The TSA Post

During our Internet blackout, there was a particular post I wanted to write: I now term it “The TSA Post”. This post was fuelled by anger at the new US airport security theatre measures — back scatter X-ray, and an “enhanced” patdown.

I was even going to write something like this — a goodbye to air travel.

But then two things happened. I calmed down, and BoingBoing went nuts — even to the point of coining (or at least adopting) a term “pornoscanner” for back-scatter X-rays, and disallowing comments that disagree with their point of view.

“Pornoscanner”, by the way, reminds me of hearing “Fiberals” in Canada during elections, or of hearing “Feminazi”. It’s simply a way to rile up people who are already upset regarding the topic at hand.

Why I’m going to fly

That said, this is not going to force me out of air travel.

I live in the UK. My family is in Canada. Work takes me regularly to continental Europe, Asia and America. Losing the ability to travel by air would, essentially, cripple my ability to live my current life.

That’s a heavy cost to pay.

My first thought — impulse, really — was that I would make a fuss at any airport screening involving these tactics. But this is not really possible for me, as I will always either be in a country where I am not a citizen or in a country that I do noat reside. I firmly believe that one of the consequences of being an ex-pat is that your rights are severely curtailed. Which means that if I get the wrong border agent or the wrong judge, I could lose my ability to get back home, my ability to remain a resident, or both.

These increased consequences make civil disobedience a higher stakes game, and one I would rather not play.

So this blogger will meekly submit to screening and get on his plane.

Why I will not be X-rayed

That said, I will absolutely, steadfastly refuse to step through a backscatter X-Ray. These things are frightening.

X-Rays are, of course, a form of radiation and increase cancer risk. Back-scatter X-Ray is different from X-Rays you would get in the hospital, but there are a lot of questions that are raised by this. In particular: How much radiation is absorbed? And how much does this raise the likelihood that I will get cancer?

Here we have answers given by the manufacturers of the device, but there is a lack of independent study to verify it — others have accused it of delivering twenty times the stated dosage. Even if the manufacturer’s numbers are taken as true, they still represent a concern. Moreover, the absorption rates quoted are questionable, and the machines have the capability to give severe doses if improperly maintained.

I will not submit myself to this risk to get on an airplane, and would assume that anybody who is willing to submit themselves to such a risk is ill-informed. People operating these machines at the airport are trained in security, not radiology, and their overriding concern is not the health of the subject.

Links and Links and Links

That said, there is a lot wrong with this policy and its implementation. A few links:

Links about it not making us safer

There are many places where you can read about airport security being “theatre” — that it does not make us safer, but is aimed to make us feel safer. Here is lots of evidence that the new measures really do not help:

Anybody who does not enter via the secure area of the airport via the same route as the passengers does not get screened.

The TSA itself has no idea if it makes us any safer. And they do not seem very interested in creating metrics which would allow them to discover if their intrusive behaviour is in any way effective.

Al-Qaeda is not presently attempting to smuggle bombs aboard on passengers.

Links about it failing to take account of normal human conditions

If you are still choosing to go through the scanner, you should know that there are several things that will cause a patdown afterwards. Avoid these where you can, and simply opt for the patdown where they cannot be avoided:

Don’t wear pleated pants.

Ladies, if you are wearing a panty-liner, just opt-out.

If you are an amputee you might as well remove your prosthesis before getting to the scanner.

And, sadly, if you are a bladder cancer survivor there is simply no winning.

Links indicating that TSA employees are not properly trained to respect traveller’s rights and privacy

Everybody makes mistakes. With millions of passengers, the TSA is not exempt from making such mistakes. But occasionally these things are so outrageous that they cannot be anything other than a power trip:

TSA agents taking revenge on a woman for reporting them for not following TSA procedure at her previous visit.

A TSA agent will allow a heavily-armed soldier to board a plane only if he gives up his nail clippers.

Links that are just plain frightening

It seems sufficiently ridiculous that small children are being given “enhanced” patdowns at airports. Of more concern is that the techniques being taught to TSA employees to keep children calm during these patdowns are grooming them for abuse by sex predators.

The manner in which the TSA uses Twitter indicates that they are completely out of touch with the people that they are trying to protect.

On the creepy side of things, they are saving the photos for training purposes. Presumedly without consent or compensation.

One final link

We have lost count of the number of links that we had bookmarked that contained great material that did not fit into our carefully crafted above categories. But we will leave you with one last link, explaining in detail the indignity of our newest form of airport security theatre:

The Airport Security Grope