Backscattering and Groping

Been asked for my opinion on the new and egregiously invasive TSA scans. Well, I think two separate things.

One: On a personal level, I don’t really give a crap about whether the full-body backscatter thingamajig makes me look like a naked mannequin and some poor bastard TSA person might have a glimpse at my virtual backscattered junk. One reason for this is that I’m pretty confident my own fake-nude snapshot will get deleted as soon as it’s called up; even with my recent loss of 20 pounds, I don’t exactly have a body that calls for the “save” button, and I’m not nearly famous enough for such a picture to be of interest on the IntarWeebs. And even if I were, you know what? Like I care. Let’s recall that I purposely put this picture of myself on the Internets:

not to mention this one:

So it’s not as if I’m brimming over with concern about looking bad. I’m not going to volunteer a picture of my naked, increasingly middle-aged  body — I think too much of you for that — but on the other hand if some pervert at the TSA were to upload it and it were identifiably me, I wouldn’t lose a whole lot of sleep over it either. Yes, I would say, that is a very naked, plastic-y, gray version of my own shapely self. You enjoy that.

Likewise, I’m not going to particularly care about close body search by the unfortunate TSA apparatchik who will will have to run his hand up to my groin area. I don’t flatter myself that the fellow will get that much enjoyment out of it, and while I don’t thrill to the idea of being groped in an airport for security purposes, the actual physical act doesn’t bother me much, either. Basically I would have to keep myself from smirking as Boom-chika-bow-ow went through my head as I was being patted down, but really, that’s pretty much it. So, yes. Not nearly outraged enough about either on a personal level to have either stop me from getting on a flight.

Two: My complete personal indifference is entirely separate from the larger philosophical question of whether these additional invasive steps are actually necessary, or whether I, as an average-looking middle-aged white man with apparently a high tolerance for official invasions of my personal space, am likely to have the same backscatter/TSA body grope experience as, say, a young woman or a swarthy-looking fellow with a beard. I suspect rather strongly that in both cases the answer is no, and both of these in themselves are perfectly sufficient reasons for other people to be annoyed and to protest and to engage in civil disobedience regarding these things. Although speaking selfishly I hope that if they do, that they are behind me in the security line. Because, hey, the reason I am at the airport is to catch my plane.

My understanding is that there is a movement underfoot to have 11/24 as “opt-out day,” in which people intend to refuse the body scan at airports on one of the busiest flying days of the year, thus likely slowing down the flying experience even more one what is likely to be an aggravating flying day for just about everyone. As noted, philosophically I have little disagreement with the protest; on a practical level I’m happy that the only travel I have planned for the Thanksgiving holiday is going down the road to the in-laws. Protests are often like that.

As an aside, one thing I occasionally see people asking why the US (and Canada) can’t run  airports more like Israel does. I don’t pretend to know enough to give a genuinely sufficient answer to this, but I will hypothesize that one reason may be that the Israeli way is possibly not scalable from a small, militarized country of seven and a half million to a large and largely civilian country with 40 times the population. Israel has 11 airports (two international and nine domestic); the US has 376 which have regularly scheduled airline service. This isn’t to suggest the US couldn’t do its airport security better or less invasively. Just that I don’t know if we could do it like Israel.

202 Comments on “Backscattering and Groping”

  1. How would you feel about the scan or pat-down (or both, because frequently people are being patted down because the scan didn’t take) being performed on your minor daughter? This is my largest objection, as well as they we haven’t been adequately reassured as to whether the radiation emitted by the backscatter machine is safe for me or for my child. Until these concerns are addressed, I will not be flying, unfortunately.

    Also, I think we Americans need to stop being such wimps and be willing to stand up and say we won’t give up our freedoms in exchange for dubious security. Isn’t this what the last election was supposed to be about, the loss of freedoms and erosion of the constitution?

  2. Jesus Christ, John. It’s like you’re reading my mind. I had this exact conversation with myself this morning: I personally don’t give a shit, but I think this whole mess is pointless kabuki theatre. Argh. Shall I wear a kilt in the airport later this week? Probably not …. but it’s tempting.

  3. I’m with you on the “don’t really care” thing regarding myself. But as I’ll likely be traveling with my family over the next few months, the thought of a potentially-pervy TSA worker groping my tall, blond, athletic, 13 year old daughter does rather bother me.

    Mind you, I’d still be uncomfortable if my daughter was a gnomish, gnarled, pock-marked miscreant — it’s the groper’s potential “jolly-getting” that really irks me.

    But yeah, if some dude wants to cup my junk, whatever. And while I may not hear bow-chicka-bow-bow in my head, it would difficult not to do my best Jim Carrey voice and claim, “It’s bulky, but I consider it carry-on.” ;)

  4. Agreed. This is one area where my liberal-self is staunchly libertarian-like. Please to let me fly plane and not suffer humiliating, potentially dangerous security measures.

    BTW, if you opt out, do they do something else (pat down, etc…), or do you just not get to fly?

  5. Shannon:

    I suspect my daughter would find the scan interesting, actually, and we don’t travel via airplane as a family so frequently that I suspect the radiation would be a problem. But the person to ask that question to would be my daughter, not me (also: no, you don’t get to ask her directly). However, I do suspect that any TSA person who tried to do an overly invasive pat-down of the daughter would end up with her arm torn out of her socket by the wife.

    “Isn’t this what the last election was supposed to be about, the loss of freedoms and erosion of the constitution?”

    No, that in fact wasn’t what the last election was about for most people. The last election, as nearly every poll taken told us, was largely about the state of the economy.

  6. My daughter is eight: I don’t want her put through either indignity. Me, I’m a forty-seven year old white male with a pot-belly. Don’t care.

    Having said that I do have a big problem with the whole “culture of fear,” that seems to be growing ever stronger and forcing ever more draconian and less constitutional measures.

  7. I’ve been writing about this one for a couple of days — as part of writing about the TSA’s antics for years.

    John, I have no quarrel with anyone who just doesn’t find it to be a big deal.

    But I do think there are major, legitimate questions about whether it is mere Security Theater — mostly useless measures, incompetently administered, to make it appear the government is Doing Something.

    Moreover, I find the TSA’s attitude (under this and the prior administration — it’s not a political party thing) very disturbing. Last year the TSA ran a study on travelers and published results, saying that it was alarming that travelers’ “unquestioning compliance” had diminished. I don’t like any government agency thinking it is entitled to “unquestioning compliance.”

    There are multiple reports that the “enhanced pat-downs” are being used in a retaliatory fashion — that if they are done in a demeaning and humiliating manner, it’s a feature, not a bug, to punish you for refusing to be scanned and pour encourager les autres. That’s not acceptable either.

  8. Ignoring the privacy issues, my problem with Backscatter scanners is entirely because they are an amazingly poor security investment. First, they are a response to a FAILED scenario – smuggling PETN in small enough doses to feasibly pass inspection (without naked scanners), with a compromised ignition device for the same purpose has shown us that terrorists are only capable of lighting their foot or crotch on fire. Even if it were to miraculously explode, it wouldn’t likely take a plane down. It might kill a couple of passengers, but it would be easier to just hang out outside the airport with a gun if that was your aim. I don’t lose sleep that someone might blow up their own crotch on my flight.

    Second, even the company that made the scanners owned up that they have at best a 50% chance of detecting something like an underwear bomb, and near 0% chance of a body cavity bomb (and hey, if you are willing to die for a cause is a bit of posterior discomfort a deal breaker). Add to that now apparently pleated clothing thwarts the scanners. Even if it did work 100% the terrorists will just adapt around this. From a security standpoint you invest relative to the threat and based on the effectiveness of the countermeasure, and this is a REALLY poor investment during a time of very large deficit.

    It also creates problems, and not just the very real privacy concerns. These scanners are SLOW, much slower than a run of the mill metal detector. WIth 100% usage at an airport it means that lines are all the longer, and people need to get to the airport sooner. This will lead to a very real loss in productivity among business travelers, with a very real cost. Plus there is the whole unstudied effects on frequent usage (see xray overuse in the early 50s as an example of not understanding health effects of scanning technology).

    So it introduces several issues, isn’t competent at solving the issue that it was purchased for, and can be circumvented. The only justification is that it allows politicians to cover their ass and say they did *something* about the problem.

  9. Perfect excuse for me to drive everywhere, which is what I do most of the time. I just hope all this settles down before my attractive twenty-one year-old college student daughter flies home after the holidays in early January. While she’ll be cavalier about it, I shudder both at the radiation risks and privacy invasion (whether virtual or physical).

  10. I keep going back and forth on the whole issue. As a permanent resident, I have been jumping through security measures for a long time and living with the real possibilities of being barred from the US and my livelihood. Really, being told that your status was revoked at 3:00 am by a Customs Officer (nahh, just kidding), being questioned why I didn’t own a car, and waiting three hours while they find someone who knows how to do a free trade visa application has left me jaded about the ulterior motives of government and more in tune with a big bureaucracy with a lot of money and a need to spend it before it goes away. I routinely get flagged for greater scrutiny, but I also dress for travel and minimize my footprint while doing so (no belt, slip on shoes). Backscatter radiation? Meh. Being patted down, been there done that. Security theater? Absolutely. I play my part as quickly and efficiently, and get done. If you don’t fly, you don’t fly. Personally, if it brings back trains in the country, I am all for it.

  11. The patdowns are supposed to be done by same-sex officers, so nobody’s teen daughter is going to get groped by some lecherous guy… not that women are never lecherous, it just seems less likely.

    Myself, I am pretty grossed out by the thought of being groped by any stranger, and would probably opt for the naked scan, despite the unknown radiation and the fact that even though they’re not supposed to be saving the images, we already know that they can & have.

  12. I disagree. Which is is odd, because I usually find myself in agreement with you.

    And my first reaction was the same as yours – you want to see me naked? You go enjoy yourself. Not because I don’t think they will enjoy themselves – I hope they do – but because I don’t really care.

    Which got me thinking. For my job now, I’ve flown 40k miles in the last two months. I expect to continue at roughly that pace for at least the next six months. Why should I allow them to expose me to radiation that may or may not be harmful, or a thorough groping, for something that is at best, security theater.

