On the TSA Security Procedures

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you’ve heard about the new security procedures the TSA has put into affect at airports. The more I think about the entire situation, the more I dislike it. To be honest, I went from mild-indifference to dislike to total disgust. And that’s why I’m writing this, to just get this out of my head and see what all of you think – if you’re willing to form and voice an opinion.

What follows are the different aspects of why I think these new procedures need to be stopped. Immediately.

Background

So there are two types of new scanners.  Backscatter X-Ray and “millimeter wave”.    The millimeter wave ones are the ones that provide the very high resolution images of pretty much every part of your body.  The backscatter ones, from the images shown on the internet, produce very muddy looking and low-detailed photos.   Their purpose is to find non-metallic contraband.

The procedure is that you can get randomly selected to go through one of these new Advanced Imaging machines.    If the machine find something questionable, you then get a pat down by a TSA official.   If you are selected for scanning, you have the option to Opt Out, which again results in a pat down.  From all accounts, the TSA officials are instructed to make a scene (yelling Opt-Out! Opt-Out! and then make you explain your objections repeatedly, and then force you to wait) when you do this and try to intimidate you into just using the scanners.

In the past couple weeks these pat downs have been made far more aggressive – including the palms of the inspectors hands touching and squeezing your body.  These procedures have been referred to as being much more “intimate” – hint: they include touching your genitals ladies and gentlemen.  What’s more, this past weekend they have gone even further and include putting their hands down your pants for the procedure if you are wearing baggy clothes.   No more sweatpants on the plane!

Sanity check here.. ummm, is this America?

I object on multiple grounds, and I hope you will too.  They are:

On Privacy

A month or so ago, I had the pleasure of going through one of these backscatter machines.  I had read and heard about opting out, but was traveling with others and honestly was too embarrassed to  cause a commotion and hold them up.   Stepping into position and waiting for the scan to complete was a strange experience.  Yep, someone in another room was getting a full view of me and I definitely felt weird about that.

The TSA has repeatedly tried to assure everyone that the images cannot be saved, cannot be transmitted, that the operators (in another room), don’t know who is stepping into the machine, and on and on.  Yet these very same machines have been installed in some courthouses, and one some images from one in Florida WERE saved and WERE leaked to the public.  I realize this wasn’t the TSA, but they were the same machines and  there are clearly options that can be configured to allow saving.  Side note: let’s say these machines catch a terrorist, surely images will be saved for prosecution, no?

Just like every other technology put into the hands of “authorities”, it is going to get abused.  There are 35,000 images of Floridians out there as proof.  Quit lying to us TSA.

The pat-downs are another story.  Look at the news or do an internet search and you’ll find very detailed descriptions of what these things are like.  From their descriptions, it sounds like the legal definition of assault (and I am not alone in thinking this).   Why are these TSA “officials” allowed to do such a thing?  You just go try to do that to a person on the street, I hope you enjoy jail.

So I keep thinking, should all of this be allowed?  Am I amiss to feel like this is wrong on every level?

Hell no.  The Constitution of the United States provides via the 4th amendment for protection from our government against unreasonable searches without a warrant.  Simply purchasing an airline ticket is NOT probable cause. How is a virtual strip search (Yes, Ms. Napolitano these scanners ARE a virtual strip search.) allowed here, without a warrant?  If that isn’t a violation of the Constitution, how much further must they go?  We are US citizens, getting strip searched before we travel, unbelievable.

My mind then turns to my young son.  I don’t know how I’m going to handle having to allow a strange adult to grope him.  How are we supposed to teach them that it ISN”T OK?  Well, that is unless the rent-a-cop with a fake badge says you “must” – then yeah it’s OK?  Gimme a break.  There’s one video I watched today of a 3 year old girl getting frisked by a TSA agent, screaming “stop touching me!” as her mom held her.   This is WRONG.

Then I ran across this.  We won’t do this to people in Afghanistan, but it’s completely fine for US citizens?

These searches are illegal, and I can’t wait for someone to take this to court.  There are rumors that New Jersey is preparing to do just this.  I can only wish Illinois was as interested in protecting its citizens.

On Safety

Every newscast on this issue just gets me more upset.  “If you don’t like the pat-down, just go through the machine.” they all say.  There’s one big problem with this, and it is that the backscatter x-ray machines have not been proven to be safe.  The TSA and FDA claimed as such, and quickly rushed them into use.  However, these scanners use ionizing radiation that might do DNA damage.  Result?  There’s a chance for increased cancer risk.   I don’t necessarily believe my one trip through is going cause problems, but you know what?  I figure the fewer trips through x-ray machines the better – particularly until some 3rd parties verify these safety claims.  Speaking to this, there’s a paper floating around the internet by some UCSF professors warning of the radiation from these things.  And there’s information out there that says TSA officers aren’t allowed to wear radiation badges (dosimeters).  Is part of that because they’d hate to let the workers know how much radiation they’re getting just standing around at work?

What about the pilots and employees that would get a couple of these scans every single day they fly?   Maybe one radiation dose is ok, but how about 5,000 (figuring 1 a day, 250 days a year, for 20 years)?  Can the experts definitively say that is healthy?

So I think I’ve established that’s at least one legitimate reason for not wanting to use these new machines.   Others may rightly object to them on other grounds: privacy mentioned above; health reasons; etc.

