TSA, or, Try (the) Shame Approach

Travel is always a pain in the butt. Now with your poor customer service, excessive lines and mediocre but overpriced vittles, you also have the option to allow a TSA agent to either look up yours or touch it.

With the introduction of Body Scanners in US airports en masse (at over 70 airports) this holiday season, some travelers are going to get a more personal experience with the TSA than they could have ever hoped for. Many people are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of these “virtual strip search” machines and a grassroots campaign has begun on the internet to boycott the devices in a National Opt-Out Day on November 24th (ie. the busiest travel day in the entire year).

The ramifications of a staged event such as National Opt-Out Day will be interesting to follow in the coming months as we see news clips following it which will report the brevity of the situation with as much consistency as crowd estimates for a rally on the National Mall (see the estimates from different networks for Glenn Beck’s rally before the Midterm elections).  The TSA will play down any and all instances of travelers Opting-In to the protest, while the “organizers” will most certainly blow everything so far out of proportion that even a stern word from a TSA agent will be purported as beating down a government subversive roughly equivalent to the interrogation which Natalie Portman’s character endured in “prison” in V for Vendetta. I almost feel bad for the agents who’ll be required to select innocent civilians for this extra screening at random. Almost.

I’ve been a frequent traveler for about 6 years now and I’ve watched the regulations and rules get worse. And do you know what is even worse than they are? The inconsistency with which the “safety measures” are enforced. At a small airport, I can walk through security with my Doc Martins on no problem; at another, I’m required to remove even my flimsy flip flop sandals that are barely half an inch thick. In England, I must remove even my umbrella from my carry-on luggage as if it is merely a matter of confirming that the long metallic object lying within my bag could not be used as a battering ram. One time—post liquid explosive threat—I actually got through security (accidentally) without removing a 16oz bottle of liquid from my bag. Gasp.

For the most part, this is not a huge problem, as I know myself and I know that the reason I’m getting on a plane is to get home in 4 hours rather than the 24 it would take me to drive cross-country, or in 8 hours rather than taking a 2 week marine voyage across the Atlantic. However, the TSA agents don’t know that about me: hence the rationale behind the random application of Body Scanning technology. Despite the best intentions and reassurances of the Agency which tells the public that the images garnered from this technology are only seen by specially trained agents and are immediately removed and destroyed once you pass through security, I trust the government’s word on this matter about the same amount as I did that our president would bring us “change we could believe in.” Even if the intention to destroy such images is there, just like temporary files on a computer, a trace of the image will linger and could possibly allow the right (or wrong, for that matter) person to access and restore the images.

I sympathize with the TSA’s efforts at public safety, I really do. But even before National Opt-Out Day was an (un)official stand-up-to-big-brother event, I had already decided months ago that this invasive scan was something that I would refuse if selected. There must be other ways to protect our airways that are more in line with public interest and modesty. Air Israel doesn’t have this problem because every passenger is interviewed extensively before they are allowed to board a plane.  This might be a good starting point for the US and since we are also required to use government issued IDs each time we fly, shouldn’t it be easy enough to determine whether a certain flight falls within “normal” parameters for the profile of an established traveler? This profiling is already somewhat in use with the No Fly list and last-minute reservation flagging (where a person who books a flight less than a week or two before it departs is flagged for extra screening at the security checkpoint), why can’t it be rejigged to make flying for ordinary citizens just trying to make it home for Thanksgiving simple and less painful?

If you are traveling on November 24th this year, you may notice that security takes more time than usual, but you should already have expected this because it is the busiest travel day of the year. The TSA has warned that even a few passengers choosing to Opt-Out can wreak havoc on their efficiency (I know, I also thought ‘What efficiency?’ when I read that) and cause major delays for everyone. This appears to me to be an attempt to discourage people from standing up for their dignity, but it also will ring true a bit: it WILL take longer for you to get through if you Opt-Out and it may delay other passengers as well. However, if you are uncomfortable with the idea of Body Scanners, do not let the poo-pooing of the TSA agents bully you into it. Remember the agents’ job is to promote public safety and you are part of that public. Remind them politely that they are hired to protect you yourself, and you feel that includes protecting your privacy.

You may have to endure the annoyance of the agents and possibly even other passengers, but with all the poking and prodding you already have to put up with when you are packed into a metal tube like a sardine for 2 and a half hours and the 3 year old behind you is kicking your chair and screaming the entire time, you’ll most likely feel harassed by the time you reach your destination anyway. No need to compound the injury.

For my part, I’m glad I flew today. Good luck brave ones!

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~ by aptessmann on November 23, 2010.

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