    How do you get a gun/grenade/poison gas/bomb onto a plane? Throw it over the fence. Everyone following airport security these days knows that. You recruit someone on the inside, throw it over the fence to them, and they plant it where ever they want.

    Investigative techniques have caught people. The shoe searches, the swabbing, the no fly lists, the backscatter imaging, etc. – none of that has caught a single terrorist actually capable of causing terror. Shoe bomber? Underwear bomber? These aren’t actually scary people….

    Most security experts (if not all) agree that two things have made us safer since 9/11. Reinforced cockpit doors, and the knowledge that terrorists sometimes crash planes intentionally.

    If backscatter imaging helped at all – if someone could tell me why it made us safer in a way that made any kind of sense – I would shut the hell up. And if it doesn’t make us safer (or just makes us feel safer) – why should the government get to do it?

    Like Scalzi, I don’t particularly care who sees me naked. It doesn’t give me a thrill – nor a sense of horror. But the thought of sending my kids through one of these? Even if backscatter kiddie porn doesn’t exist – Rule 34. Soon it will.

    If the TSA gets to shout 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! with its fingers in its ears at everything, then I get to bring up the specter of kiddie porn made with their device.


  13. I have a number of problems with it, but basically, I don’t think the TSA has made the case that these devices improve security in proportion to their a) personal invasiveness, and b) risk of physical harm to frequent fliers like pilots and flight attendants.

    There is no such thing as “safe” or “secure”, especially when one is packed into an aluminum tube with a lot of jet fuel onboard and made airborne by virtue of going really fast over populated areas. All they can do is raise the bar against specific potential actions. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect the TSA to explain just how much further the bar is raised by doing this and explain why they think the tradeoffs to our comfort, dignity, and health are worth that increase in security.

    (And now I’ve spent a long time writing this, so I’ve probably been ninja’d on these points ;)

  14. Yes, the US has more airports than Israel, but it also has a larger population of people who could be hired to work in airports.

    Tourism is a major source of income for Israel: its number of tourists per year is approximately a third of its population. And I suspect that Israelis are far more likely to travel outside their country’s borders than Americans. (The post-military-service trip to the Far East is practically a rite of passage for young Israelis. When a friend of mine remarked that she was going to be traveling in Thailand, another friend quipped, “do you speak Hebrew?”) So the Israeli government has a strong incentive to make airport security convenient without letting the bombs in.

  15. I think the song goes something like, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I don’t want to trade that in for security.

    If everyone started singing the,”Boom-chika-bow-ow,” during the body searches it might make it as uncomfortable a process as possible for the security people.

  16. I vividly remember the conversations that were had after the shoe bomber did his thing and we all started having to take our shoes off in the airport. I remember asking, “What if someone smuggles a bomb onto the plane in their underwear? They wouldn’t really check everyone’s underwear, would they?” Ha.

    I say, let’s all enjoy a short period of relative freedom and dignity before the Ass Bomber makes his move.

  17. Anyone know if our congress members have to do this too, or if they have “other arrangements”?

  18. Always interesting to see the viewpoint of those traveling in the US. As an American woman traveling frequently in Europe through airports considered gateways (and thus needing to be guarded), and a woman who has an underwire bra, I am always, always, always patted down. That’s a real pat-down, by the way, not the feeble ones that I have had traveling through the US.
    My children don’t have underwire bras and aren’t. If they were, and were patted down by a same sex person, I wouldn’t care. I don’t want someone with a ceramic knife down his pants going through security (and they pat folks down randomly as well as after alarms here). I’d be more concerned about radiation, although I also don’t much care about the backscatter.
    By the way, I go to Israel. They do real searches.And speak to every traveler.In depth. And when I visited Poland while it was Soviet, American tourists who lipped off got body cavity searched as well as having their luggage searched with a knife. Who cares about being patted down? I used to get that going to certain night clubs in NY 15 years ago. I can always not fly if I don’t want to undergo security checks.

  19. Scalzi @ #6 – “However, I do suspect that any TSA person who tried to do an overly invasive pat-down of the daughter would end up with her arm torn out of her socket by the wife.”

    If that occurred – your wife just committed a felony, and your local US Attorney’s office will spend the next five years trying to put her away for years with a felony conviction on her record. Obviously, you were kidding, and if your daughter expressed reservations about the backscatter device, you would request the pat down for her. So they will make you wait for a while (10-15 minutes, it appears) and ask whether she wants a private room. I don’t know whether you get to go with her, but the TSA agent will run her hands up each leg until she “meets resistance.” Even if she doesn’t want to continue to participate, the TSA’s position is that once you entered the airport, leaving without completing the search will result in a $10k fine.

    Maybe it’s a fine you won’t mind paying – but why should you have to? And if we are uncomfortable with these types of searches for our children – why should anyone have to go through them?

  20. If you have a juvenile sense of humor, by the way, the make-up-the-next-TSA-slogan contest on Twitter under the hashtag #TSASlogans is so money.

    I wasted a ridiculous amount of time with it yesterday. I’m proudest of “Turn your head and fly”, I think.

  21. Tor:

    “If that occurred – your wife just committed a felony, and your local US Attorney’s office will spend the next five years trying to put her away for years with a felony conviction on her record.”

    You vastly underestimate my wife’s cunning and patience. The arm ripping would be done in the TSA agent’s home, at night, three weeks later.

  22. The latest and greatest from TSA provides a point of relief that I don’t have the $$$ to fly nearly as much as I’d like to. I’ve been through the backscatter xray machine once and was distressed that the way they make you stand means you can’t see your belongings as they sit waiting to be picked up. Florida fan Judy Bemis had her laptop stolen in a supposedly secure area; I don’t trust that the same won’t happen to me and/or others.

    They say the machines are safe in terms of radiation, but, again, my trust levels are low that they’ll be kept appropriately calibrated. Perhaps that’s due to knowing a baggage screener recovering from stomach cancer who also has a half-dozen or so coworkers develop core body cancers in a short period of time. A test of the baggage scanner they worked on showed it was way out of whack, emitting dangerous levels of radiation. I suppose I should have the same concerns about the carry-on baggage scanners we walk next to….

    And the “enhanced” patdowns that are the same as police patdowns for suspected criminals? The ones that are very trigger-prone for victims of sexual assault, as I’ve already seen in one friend’s report? Umm, not okay. Not okay for any of us, actually, whether or not we’ve been assaulted in the past.

    The last time I was patted down, including having my breasts touched, I was offered a private room for the patdown. No, never. There’s no way I am going to willingly remove myself from the safety of witnesses at an airport or any other public place to have a stranger in a position of authority touching any part of my body. Or any strangers, actually, but the imbalance introduced by the authority figure aspect just adds to the difficulty.

    So, yeah, the whole thing is way too problematic for my comfort levels. Much as I hope the current level of backlash causes the TSA to adjust its security protocols, I fear the protest will be short-lived and that we’ll all just “adjust” to this level of invasiveness, and do likewise with the next, and the next…..

  23. A United pilot overheard a screener radio the scatter room that he had a “cutey” coming up. It was the pilot’s 18 year old daughter.

    Does it not bother you that some pervert might end up whacking it to your daughter and wife?

  24. security theater vs israeli security.
    there isnt even a question.

    and instead we waste tons of money and time

    I feeel SOOOOOO much more secure now.

    and yah, women and small children?
    grandma in a wheel chair?

    of course, we hired the cheapest people to do these screenings.

    I have a better idea.
    return security to the airports control.

    have random testing of airports
    (bad airports get more testing until they get better)
    shut down the airport for the day whenever they let a fake bomb or gun on a plane.

    forget about liquids and grandma
    box cutters and nail clippers?? LOL

    I promise that if you shutdown logan for the day, security would get MUCH better, MUCH faster.


  25. GinBerlin@21 – It is no longer possible to hijack or crash a plane with a ceramic knife. Everyone will assume the hijacker will want to crash it into something important, and some critical mass will realize that they are going to die no matter what, so let’s take out the person with the ceramic knife. Terrorists know that – and they are not going to attempt something almost certain to fail. Also, a terrorist with half a brain would send the ceramic knife through the x-ray machine – or just make one on the plane with a tube of liquid metal and a piece of cardboard.

    Catherine Shaffer @19 – That was awesome. And true.

  26. Ken @ 9
    >> Last year the TSA ran a study on travelers and published results, saying that it was alarming that travelers’ “unquestioning compliance” had diminished. I don’t like any government agency thinking it is entitled to “unquestioning compliance.”

    The Peter Watts flap has well established that border guards have a right to expect it, and can beat the crap out of you and then successfully prosecute you for resisting arrest if you don’t lie down in the snow immediately when asked to.

    Other cases have established that this authority extends 100 miles in from any national border or coastline. John, in Ohio, is safe, but ~ 2/3 of Americans are in the so called “Constitution Free Zone.”

  27. @#13 TSA employees have disregarded the samesex part of the grope harassment policy several times in the last week. even if it is same sex i do not see that makes much difference. no one needs to have their genitals fondled to board a plane, nor have their pants pulled out and looked in, nor have to deal with extra radiation, nor have to deal with snide comments like”i have a cutie for you’ to alert the TSA people looking at the scanned images.

    @#20, no they are exempt from these searches

    the pilots union as well as several other aviation related groups have told their members not to submit to these searches

    the secretary of homeland security will not go through the machine herself, nor has she been patted down in this manner now in effect

    the former secretary works with a consulting group representing a backscatter company

    a good site among many for information is –

  28. ” However, I do suspect that any TSA person who tried to do an overly invasive pat-down of the daughter would end up with her arm torn out of her socket by the wife.”

    Even if your daughter goes through the scanner, she could still be subject to the patdown. The TSA agent will perform a patdown if an “anomaly” is found on the scan. This anomaly could be pleated clothing, a bra strap, sanitary napkin, item accidentally left in her pocket, etc.

  29. I had the same response to scanners. I often find people to be privacy-conscious in strangely irrational and inconsistent ways.