What’s the point of this?  The point is that as long as there are reasonable objections to using these machines, the only alternative should NOT be something on the complete opposite end of the convenience and decency spectrum, ie. the intimate pat down.

On The Slope

It started at the airports.  Now these machines are popping up at courthouses.  What happens if, God forbid, there’s an attack on trains or buses?  You can bet the machines will be installed there too.  An surely if you op-out there, you’ll get one of these special pat downs.

How long before you need to go through one of these before going into the DMV?  The grocery store?  Ballgames?  Theaters?  Just use your imagination.  Before you know it, in any given day you’ll be violated by any number of “officials”.  And it will be considered normal.  And OK.

And that is WRONG.

On The TSA

The job requirements to be a TSA Security Officer are troubling.

Of note:

If you have committed murder, kidnapping or hostage taking, rape or aggravated sexual assualt within the past 10 years, you can’t be an officer.  But 11 years? Sure, please apply!

I’m supposed to allow these people to touch my kid?!  Or anyone in my family?!

Disgusted

This whole thing just has me completely disgusted, in case you couldn’t tell.

So what can be done?  Well I don’t know.  But there’s a National Opt Out Day coming up on the busiest travel day of the year – the day before Thanksgiving.  They’re urging everyone to opt out of the scanners in favor of the intimate pat downs, with the ultimate goal of bringing everything to a halt and bring attention to how wrong these procedures all are.  It’s going to cause many headaches for many travelers, but I suppose civil resistance doesn’t come without some friction.

I guess there’s also the write-your-congressmen route too, but that feels futile.  Maybe I’ll just print this out and mail it in.

Security Theater

Amid all of this I do realize that there are real and serious threats to us.  But every one of these security measures is designed to combat the LAST threat, not the next one.  Instead of spending all of this money on these fancy new machines, how about that money get put into doing security right?  I’m told that we should look to Israel to see how it should be done – skilled agents have face to face conversations with passengers about their travels, intentions, etc..  And, dare I say it, some Profiling?

Thoughts?

If you are still reading this, thank you.  I would seriously like to hear what you have to say on the topic.  Have a small child?  How are you going to handle it – will you let them get x-rayed or will you let them get the pat down instead?

9 thoughts on “On the TSA Security Procedures

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s absolutely NO WAY I would allow someone to touch my wife our daughters the way I’ve seen in videos taken by passengers forced to endure these “enhanced” pat downs. If they did, it would be worth it to me to spend a night in jail while the TSA employee is picking up his or her teeth after I put my 30+ years of martial arts experience to good use.

    Your last question is almost the most important one…where does it end? It’s clear that the government of the United States is creeping (no pun intended) ever closer to that of a police state.

    Since all of their “security” measures assess the last threat, once terrorists start shoving bombs up their asses, are we all going to get anal probing before we get on a plane?

    Luckily, we live close enough to drive to visit our family, but sadly, we can’t drive to Hawaii. So FUCK YOU TSA, we’re opting out.

    Write your senator. Inundate the TSA website with complaints: http://bit.ly/1UGbiq. Tell the ACLU about your TSA experience: http://bit.ly/bbrlYs

    Time to wake up people. Time to start fighting back. Thanks for writing this article Mr. Johnson!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. For the first time ever, I’ll be contacting my representatives and the others you suggested.

  2. Well thought out and NOT off the wall, Eric. A relative of ours just returned from DC and she was so disgusted she wished she could have peed on the TSA’s hand as she was groped there. Yuck!

  3. Wow! This is the longest blog post I’ve ever seen from you. Good job, Eric. I’m glad you wrote about this in such a logical, well-reasoned way. Thank you for that.

    Just a few thoughts:

    1. As has been pointed out elsewhere, scanning pilots is ridiculous. If a pilot wants to do some damage, he doesn’t have to carry on explosives or knives or guns. He can just slam the plane into a building.

    2. If someone really wants to get some explosive material onto a plane, they can hide it up their you-know-what, opt out of the scanner, and go for the pat down.

    3. These TSA jobs are a ready-made jobs for under the radar perverts. That is, if bad people can get into other jobs (priests, teachers), surely they’ll find the job of becoming a TSA pat down clerk very enticing.

    My daughter reminded me that sometime shortly after 9/11, I said the government was going to use the terrorist attacks to turn against us. To declare us into the enemy. If so, this as just one phase of it. (Sorry if that sounds a little nutty, but it is a consideration.)

    And, I’m glad people are talking and blogging about this. Otherwise, the government will think we really are just a bunch of sheeple and then, like you said, “where does it end?” I hate to even think of the possibilities.

    • Thanks Marie, I felt compelled to write it down as I wasn’t finding many/any (at the time) cohesive arguments out on the net over it.

      1. I hear they’ve scaled back the requirements on pilots, effective immediately, but I haven’t had a free moment to go read about the changes yet.

      2. I’d sooooo rather not think about travelling if this happens!

      3. Yeah, that 10 year requirement is a complete joke. I wonder if they did a background check right now on all of them, what would they find?

      I don’t think your comment about turning against us is nutty at all. More and more signs point this way, as disturbing as that is :(

      I watched the TSA oversight hearings, and they were an abomination. Representatives joking and laughing about “love pats”, along with the expected downplaying of the issue. Sadly I think the only savior to this will be the airports, who can decline TSA oversight.

  4. Are you aware that there is NO screening of any sort if you use a private plane to reach your destination? Sadly, most Americans can’t afford the private aviation option.

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