better way to achieve security than this.  (And indeed, there is.)  If full-body scans are indeed essential, then I want only a specially-trained radiologist looking at it and proof that the images are deleted.  If invasive bodily pat-downs simply must be endured, then I insist that specially-trained, thoroughly background-checked doctors and nurses are the ones doing it and that my children are left alone. I refuse to surrender my modesty, privacy, and bodily respect just to get on an airplane.  It’s not worth it.


CZ said...

We're flying to FLorida later this week...not sure if the Indy airport has these...definitely not looking forward to it

Anonymous said...

Why did this only come out after travelers would have bought airline tickets? I'm sure also that this is another thing we're not allowed to make jokes about while it's going on without a major fine or worse.

Anonymous said...

The scans are viewed by what ever TSA worker happens to be working at that time. A male or female is viewing both male and female images. It would take to long to have a male or female line or to have the TSA members turn away every time there is someone there from the opposite sex. I guess potentially they may have those pressing the scan button inputting the sex first but I don't think it works that way. Also in 65 airports you can either have the scan or grope session. These aren't random they are for everyone. Do I agree with it? FAR FROM IT! I am so livid about the entire situation. I am with you as long as these airports contain the imaging centers I will not be participating in flying. (My local airport contains these scanners and I will tell you this I will drive four hours to get to an airport that doesn't have one of these.) And most of the images that are taken show, nipples, tampon strings, and highly detailed penis'. And I was watching a news interview just today that actually exclaimed, some of the pictures are actually saved. "For safety reasons." My guess is if you have unfamiliar objects on your body it saves the scan. Now onto the lovely new grope sessions which is far worse that scans themselves. No way in anyone's right mind would I allow man or woman to grope my breast or in light terms my clothed vagina. Plus I just had a breast reduction and I can guarantee their groping would not be gentle and would cause some serious pain. I even read an article about a lady who survived breast cancer. She was forced to take out her prosthesis in order for inspection. How humiliating!!

Now about the 81% of people who agree with this new security up grade.... There are several reasons this is possibly up so high. The people that were polled were probably from one specific area of the country or a specific group of people, like Obama, who get to skip over these security checkpoints unlike the rest of us and our children. Or these people have yet to experience the full thing and haven't truly looked into the matter. I have yet to fly with the new standards and I never will. I just know that my rights have been violated and I will not stand for it.

Anca Georgescu said...

Hi there,

I'm not form US but I have traveled a bit lately.
Sorry to say but this treatment TSA is applying looks very similar if not identical with our Eastern-Europe airports treatment, which means, this is how we feel on every flight since... ever!
Unfortunately, this behavior is generalized here on every field...
any public service not only air flying.

Sorry for all of this and I understand you perfectly.

Anonymous said...

I have a very creative friend (drummerlady, stand up and take a bow!) who came up with a diabolical solution to this entire mess!!! She suggested that the government expend some $$ and develop an enclosed scanner that detects explosives on OR IN the human body and while the body is in the scanner (remember, it's sealed) detonates the explosive! Just imagine the scenario... you're waiting for a flight, there's a muffled explosion and then over the loudspeaker you hear..."Attention standby passengers, we now have an available seat on Flight...." Have a great day everyone!!

Sharee From Florida


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