    But that doesn’t mean that every response against scanners is irrational.

    I’ve got transgendered friends who have had varying levels of surgery and may have reached the end of their surgeries. In nearly all cases their appearance and gender are pretty solidly congruent. That all goes out the window under a scanner. Walk through a scanner and even with the best of surgeons and the most surgery possible they’re getting dragged out of the closet by people they don’t even know.

    In the liberal west, lots of people think trans people are freaks, and we know of other sorts of bad behavior in the TSA. In less liberal places they’re not even considered people.

  30. I find myself kinda disturbed by the blase tone. You seem to be agreeing that there’s a fairly egregious violation of rights going on. But that’s only a “perfectly sufficient reasons for other people to be annoyed.” Without going all Niemoller (sp?) on you, that response stepping on civil liberties seems kinda short-sighted. The best time to make noise about something is *before* your back is up against the wall.

    You’re not at much risk of being hustled by James Frey either, but you went quite a bit farther than “it’s reasonable for other people to get annoyed.”

    Sure, it’s your blog and you’re entitled to be as passionate or blase as you like. But it seems like an oddly passive response.

  31. as to yesterday’s call washington phone thing – i telephoned everyone on the list and left messages regarding my concerns over the policy. everyone who answered the phone was polite except for the person who answered for claire mccaskill who tried at first to tell me the TSA polices were not invasive or sexual assault and then asked me what i thought a better policy should be to address security today. i found him boorish and rude.

    i should also say i am very unpolitical in most cases, figuring i cannot make much of a difference in the way things are run. this currently policy has struck me as the lowest of the low however

  32. so after thinking more on this
    I think I have the most trivial solution to this problem.
    bathing suits

    for my next flight I am wearing a spedo to the airport and flip flops

    there is no need to body scan or touching nothing.
    I can bend over and spread my legs. they can look but no touch.

    my bag can go through xray, whatever


    problem solved

    /except for those poor other passengers having to see me at the airport

  33. there was a post made during the whole cooks (sic) source blowup about how wouldnt it be great if thousands and thousands of people got irate about something that really mattered. well now is the chance

  34. They can and at least sometimes will save those pix for later yuks and/or wanking:

    Not that I’m flush enough with cash to fly much anyway, but I’ve got no intention of letting some pervert have a gander or grope at my wife and daughter, or me (but the latter’s just in principle), especially since I think the whole thing’s meant to

    * keep us feeling safe, and
    * to cover important Washington butts so they can say “well, we tried!”.

    rather than actually keeping us safe.

  35. I think it’s important, at least for male passengers, to do their best to have a large boner during the pat-down. If you have trouble creating one on demand, a carrot will probably suffice.

  36. As a swarthy woman w/ big boobs I have *always* been patted down in airports since 9/11. Not always by a same-sex person, and when I requested one I was threatened and intimidated. I now actively avoid flying and self-medicate to endure something that used to be fun.

  37. Has anyone considered what the mobs of travelers backed up at security checkpoints on opt-out day might look like to a terrorist? The term “targets of opportunity” comes to mind. It’s not as flashy as taking down a jetliner, but blowing up a bunch of people protesting ineffective safety measures is sure to make the news. Isn’t that what terrorists want?

  38. Dave H @ 41:

    The vulnerability of security lines has been observed for just about as long as they’ve been instituted. If things are as dangerous as TSA wants us to think, then it’s astonishing that nobody’s set off a suicide vest while standing in line yet.

  39. Since all of you by now know what the requirements are to fly you have one or two options: 1) either get the body imaging; pat down 2) don’t fly. Seriously its as easy as that, as much as it sucks those are your options for now at least. I too fear the day of the assbombmer,” that will make for interesting TSA screenings.

  40. Hey Catharine, the Ass Bomber DID make a move somewhere in the MidEast…and all he did is make a big mess. Turns out it’s hard to stuff enough Semtex up there to do much besides turn yourself into a pile of second-rate hamburger.

    Spent many years in the airlines including having to be a Ground Security Coordinator Desginee – which meant that when the boss wasn’t around or didn’t want to be bothered, I had to handle any issues with the checkpoint. Not my idea of a fun time, I assure you. I doubt most of those TSA people are getting any jollies out of all this, either. I could say more, but I won’t due to CFR 49 15.17, even though what I know is dated at this point.

    I don’t think most Americans would go for Israeli-style air security if they’re complaining about what we have right now. I seriously doubt it’s scalable, anyway. All tying up the security lines on November 24th will do is piss off a lot of people. It might feel good for a few minutes, but I hope you can avoid all the pissed off people behind you that missed their flights due to your little temper tantrum.

    I’m also a middle aged white guy with a potbelly. “Shrug” No one’s going to be interested in keeping my bod-shot, either. Those getting a pat down are handled by a screened of the same gender. Unless you’re more than a little …weird…That’s not going to do much for you.

    My suggestion is that since the readers of this blog are science-fiction fans, you all get together some ideas for airport screening that will work better than the ones we have now. It’s not going away.

  41. Jon Marcus:

    “I find myself kinda disturbed by the blase tone.”

    I’m not sure why, since I explained in great detail why on a personal level I’m not hugely bothered, and I’m not going to pretend to outrage I don’t feel. It’s not my job to be professionally outraged. Others are more engaged on this particular subject; I’m happy to let them take the lead.

  42. I’ll admit, I was pretty damn anxious about the scanners, but then I went through it. The scan itself is over in 9 seconds. It’s not bad at all. There are no naked pictures of you up and around the airport. I could deal with it. Hell, it was a lot better than the air machines which Marilyn Monroe’d you in front of everyone.

    With that said: It’s the invasive pat down after I left my license in my left pocket I thought was unnecessary and ultimately left me shaken. I’m not saying my reactions are normal or common, but *I* felt demeaned and invaded. While the woman was pleasant enough and explained everything that was about to happen, she still touched the outer lips of my vagina through the barrier of my clothing with her hand. All because I left a license in my pocket.

    If I ever fly again, (which I probably will despite an angry blog post on the subject) I will make sure there is absolutely nothing in my pocket and hope I’m not singled out for extra screening the next time.

  43. This is obviously about selling expensive scanners to the government and giving TSA pervs the opportunities to get their jollies.

    If they were serious about security, we wouldn’t be allowed to wear clothes at all.

    The solution is obvious, as Fraser suggested above. Male passengers should be wearing kilts, pop a Viagra 15 minutes before they reach the gate, and request the pat-up. Pervy commentary on the screener’s performance is optional.

    I wonder what happens after the terrorists finally get the wherewithal to detonate a bomb at the checkpoint?

  44. tombrrngr @43 – The Supreme Court has repeatedly found that a fundamental right to interstate travel exists. So for the federal government to significantly burden that fundamental right by requiring that you surrender other fundamental rights in order to engage in it, it must have at least some legitimate purpose for doing so.

    The government can limit the ability to engage in free speech, but it cannot do so capriciously.

    The point of many of the commentators here is that the government has significantly burdened the ability to engage in interstate travel, and it appears to have done so capriciously and arbitrarily.

    Since no one has posted it here yet, I’ll do it:

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Ben Franklin

    Like I said before, if anyone can establish that AIT will make us safe, I will shut the hell up.

    In the meantime, I’ll be wearing a kilt on future flights. Might as well make it uncomfortable for both of us.

  45. WE take off our shoes because of a (failed) shoe bomber. We submit to full body scans and patdowns because of a (failed) underwear bomber.

    The scanners are blocked by skin. So you know what some terrorist will do… smuggle a bomb in their, er, lower intestine. Of course, we will all need to submit to anal probes then to make sure we’re not terrorists.

    Have fun with those rights you’re giving up.

  46. I’m a little dismayed by all the “let’s punish the screeners” comments. Making the screeners’ jobs suck by having to, e.g. pat down erect men, won’t actually help anything. They’re not in a position to change the policies. It’ll just spread the misery.

  47. @John: so what do you suggest? Mind you, I dream of having a suck job that involves erect men.

  48. Tor @49 – Please explain in detail how the federal government has put a significant burden on interstate travel? Pat downs were already instituted before the machines were put in place, and the machines themselves do nothing to prevent a passanger from flying. Its actually more burdensom to have to take my shoes off, but neither has that inconvenience prevented anyone from flying. About the only thing in this situation that is preventing flight is someone’s own issues with what they consider decency and how they are willing to have their personal space violated or not. Again that is up to the individual, but in the grand scheme of things to protect the public at large this is the reality we live in a post 9/11 world.

  49. I am so sick of this stupid conversation. If the scan is the best they can come up with; whatever! I hope it ends the silly breast milk and formula dramas and makes things move faster. Ohhh but now Muslem woman will not co-operate with either search…I say ALL or no exceptions!
    I agree that I am a 52 year old woman and I will fight anyone on a plane that thinks they are taking it down without a doubt!

  50. @Jon Marcus #34 – Scalzi has explicitly stated that his white-male entitlement allows him to be blase about this. While one might wish that his compassion extended a wee bit farther, sometimes, he really isn’t as viscerally affected as POC, women, rape survivors, transpeople, et al. Castigating him for his privilege isn’t useful. That’s what comments are for, so that those of who are personally invested in this issue can talk back.

    @ Scalzi #46: This issue affects many of your fans in a very personal and visceral way. SFF does attract all sorts of, after all. Our ability to travel, whether to visit conventions to see you, or to work (in order to make the $ to buy your books and subscribe to cable television), means that you *do* have a professional interest.

  51. tom brrngr@43: “Since all of you by now know what the requirements are to fly you have one or two options: 1) either get the body imaging; pat down 2) don’t fly don’t travel anywhere further than a day-trip from your house. A cowed, provincial populace is an easily controlled populace.”

    Fixed that for you.

  52. @tombrrngr and a few others.

    Consider this. In the years since 9/11 there have been close to 100 million flights (30k/day on average, in the US). Of those, we know of TWO bombing attempts that made it onto the plane. Now, people usually cry “But what about all of those attempts TSA foiled!!??” Yeah, what about them? Right. There aren’t any publicly known. If the TSA is routinely foiling attempts, let’s see the evidence. “Oh, but we can’t tell you… that would help the terrorists!” Yeah, right. Meanwhile, there’s a bridge for sale.

  53. The only time I’ve been through one of these type scanners was back in 2001 in the (IIRC) Atlanta airport. I thought it was great. It was fast, faster than the regular security checks and this was before 9/11. I thought at the time I wished all airports had them.

    Now they may have gotten slower but I have a hard time believeing its slower than going through the whole ritual of emptying your pockets, removing your shoes, dumping all your stuff in trays to be scanned, and then putting everything back on after, but what do I know.

    Generally speaking, flying has become such a headache, not to mention expensive that if there is any possibility that I could just get in a car and drive, that will be my option. Flying has just become too much of a hassle anymore.

    But if I have to fly, I would prefer just walking through the see-me-nekkid device and be done with all the rest of it.

  54. by–E @56 – IC what you did there. But using words like “cowed, provincial populace” doesn’t change the reality we live in. I am neither cowed nor provincial, just practical.

  55. @Frank-58 The scanners have actually slowed down lines. You still have to remove your shoes, and now in addition, you have to remove your belt and empty all your pockets.

  56. I also find the security annoying. But I doubt anyone wants to look at it logically.
    a. Terrorists will always adapt to whatever security you put in place. So while you decrease the chances of a terrorist bringing a knife or a bomb on board, you still have many many options for your determined terrorist. You may have deterred the random and not very determined terrorist. You have not eliminated someone who had the ingenuity and resources to plan an attack at the 9/11 level.
    b. If you left American security at its pre-9/11 level, would the terrorist take advantage. Probably. After all, it worked before.
    c. There is no way to stop a determined terrorist by setting up defensive security. Period. The only solution to the puzzle is to eliminate the terrorists. That is a whole different set of problems.

    So we could logically lower the level of security and probably have as many incidents as we had 20 years ago. However, I don’t know many people who think we should dispense with the security all together.

  57. Fraser @52: Write to the TSA, contact your Congresscritter. Conveniently, the Senate Transportation committee is holding a hearing tomorrow on the TSA. I’m sure that there are problems that can be solved by being a dick to the lowest-level employees in an organization, but I’m hard-pressed to come up with one. (Puns unintentional)

  58. Constance:

    Whether I have a stake in it or not, however, I don’t feel particularly obliged to present myself as more exercised about it than I actually am. In a larger sense, of course, there are a lot of things that I have a stake in that I’m less exercised about than other people are or sometimes wish I would be exercised about; one does decide at which windmills to tilt.

  59. bkd69,

    For you and everyone else who thinks this is primarily about “selling expensive scanners to the government” check out who owns the company that sells them. A handful of investors led by CEO Depak Chopra and (with 11,000 shares) George Soros.

    Chopra just traveled to India with the President, do you suppose he had someone scanning his junk before boarding?

    How much would the press be screaming if Haliburton and Cheney were behind this invasion of privacy?

  60. A lot of people try to tell me this is all a paranoid, empty threat. But my son, who used to do TSA scans of passengers, has told me of quite a few people caught by them trying to sneak weapons and explosives onto planes, just in little Salt Lake City.

    I wish it was not necessary. But as long as we have megalomaniacal idiots who are absolutely convinced that their crusade, or message, or whatever, is more important than the lives of innocent people, it will be necessary. So, when I fly Friday I will let them look at my body. Why not? How is it going to hurt me?

  61. @tombrrngr: it’s nice that you are not personally affected so much. I’m happy for you. And maybe you’re right — it’s just a ritual, we play our part, we move on. However, I put it to you that small, innocuous concessions lay the ground for larger infringements, and scanners start to appear at places other than airports. Soon they become commonplace, and anybody who declines to pass through one is by definition suspect.

    Look, I don’t really give a shit, I live in the Netherlands, and if you want to turn yourself into a police state, be my guest. It seems a shame to piss all over the ideals your country started with though.

  62. When the new groping thing came out, I told my husband we weren’t flying anymore except in the case of serious family emergency.

    I’ve been to nude beaches and about half of the Pacific Northwest saw me naked when I was pregnant. I’ve been frisked at the airport before, so it’s not that I’m a prude, but the invasive groping and the issue of consent is crucial, here.

    I have three daughters.

    If anybody but the TSA touched them in that manner, they’d have to register as sex offenders for fucking ever. What the hell is wrong with this country that it’s suddenly acceptable for the TSA to coerce a parent to consent to have their children publicly molested in order to get on a damned plane?

    This isn’t even REAL consent. It’s coerced consent.

    If anybody but the TSA asked to touch your child’s genitals and then threatened to have you arrested or sue you for $10,000 if you or your child said no, they’d be arrested.

    I don’t want to raise my children in a country where they can be molested by agents of the government just because they want to go to Disneyland or Grandma’s house or where the fuck ever. I don’t want this to happen, period, but I also do not want this to be considered okay.

  63. rickg, it’s already been done.
    The central problem with all of these methods is that they are simple rules, and for every rule a motivated person can get around it. The Israeli way of using behavior is pretty much the only method without definite rules and so it’s harder to fool. So the problem is more than just privacy, the problem is it simply doesn’t work, and so that’s why we have to add more and more “tests” to pass. As long as the test is stupidly simple, it will be stupidly simple to get around, then more tests will have to be added. We are being more invasive for only marginal and temporary returns on safety, instead of stopping and saying “let’s clear the slate and start over.”

    I suppose the problem with the Israeli method America is it require more intelligent and more highly trained screeners, so that’s a lot of people and money. In what other country besides Israel do they have smart guards? Usually guards are not smart. But there are 67,000 employees of TSA, so could there be a least a few thousand that are intelligent and can be used as “behavior screeners”? Note that doesn’t mean pull aside everyone who mouths off (though it often comes to that especially with our poorly trained screeners now)

    I read about some airports trying this just like the Israelis, and they didn’t catch terrorists but did catch drug smugglers and the like, so someone decided it was a failure and canceled it. I am not sure why that is a failure, maybe because they were catching too many criminals and they couldn’t handle it? I wish I could find a link to that.

  64. John Murphy @ 52 – Meh. I’m not terribly concerned about their feelings. While I would like to assume most of them are fine, upstanding security officers, the evidence I’ve seen shows that a statistically significant percentage of them are sadistic, stupid, or just plain gleeful about the power given to them.

    The TSA officer who ‘pranked’ travelers with fake cocaine in their bags:

    The TSA officers who laughed at the small penis of another TSA officer, and received a beat down with a police baton as a result:

    Actually, if you just google ‘TSA misbehavior’ you’ll find thousands more…

    tombrrngr@53 – You described the significant burden yourself: “About the only thing in this situation that is preventing flight is someone’s own issues with what they consider decency and how they are willing to have their personal space violated or not.” So you can travel, but you have to change your mind about whether you feel comfortable with a stranger seeing you naked, saving pictures of you naked, seeing your children and/or spouse naked and saving pictures of them, irregardless of whether you have suffered a sexual assault and this may be traumatic or you have other significant issues that make it difficult or impossible for you to comply. And your alternative is a groping by a stranger or a $10k fine.

    YOU may be fine with people seeing you naked or groping you – and to be honest, it isn’t a serious issue for me, either. But I recognize that others have entirely legitimate reservations about surrendering this level of autonomy in exchange for something of dubious security and increased radiation risk.

    A violation of the sense of decency isn’t actually defined as ‘what makes tombrrngr uncomfortable.’ It is a commonly held societal belief, shared by a majority of us. And I feel pretty comfortable saying that letting government rent-a-cops look at you naked or grope you in order to board a plane violates that collective sense of decency.

  65. Ellie @60

    The scanners have actually slowed down lines. You still have to remove your shoes, and now in addition, you have to remove your belt and empty all your pockets.

    So you’re saying its gotten worse and more intrusive. The worst of all options.

    Great, so now I’ve just expanded my preference for driving to anything under 2000 miles.


  66. At #2

    Next time I fly, I’m wearing a kilt. And when they want to do the pat down, I’ll say “No need!” and give them a flash :D

    Then I’ll die. Not from the TSA, but from my wife… She’ll kill me :P

  67. Tor @69 – I get that the system is not perfect and really I don’t care about the scanners (again that just me), but again your argument still would not hold up as to government interfering with interstate travel. And all it would take is for one more plane to blow up or a 9/11 attack and people would be clamoring for more of these scanners and why hadn’t the government put them up sooner. Human nature is fickle. Either way until a federal judge rules this thing unconstitutional, again, the same two options remain you can like it or not but its true.

    Like someone else previously mentioned, if your so passionate write your congressman or senator. Getting mad on the Interwebs does nothing.

  68. I was recently screamed at by a TSA guy for putting my hands down *after* they had taken the backscatter photo of me. I’m not really sure what it accomplished by having my hands stuck in the air for the 30 seconds it took them to clear my photograph, but he was very insistent I kept them above my head at all times.

    I’m more concerned about things like the screaming three year old kid getting felt up by a TSA agent, the disabled woman getting body slammed to the ground, the wheelchair woman getting refused entry because she had medically-necessary food with her, and so forth.

    I support the protests, because the TSA really needs to change things up. Janet Napolitano doesn’t realize what an idiot she sounds like when she says “the system worked” every time a passenger tackles an underwear bomber on a flight.

  69. Frank@70 – not just your belt and shoes, but *everything* that is not clothing. Your watch, jewelry, things in your pocket (even paper)… I had a necklace that I wore everywhere for ten years. I’ve never had to remove it for ‘security’ – now it always has to come off. And the backscatter scanner requires you to assume a specific position, which most people have not learned yet. So whereas most people stroll through the metal detector, the backscatter scanner requires you to go in, turn to your right, raise your hands as if you were being held up at gun point, stand there for 5 – 20 seconds, and then leave.

    While someone runs off with the wallet you’ve put in the little plastic dish they gave you. ;) I’ve seen people have to take several attempts at getting through, forcing everyone to wait for them.

    It is much slower, and they do not always let you pick your own line (and voluntarily avoid the backscatter scanner) although sometimes they do – because this system is poorly implemented at *every* level.

  70. Just saw this comment on Gizmodo… a fantastic idea!

    “Yesterday, I had the full pat-down at DCA after going through the full body scanner (which for some reason, always flags me with anomalies). About half-way through, I said ‘I don’t think my boyfriend touches me as much as you do.’ What I learned: it’s amazing how much starting a gay panic in a TSA agent can move these things along.”

  71. Actually, there is a third option. Hopefully the ACLU is filing a lawsuit, and I hope the 11/24 opt out day will be successful. And I have written my congresscritters and called them. And hopefully public pressure will have an effect as well – it has in the past. Yes – yelling at the interwebs is often pointless, but the more people who learn about these issues, the more likely that a critical mass of public opinion will be brought to bear.

    And 9/11? I was there, so I’m not trying to minimize it, but would this be a doomsday scenario for air travel?

    Middle Eastern terrorists hijack a U.S. jetliner bound for Italy. A two-week drama ensues in which the plane’s occupants are split into groups and held hostage in secret locations in Lebanon and Syria.

    While this drama is unfolding, another group of terrorists detonates a bomb in the luggage hold of a 747 over the North Atlantic, killing more than 300 people.

    Not long afterward, terrorists kill 19 people and wound more than a hundred others in coordinated attacks at European airport ticket counters.

    A few months later, a U.S. airliner is bombed over Greece, killing four passengers.

    Five months after that, another U.S. airliner is stormed by heavily armed terrorists at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, killing at least 20 people and wounding 150 more.

    Things are quiet for a while, until two years later when a 747 bound for New York is blown up over Europe killing 270 passengers and crew.

    Nine months from then, a French airliner en route to Paris is bombed over Africa, killing 170 people from 17 countries.

    Terrible to imagine? Or a series of events from 1985-1989? And yet somehow, we managed to pull through, without taking naked photos of them or groping them. (list stolen from Ask the Pilot at Salon).

    The Scanners Do Not Work Or Make Us Safer.

    Therefore, only idiots with stock in the companies making these devices will be ‘clamoring’ for more of them if anything happens.

  72. Iirc, ceramic knives are made with some amount of iron or something so they show up on xray and/or metal detectors. At leader some are anyway. And as mentioned before no one will ever successfully hijack a plane with a knife ever again.

    That said, one might wonderif it would bepossible to ever hijack a plane with anything ever again. Thereason they hijacked planes on 9/11 wasn’t because they don’t like planes but because planes make huge flying bombs that could flown into the real targets. Twin towers. Pentagon. Etc. At this point i think any attempt at hijacking a plane as a flying bombis going to be met with flight 93 level resistance and fail. And if the goal is simply to blow something up, then airplanes are that interesting a target.

    As for the scanners, i would probably go along with whatever bruce schneier says. The man is a no bullshit security genius.

    As far as radiation goes, don’t you get exposed to more radiation just being at 30,000 feet? Sure, make sure the things are safe. But radiation sometimes get turned into some kind of spooky-evil. But i think flying automatically means some exposure to low radiation.

  73. I find it interesting to see how many of my fellow Canadians are watching this issue, whether or not they have plans to fly in the States. While there is certainly some misplaced Schadenfreude (the presence of millimetre-wave scanners at Canadian airports is less widely publicised), the unfortunate truth is that policy decisions down south often come with…strong encouragement, shall we say, for similar changes up here.

    Personally, I will be taking several flights in the States next month and have been paying close attention to my options. I find that I, despite being a young(ish) female, have similar opinions to John. Personal privacy invasion? Meh. Accepting systematic removal of personal freedoms for the sake of the American Security Circus & Variety Show? Not so comfortable with that.

    I plan to opt out of potential backscatter imaging, in minor part because of unaddressed concerns about radiation and data privacy, but mostly as a protest of this whole ridiculous enterprise. If they do attempt the public shaming route that has been reported during the “enhanced” patdown, well–if we’re going to engage in security theatre, there might as well be a show.

  74. I have long advocated a simple solution to airport security. Instead of expensive scanning machines, set up inexpensive changing booths. Everyone getting on a plane passes the ID checker, enters the booth, removes ALL their clothing and slips on the government issued travel gown/jumpsuit/whatever. Removed clothing is placed in a bag, sealed and tagged, and delivered to scanning machines. After touchdown, passengers retrieve their clothing, just like they retrieve their baggage, and pass through exit changing booths to redress. I’m sure the cost of changing booths, travel garments, and laundry would be much cheaper than the scanning machines and the folks to do the pat downs.

  75. I’m a clinical psychologist, and I’ve had a lot of clients who were sexually abused as children and/or raped as adults. I shudder to think what the TSA pat-down might be like for them. I have had clients for whom it would definitely be triggering, and are the TSA trained to handle a sexual-abuse survivor who’s having a flashback? Would they even recognize what’s going on, or would they try to arrest her?

    The machines could be considered an alternative to the pat-downs, but some scientists are saying that the radiation the new machines emit could cause cataracts and/or skin cancer. We don’t know for sure yet, but nobody should have to take a chance on getting cataracts just because they’ve been abused as a child or raped as an adult.

    If this were all keeping us any safer, it would be easier to tolerate, but it’s Security Theatre. It’s designed to LOOK like it’s keeping us safer, but it doesn’t actually deter serious terrorists.

  76. @Tor: yes! Exactly! 9/11 (or 11/9, as we like to call it in Socialist Europe) was different to previous terrorist attacks only in that a new subversion of the system was way more spectacular. And yet it’s turned us all into a bunch of complete wuss bags. It cannot happen in the same way again, and yet this entire security apparatus is focussed on the same way again.

    Let people bring knives onto the plane; let’s see how long they’ll last. What you need to be doing is preventing the next attack, not the last one. Of course, you won’t be able to do that, but that’s how it goes. The odds of you, personally, dying in a terrorist attack on an aeroplane are astronomically low. Relax, enjoy the flight. Look out the window once in a while.

    Landing is kind of cool.

  77. While I am nearly as blase as I also don’t believe that I have a body that anyone but my husband can love, I can totally understand and support others who have reasons to avoid either the scanner or the pat down. Anyone who has been sexually molested would not want to be touched in certain places no matter how “clinical” seeming it could be –they may be risking some serious psychological setbacks. Likewise, there are many people who should not be subjected to the additional radiation that the scanners put out. And finally there is the leering and remarks to which they would be subjected, should the people operating the scanner have tastes for their particular body type. I think I’d like to know that the TSA has done some additional sensitivity training for this sort of thing, but reportedly, they haven’t.

  78. Oh and for the person asking if government officials will su ject themselves to this:


    chartered government jets when possible. special clauses like ‘politicians will not be groped’. whatever it takes.

    it reminds me of the whole health care reform thing. while all the politicians have government health insurance, they get to debate how little we get.

    the best form of quality control for parachute packers is to randomly pick a pack, throw it on the back of the guy whilo packed it, and throw them out an airplane.

    government is routinely exempt from the very same shit it forces on everyone else.

    i think there was a story about the head of the faa flying around in a chartered jet after 9/11.

    you want to cut the bullshit on airport security, make it mandatory that any politician has to fly with is plebes and has to go through the same security we do.

  79. @adelheid_p: indeed. I’m happy for the people who don’t mind being groped (I’m one of them; bring it on!) but presuming that applies to everybody is unbelievably arrogant. Also, I’m sure they won’t mind if I pop on a uniform and check out their children. Just to be sure, you know?

  80. TSA wallows in incompetence. As long as security in airports is provided by minimum wage workers and not intelligent, trained PROFESSIONALS, rules will have to be applied to screen passengers (as mentioned by plutosdad@68).

    As greg@77 so eloquently ;-) put it, once cockpits became impenetrable, aircraft ceased being viable targets. 400 hapless passengers aren’t a satisfactory result after bagging the 3000+ on September 11, 2001.

    I object to the cost and uselessness of current airport security. Just like DRM for music, movies and software, all the TSA does is make life miserable for people who just want to get on with their lives. I’d be a lot more worried about going to the Super Bowl. That’s like 90,000 in the stadium + a billion or so watching. Anyone remember Black Sunday?

    As for me personally, I have required the services of the airline industry exactly once since retiring from the USAF in 1999. I no longer fly because the whole experience is onerous, beginning with the fare structure to getting through the terminal and surviving the ride. I can’t see why anyone would pay actual money for this experience.

  81. Over the past five years, I’ve flown out of the United States three times. Every single time I have tried to fly back into the country, I have been taken out of the line by security for extra screening of my luggage or a pat down. Extra screening of my luggage basically entailed having my luggage opened in front of other passengers and having it rifled through and the agent smelling my soap. (Explosives?) The pat down entailed being groped in front of other passengers (though, thankfully, not my genitals) all over including my chest and behind and the normal stuff you see on TV.

    I’m reading reports now of people who get scanned and are still being subjected to pat downs including a pat down of their genitals and I am super not fucking okay with that. I don’t know what to attribute my 100% rate of being singled out for extra screening (minority? female travelling alone? my propensity not to smile at strangers ? what?) but I don’t know if I can handle being body searched . For whatever reason, I am the posterchild for “a search is warranted” and I don’t know why. Do I attribute it to just bad luck? being a minority? agents who need to fill a quota and can obviously tell I’m not a threat so they choose me?

    I don’t know. Either way, it’s making me anxious about flying out of the US.

  82. Maybe my experience was unique, but the one time I have gone through the additional screening protocol, the pat down was administered by a female (as I am a female) with another female TSA officer looking on. They were very nice, explaining that the reason I had to wait for a few extra moments (it took about half a minute) was due to the fact that females may only receive the secondary screening/pat down by female officers, males by males. So I am not sure the whole “I don’t want my teenage daughter being groped by a pervy TSA officer” holds much water. I also have some serious doubts about the vast number of perverts just salivating for the jobs what with the requisite background checks, the polyester uniforms and the daily ration of disgust and vitriol unleashed upon them by the traveling public just so that they may have the random chance to pat down a teenage girl at some point in their career.

  83. Barbara: I’m glad to see Schneier and the fact these wonderful machines don’t perform like they should referenced. I was disheartened to see the news jump directly to whether or not screeners should be able to see my intimate bits. Really takes investigative journalism in an unintended direction, it does.

  84. @Kathryne: my teenage niece will be happy to know that it only counts as groping if a man does it.

  85. What bothers me more than the “OMG NEKKID PIKCHOORS OR BADTOUCH” BS is this simple fact: I’m a skin cancer survivor, and there are very severe warnings about the effects of backscatter x-rays on skin and surface tissues. I shouldn’t have to submit to an invasive pat-down just because I don’t want the TSA to increase my risk of recurrence….

    …especially given the fact that this is all “security theatre” anyway — If somebody wants to blow up a plane, they’ll find a way to do it, and there really isn’t anything you can do about it. This goes double if all of your “security” efforts address the LAST attempt (which you found out about BECAUSE THEY FAILED IN THE FIRST PLACE).

    George Carlin once called Airport Security “Bullshit to Make White People Feel Safe” — that was pre-9/11, and it hasn’t changed. It’s just gotten more ridiculous.

  86. Kathryne,

    The TSA’s intent really doesn’t enter into it, although I would argue that the TSA is full of powertripping douchbags who couldn’t make the cut to be cops or join the military, just like mall security, so whether or not they’re getting a sexual thrill out of feeling up the unwilling, I’m willing to bet that it’s not a huge downside to their job, either.

    Your same-sex groper argument is irrelevant. Given the same circumstances, I’d go after a female babysitter who molested my daughters just as fast as I’d go after a male babysitter.

    Assault is assault is assault, and coercing compliance does not equal consent.

    I don’t even know how we got here.

    Groping an innocent party’s crotch because they want to get on an airplane is a really fantastic example of unfuckingreasonable search, so I don’t understand why we’re even entertaining these “Eh, it wouldn’t bother me,” arguments. It’s unconstitutional, therefore…we don’t do it, right?

  87. I got patted down in Vegas coming back from my wedding in October, and I ruefully wished I’d bought Penn and Teller’s metal Bill of Rights they were hawking at their show.

    When I fly this Thanksgiving, I’ll be declining the scanner and requesting the patdown instead. (Medical and privacy reasons.)

    (Every time I’ve been patted down, a female TSA employee has done it but that doesn’t make it any less invasive. One time they went so far as to pluck the back of my pants away from my body and slip a hand briefly along the top of the waistband.)

  88. Congratulations on losing 20 pounds, John! If you want any of them back I have a few extra you’re welcome to take off my, er, hands.

  89. I just have to reiterate this. At the average 30,000 flights into or out of the US per day there have been 98.55 million flights since 9/11.




    How many of those flights have been blown out of the sky?


    How many attempts made it onto the plane?


    That’s a 1 in 49 million chance. Before the scanners and groping.

    How much safer do you people need to be? You have a higher chance of dying by commuting to work.

    Want to beat the scanners and a patdown? Put the bomb inside the terrorist’s body. What then? Anal probes? Full body X-rays?

    At what point do cries of “but 9/11!!!” get seen for what they are – a scare tactic used by a security apparatus run amok?

  90. I always find it interesting when people say they don’t mind the pat down as long as the TSA agent is same-sex. That is really quite irrelevant, in my humble opinion, if the supposition is that no sexual interest is thus possible. Even if you suppose sexuality is binary (when of course it is a big fuzzy delicious continuum), around 10% of the population is gay. That means among the shift of 40 TSA officers on duty at LAX, four of them are gay, probably more are bi, and some simply repressing, senator-style. How do you like those odds?

  91. I fly 2-3 times a year, and get patted down in the middle of the airport every time, because I have an artificial knee and the airports I fly in and out of often don’t have the full-body scanners. It takes me the length of the airport to walk off the indignity, which is something my 17-year-old daughter doesn’t understand. To her, that’s just the way it is. I’m still trying to be as nonchalant.

    Oh, and yes, it’s always a woman. And three times now I’ve had this total stranger looking down my underwear. It’s a weird world is all I can say about that.

  92. @Jeanne: one thing that scares me a lot is that children will grow up thinking that’s just the way it is. I wonder what else we are giving away

  93. Todd,

    Your link says twelve and under, so thirteen year olds still get groped. I have a dog in this fight, as my oldest is thirteen.

    I find it (choose one, or all that apply) ironic/ridiculous/depressing/infuriating that she simultaneously cannot legally consent to sex but MUST consent to being publically pawed by an agent of the government to visit relatives in other states.

  94. @#102akeeyu thanks for catching that. yes 12 and under. though any age, sex, race, sexual orientation, disability … its still not right for anyone to be touched in that manner to board a plane. and to those who say do not fly, well train stations, stadiums, bus stations, movie theaters, they can all be next.

  95. #64 by Billy Quiets:

    Link to a reliable source, please. That sound like rodeo clown BS to me.

  96. I think what some people may be missing is that Scalzi didn’t feel blase enough that he chose not to blog about it. It was something he felt sufficiently important to mention. (At least as important as taping bacon to a cat.) And he admits to agreeing philosophically with the protesters. Which suggests he’s not going to be seen putting his support behind the TSA on this matter. He provides many links for those with the energy to follow and participate in the protests. He has enough readers that there is a good chance one or two people (perhaps even more) first read about this on his blog. So while he may not be part of the protest personally, his post actually does help the movement. So instead of being upset that he personally isn’t motivated to picket the airports, or cause trouble in the airports, perhaps be appreciative that he cares enough to spread the word.

    By the way, as a straight middle aged male, I think I’d prefer a pat-down by an opposite-sex TSA agent. Preferrably someone a few years younger than me. W00t! Yeah, I know she won’t be excited about it, but I’m a guy! Bruno patting me down won’t make my day. But it’s better than the radiation.

  97. This is all a massive scam by politicians who are ensuring that their corporate masters can sell as many of these machines as possible. There is simply no quantifiable benefit to the scanners: they do not make the process faster, simpler, easier, more effective or less expensive. They are tax-guzzling white elephants, plain and simple.

    Worse, they’re completely untested. I’m a cancer survivor and I’ll be damned if ANYONE is ever going to irradiate me unless it’s 100% medically necessary. They have done absolutely no testing with these machines and they have absolutely no idea what the long term effects are. Physicists and physicians (both groups in bad odor in our current anti-science political climate) have been warning about the health hazards since these machines were announced and their warnings have been met with silence, lies or derision. People WILL get skin cancer, corneal cancer and testicular cancer due to these machines. The corporations that sell these machines (and their government puppets) don’t care that they will give you cancer. They also don’t care that they’re almost completely worthless. They just want to sell their machines for a fat government contract. If they get them mandated in every airport then they just get to sell more. Screw the health risks – that’s not their problem, is it?

    Remember those old x-ray machines you used to find in shoe stores that showed you how well your shoes fit? No? That’s because they were outlawed back in the sixties once people realized they gave you cancer. Remember how thalidomide was perfectly safe and prescribed to pregnant women? Turns out they were wrong about that as well. Remember radium dials on watches? Outlawed as well. Did you ever hear about the ‘radium girls’ who were employed during WWI to paint radium onto instrument dials for aircraft ? They constantly licked their brushes to paint the fine lines and they all ended up getting mouth and jaw cancer (google it). The government will happily tell you anything is safe if it’s going to make their corporate masters money, and the government simply cannot be trusted. If you go through one of these scanners the LEAST of your problems is someone checking out your junk and posting pictures on the internet! Anyone opting to be a guinea pig for any “perfectly safe according to the government” procedure is either an idiot or is absolutely ignorant of history.

    One thing that hasn’t really been discussed yet is the whole child pornography aspect of these screening machines. Every day hundreds of people under 18 go through them and dozens of TSA agents view their naked bodies. Unless I seriously misunderstand child pornography laws, that’s a federal crime right there – hell, people have gone to jail for possessing DRAWINGS of naked children! Hundreds of children are being groped in public by adults right in front of their parents and anyone who objects will face consequences ranging from missing their flight to a $1000 fine to (illegal and indeterminate) incarceration at gitmo. How long before the pedophiles start flocking to the TSA jobs? We know they go out of their way to get jobs that involve working closely with children (scout leaders, junior sports coaches, priests, etc.). Wouldn’t a job where you’re PAID to look at naked children all day be a huge draw for a kiddie porn addict? Wouldn’t a job where you are ordered to grope little kids be heaven for a child molester? Does the the TSA have any programs in place to prevent this? Fat chance – they can’t even keep thieves and felons out of the system!

    So, if you’re ok with a minimum-wage pedophile taking naked pictures of your kids and posting them to the internet, by all means send your kids through the scanners. Will this happen every time? Almost definitely not – I’m sure most TSA agents are just doing their jobs. But there are probably plenty who are getting their jollies from groping your kids. Or your wife. Or your balls. Isn’t government-mandated sexual assault something we kind of don’t support in this country? Or did Abu Ghraib change all that?

    The only solution is to opt out – and by the way, you MUST use those exact words: ‘opt out’ or they can continue to yell at you until you go through the scanner. If it takes longer, so be it. If it pisses off your fellow passengers, so be it. If it slows down air travel, so be it. I’m perfectly happy bringing air travel within the US to a grinding halt if that’s the only way this issue will be taken seriously. There are only two ways you can change a bureaucratic mess like DHS: either make it too damn expensive to keep doing things the way they are (here’s where individual and ACLU lawsuits might make a difference) or by making it politically untenable. If everyone in the country spends 4 or more hours in security lines on the Thanksgiving weekend, this will bring the entire airline industry to a crashing halt and a lot of important people will get pissed off. As well, a lot of people will say to hell with it, get a refund and leave the airport. Once you start hitting the airlines in the wallet they’ll be forced to react and we’ll finally see some change.

    If you’re a rape survivor, transgendered, or just very modest, I’m so terribly sorry you’re going to have to be groped (even if you DO opt to go through the scanner – that happens all the time). I don’t know what to suggest except to drive when possible. Personally, I don’t particularly care about being groped and I’m certainly not masturbatory material (I’m 40+, overweight and not even close to being attractive), but that’s irrelevant – I STILL don’t want my naked ass out there on the internet.

    Unlike some of the other commenters (who I suspect are being facetious) I regularly DO wear a kilt ( and I wear it full regimental style, if you know what I mean. I fully intend to wear it when I fly next week for a vacation down to the Caribbean. I doubt I’ll be able to muster up an erection when I get my pat down, but I do intend to make it very clear to the TSA gestapo feeling me up that he gives almost as good a handjob as my wife. I’d rather go bi than get another tumor. If you’re stuck behind me, I’m terribly sorry but that’s the price you’re all going to have to pay for allowing yourselves to be treated like sheep. The sooner we make this whole system completely unworkable, the sooner we can end this pointless security theater.

  98. Flying domestically in Australia, (which I do for business every month) it’s just a metal detector for passengers and carry-on luggage through an x-ray scanner. And random explosives residue sniffing. I sometimes wonder if I’ve been explosives-sniffed less often since I got rid of my mustache last year but it’s probably just my imagination.
    I really hope we don’t change anything here, as I only have to arrive half an hour before my flight departure time.

  99. Bearpaw @ 104,

    Just Google it dude. I’m not your research monkey. It took me all of 3 minutes to find out who was supplying the machines and who owned the company.

    And thanks for the compliment. Rodeo clowns are the toughest hombres at the show.

  100. I can only hope all the public backlash will do -something- by the holidays, because I am really not looking forward to making the decision between adding to my already bountiful skin cancer risk and having someone touch me inappropriately.
    Also, does anyone know what happens if you wear a skirt? All I’ve seen is talk about hands going up the inside of your leg until they meet “resistance.” Does this mean they go up your skirt? :{ I already get pulled aside for extra patdowns because of skirts, and I really, really do not want to have to worry about even more egregious procedures.

  101. The thing that really gets me about the pat-downs is that they purposefully make them as inconvenient/horrible as possible, for zero security benefit. Last time I opted out, they ran through the pat-down, and then forced me to sit while they pulled all of my luggage aside, opened it up, and ran a swab test on every. single. pocket. of the bags. After it had already gone through the x-ray.

    And, of course, the chair they sat me in had its back to the area where they were disassembling my bags, so I had to sit there craning my neck to watch it closely (since I was in an airport that, at least at the time, was #1 in the nation for items mysteriously vanishing while in the hands of the TSA, both in security lines and in checked luggage).

    I’m sure I looked suspicious as heck while I watched them like a hawk, but considering that they forced me to empty my pockets completely, they had at least a thousand dollars worth of equipment in their hands.

  102. Hmmm… I fly a lot, this year has been pretty light, but it’s easily north of 75,000, at my peak (2006) I know I cracked Earth to Moon.

    I have had full body scans when they were testing them at LHR about 3-4 years ago – it was interesting, firstly you could skip the Terminal 4 security line of Dooooommmmm and as they were testing the service I got to look at the pictures and chat to the operator. In some respects I echo John, and if somebody wants to get their jollys looking at my avatar or feeling my groin then have at it, just LET ME GET TO THE BLOODY GATE QUICKLY.

    Intrusive body pat downs are a fact of life at some airports. My wife once asked a woman at Frankfurt if she’d like to go for a drink after a mandatory one back in 05/06.

    For the vast majority of people the potential radiation isn’t an issue, oh, and by the way, you’re about to strap yourself into a thin aluminium tube 11kms in the air – I suspect that the radiation exposure is probably similar, so I do think it’s a tad rich coming from pilots and crew.

    However… it doesn’t really catch bombs, it doesn’t speed things up and therefore it’s a waste of time and money for all of us. I’d rather, as a frequent flyer, see a formal frequently flyer accreditation process so I can have minimal security in return for allowing some additional intrusion into my life. But as I said, I’m in airports several times a month and there’s nothing worse than an infrequent flyer in the line in front of you at 6am getting a strop on because they have to unlace their knee high, laced, hiking boots.

    A final thought. We went on vacation a few weeks ago and, as this was on a US airline and a 4+ hour flight, we took a picnic. Some nice nuts, a pasta salad, some pate and specialist cheeses, and very nice it was too…

    I couldn’t take water or even an empty bottle through security but they didn’t even inspect a bad containing about a half kilo of dense materials wrapped in plastic…

    I’m just saying….

  103. I have minor body image issues, so the thought of even blurry grayscale nakedness being given to someone I don’t even know, much less have truly consented to giving it to, is something I dislike. I also dislike being touched by strangers. So there’s that.

    But I suppose it’s the assumption that I am a criminal that sets my nerves on edge about this, really.

  104. Flying has gone from being kind of fun (pre-9/11) to a gigantic hassle (pre-backscattering and groping) to a serious breech of our rights as citizens.

    I for one am just done. No more flying for me. If I can’t drive or take a train, I guess I’m not going.

  105. well john pistole’s interview on the Newshour tonight was equally evasive. he answered few of margaret warner’s questions and sadly she didn’t ask any followups or press him on any of it.

  106. Kai at 109–I wore skirts (the long crinkle-pleat kind) through airports early on in my artificial knee experience, and the pat-downs were worse that way–more groping and intrusive, but always (for me at least) on top of the skirt material, not under. I always go as passenger tightpants now.

  107. Just Google it dude. I’m not your research monkey. It took me all of 3 minutes to find out who was supplying the machines and who owned the company.

    Just FYI, that’s not much of an answer, given the lack of quality control in information sources. Half the info sources I check out on the web are wildly inaccurate. That may or may not apply to your source, but we can’t tell at the moment.

  108. @109 there has been a post or two about wearing a long skirt or a dress will get you sent to the private room to remove it for the gropeharassment

  109. @117 – Just a note that you might want to avoid the private rooms, especially if you’re female. I’m not particularly worried about being raped (6’2″, 240lbs, bald, overweight and unattractive), but once you’re in there in private anything that happens is your word against theirs. And we know how much more credible courts find officials – even rentathugs like the TSA! Additionally relevant to everyone is that once you’re in the privacy box you don’t get out until they let you out and ALL of your carry on stuff is just sitting there free for the taking.

    Another point that just occurred to me: who’s maintaining these machines? When I was under the gamma knife as part of my cancer treatment the machine was tested and recalibrated after every patient. Granted, the pornoscopes aren’t as sensitive a radiation device, but I’d think that several hundred (thousand?) uses each day would require some sort of maintenance/recalibration. How would you ever know if the radiation level went up suddenly? Especially if they won’t tell you what the radiation level is supposed to be originally? How will you ever know if the shielding fails? When people next to you in line start glowing?

  110. Being an adult content place I won’t direct link, just in case, but Figleaf, at his blog(Realadultsex dot com NSFW) and his many wonderful peeps have a couple of good points on the issue.

    My favourite,
    Holly: “The part that really scares me is that it’s fairly clear the pat-down has been made more invasive not so it’s more effective, but so it’ll serve as a deterrent to keep people from opting out. It’s a creepily sexualized retaliation for being disobedient, not an actual security measure in itself.”

    There are two sequential posts with great comments.

  111. Mark Towler @ 118,

    Per a TSA news release the government contractor awarded the maintenance contract on the machines…… wait for it…..Siemens Maintenance. That’s just funny I don’t care who you are.

  112. Billy @ 121: That’s actually mildly comforting as they at least know something about medical radiology. However, it’s useless if we don’t know how much radiation they produce, what their maximum limit is, how often they should be serviced and if they’ve been rigorously long-term tested. I’m just waiting for a cancer patient to relapse, get a shark lawyer and attempt to sue the bejesus out of the TSA on the grounds that they made the cancer return…

  113. to answer your question about the israeli system and why it won’t work in the states (i worked as a supervisor at tel aviv airport security):
    1. in israel they use profiling (among other things) to assess each traveler’s security threat. that would never fly in the states. also, because of the profiling the vast majority of passengers can be quickly assessed to not be a threat in israel, but not in the us, even in the unlikely event the american public would agree to profiling at their airports.
    2. the scale is not 11 airports to 350+. there is one major airport in israel. it gets maybe 80 flights on a busy day. the rest don’t get 20 between them, so the whole country has the air traffic of a medium sized regional airport in america. and they need several hundred security personnel to get that working efficiently.

  114. How naive of me, I thought that the 4th amendment to the Constitution meant something.
    I was under the impression that the electronic transmission of nude images of minors made through force or coercion was illegal, but I guess that’s just me being pedantic again.

    Back to my pie.

  115. I feel like there’s a Constitutional amendment that directly prohibits this kind of thing. Something about unreasonable searches and needing a warrant. The mere act of wanting to fly should not be probable cause for a search of this type. Somehow, the Supreme Court needs to rule on this.

  116. it occurred to me that a lot of ire towards the scanner is ground in people wanting to be protective of their children and that theorem children shouldn’t have to endure unreasonable searches.

    and it just struck me that that means people can’t be bothered to get protective about their own rights or the rights of others not related by genetic transmisssion. and that they think they or anyone else *should* endure unreasonable searches.

    i guess if that’s what it takes to get people worked up enough to get off their ass and push back an authoritarian government, well, all i can say is, thank heaven for little girls. without them there would be no limit to what government could do.

  117. @some guy: IN my experience of trying to get out of Tel Aviv in the morning, there is nothing efficient about the way the airport works.

  118. i’ve been to tel aviv. i recall being informed by someone knowlegeble to get to the gate two hours before takeoff. got there and they basically interviewed everyone getting on the plane. where are you going? who are you going to see? how long are you going to be there? yada. yada.

    i am not entirely sure that’s any less of an unreasonable search than we have now. its also labor intensive, requires lots of training, is subject to potential abuse, and probably just would work at so.e place like, say, o hare.

    armored cockpits solves the problem. everything else we’re doing is theater and authoritarian government being authoritarian.

  119. Every time I go to the airport I wear a cowboy hat and a shirt with a confederate flag on it. I also make sure to call someone “pardner” within hearing of a TSA agent while taking off my boots.

    I have never been stopped, even once.

  120. Some comments about Israeli security:
    1. The security process is nice and smooth as long as you’re not an Arab. Too often Arabs are subjected to a “whole lot of love”, even if it has been known for a time now that some of them are actually innocent people wanting to catch a flight.
    2. Israeli security works on the basis of profiling passengers, a process that starts from when your travel agent books you on a flight. In order for the system to work Israel has to collect a lot of information about you, information the average American would consider private (e.g., religious belief or army records). Israelis are used to it: They all have to carry IDs, and one of the items on their ID is their religion. If that doesn’t say “Jew” you should expect trouble at the airport.

    Does America really want to head in that direction?

  121. this coming Thursday I plan on getting the TSA screening as I fly home from Anchorage. I will let the Whatever readers know if it is worth the fuss or if the TSA agent finds my labia minora ring. or any polyps more commonly discovered on colonoscopy.

  122. I read these stories and I’m reminded of the words of comedian Frankie Boyle:
    “They airport security is inconvenient, if you’re a white guy. If you have a beard or a turban then you are eighteen months away from being forced to fly naked on a clear plastic plane.”

  123. A friend of mine who is a registered radiology technician asked some *very* good questions like Who runs the machines? Who trained them? Who calibrated the equipment? Are they calibrated by a board-certified physicist? He also points out that he has seen no place where the FDA has stated publicly that they are *safe*. Article here.

  124. Look, it is pretty simple. The Israeli security model is effective and ours is not. We absolutely refuse to do profiling, and the Israeli system depends on it.

    Most of the TSA security theater is useless, but it looks like they are doing something, and that is all that is required to give the politicians cover when there is an incident.

    I’m not personally offended by the full body scan (similar reaction to yours), but I am offended by the fact that the whole process is carefully designed to remind us that we are subjects, not citizens.

  125. Todd @132 – thanks for sharing that link. Most of my thoughts on it are an incoherent jumble of outrage and shock. The cynic in me wonders how much longer people will be allowed to have cell phones/cameras in their possession while going through screening, to prevent us from being able to record eggregious overstepping of government officials like this.

    Or, if they can’t figure a way to ban/prevent the taking of such video or audio recordings, then they can go after them as illegally made/shared recordings as was recently done to a motorcyclist in Maryland who was pulled over by a non-uniformed off-duty policeman who approached him with his weapon drawn. To be fair, the motorcyclist had been an idiot, and the state lost their case prosecuting him for release of the video he took — but it was a close thing and current law in MD says that citizens do not have the right to record public officials in public carrying out their job duties. I can definitely see this sort of law being extended to protect the TSA nationally and prevent people from recording the truth of incidents like these.

  126. i am shocked and saddened by it all as well. the more i read of this the less hope i have the TSA or government will really care one whit about any of this (reading now about a 4yr old boy who had to remove his leg brace for a gropeharassment, and a nun who was groped as well). i am glad to see blog posts and media coverage exploding today. TSA get a clue, these children, elderly and others are not terrorists, they aren’t ever going to be terrorists.

  127. My better half is into photography, with film. Here in Oz the security people try to intimidate you into putting the film through the x-ray machine. True one or two passes shouldn’t hurt but when we’re travelling the film may have to go through a dozen x-ray machines and the dosage is cumulative. We’re entitled to ask for a hand check and at most airports world wide security usually will do it with little protest. However here in Oz sometimes the security people have a near tantrum before they relent to a hand check. And they have to relent. A few years ago we had about 200 rolls in plastic canisters and the security person opened every single roll thinking it would annoy us. She had that smug look of “I am so inconveniencing you”. We were early. We really didn’t give a shit. By about the 50th roll she wasn’t looking so smug and was barely glancing at what she was doing. By the 100th she looked like she was looking for an excuse to stop. We just grinned at her. Finally she swept the remaining rolls into the bag and handed them back to us.
    Nowadays we don’t carry the rolls of film in canisters. We bag them up in clear zip-lock bags to make it easier for the security people to check. They still bitch though. Whiney bitching too.
    Checking film is small potatoes compared to body scans and “enhanced pat downs”. My guess is the security officers see the body scan as doing their job for them. If you opt out they just have to get off their fat arses and do some work. Nobody likes doing work. Of course they’re going to make you suffer.

  128. I don’t think they use profiling here in Oz either. The last few times I’ve been at the airport the people they choose to shake down seems bizarre. Little old ladies. Mothers with children. Frail old men. Most recently my very pregnant partner had to do the bomb and drug residue swabbing thing. They rarely ever pick me and I’ve never had to remove my shoes and I am a big boofy bloke.

    Here is more bad publicity for the TSA…

  129. I’m not flying until another option is available. I don’t have to fly for work, thank goodness, and my family can visit me. I’m not exposing myself to questionable radiation while trying to get pregnant, and it will be a cold day in hell before I let a TSA person touch my breasts or genitals. And it isn’t only same sex TSA gropers. The little 3 year old girl was groped by a male TSA agent, and so was the female rape survivor another poster linked to. I don’t mind stripping butt-naked, but don’t you DARE touch me!

  130. Apparently my last two comments were swallowed by the spam filter but if you do a search for mommy blogger enhanced pat down and Sydney Morning Herald you will find the story.

  131. The TSA is wasting your money on obsoleete, counter security measures (ie. backscatter machines), that suicide bombers have already developed work arounds for.

    Reactive security policy, is too little too late. Unfortunatly that is what we have here, and their claims that this would have stopped the underware bomber, are sad and untrue; because at best (according to the manufacture) it might (50/50) have stopped him and to say other wise is a lie and using fear to justifie this poor policy.

    Not only is this not real security it is not even a deterent against smuggling a bomb onto a plane; because it only requires some creative thinking or an a#@hole (which everyone has, and the TSA is) to circumvent this expensive toy.

    This is a deterent; The Russians had people, in this case Chechen women, who were “packaging” bombs and “unpackaging” them on the plane. These packaged bombs were successfully detenated and brought down two planes almost simaltaniously, killing everyone on board.

    Anyways, surrendering freedom for the illusion of security is a pretty poor deal.

  132. My favorite line; from the Forbes link;

    “Over the next few years, we’re headed for a bitter, partisan clash over legislative priorities. Before the battle starts, let’s reach for that low-hanging, bipartisan fruit. Let’s abolish the TSA”.

  133. The patdowns are supposed to be done by same-sex officers, so nobody’s teen daughter is going to get groped by some lecherous guy

    Interesting protest idea: demand that the pat-down be done by someone of the opposite sex.

  134. How cute, people that still believe bipartisanism is anything more than an empty phrase the GOP tosses around to convince the naive that their stonewalling Congress and the Senate is entirely the fault of the Democrats for not giving them what they want.

  135. All this Aussie woman can say is the TSA have successfully made me take the US off my list of “places to visit”, not to mention “places to change flights” or “places to pass through/by/over”. If the insistence on this level of security theatre is still ongoing when I’m next able afford travel overseas, I’ll probably follow the example of three out of four of my grandparents, and go by boat. But then, I’m waiting to see the TSA propose in all serious what previously I’ve only heard suggested in sarcastic comment: that for their safety and comfort, all airline passengers will be required to strip naked, be strapped to a flat board, wrapped in cling film, and sedated for the duration of their journey.

  136. Unlike most people, I’ve had the full body scan. It happened at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, and I would take it any day over having to remove my shoes, coat, keys, belt, etc. It takes less than a second, the amount of radiation received is negligible, and if some TSA employee gets off on seeing a half second view of flabby middle aged overweight female flesh in a Playtex bra, they’ll get more fun at the average mall on the day after Thanksgiving.

  137. To sum up: we get to choose between the radioactive stripsearch kiddie-porn machine or the supposed-to-be-but-actually-not-always-same-sex full body grope. Delightful.

  138. I think the full body scans and the groping are red herrings. I think the TSA is happy to have everyone make a fuss about them. They can lighten up on the pat downs and the fuss will die down and the real problem will remain. These people have too much power to screw up people’s lives and the people have no recourse but to keep their heads down and hope for the best.

    I realized this the first time a TSA made a remark about my clothing that I didn’t appreciate. He can say anything he wants because he has the power to make me miss my flight, costing me hundreds of dollars, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Sure, I can complain. After I’ve missed a flight I can’t afford to miss.

    The real problem isn’t the scans. It really isn’t. The real problem is that no one can stop these people from abusing their power and we have ample evidence that they are doing exactly that.

  139. Ellid @ 151 – whatever scan you got at Schipol is not what they are doing here. Everything must be removed for the TSA scans – belt, shoes, jewlery and your pockets have to be *completely* empty. I’ve been through twice in the last few weeks.

    Also, there are significant questions about how much radiation is absorbed by the skin. Unlike other types of radiation, which are distributed throughout the body, all of the backscatter radiation is absorbed by the skin, which may create an increased risk for skin cancer – especially for some people. Nor has the radiation been tested on children.

    Finally, what people wear to the mall is voluntary. Being forced to been seen naked by a stranger in order to travel is another. On, there are videos of 100 people improperly saved from a scanner of people entering a courthouse. Maybe you don’t care if the world sees you in your Playtex bra, but it isn’t unreasonable to demand that the TSA does not make this happen to you.

  140. i think that maybe the problem is this:
    somewhere along the line people started judging the appropriateness of what its government does based on whether they were willing to tolerate it, whether they could be bothered to do anything about it, whether they (or their children) would likely be the victim of that policy being abused or not.

    i am fairly certain that at some point this country operated not purely on individual self interest, but universal principles like due process and things like that.

    i wonder if the civile rights act could pass today, because it would require white people to give a damn about something that will never negatively impact them. the responses about the scanners are more often falling into the ‘they probably wont care to look at my flabby body’ rather than addressing that someone else will suffer that treatment. or rather than looking at the bigger principles being violated free:

    the government is spending money on eqipment that doesn’t make us any safer but makes us less free. the tsa does nothing to stop terrorists but is enforcing a regime that demands full compliance with its authority.

    and a common response is ‘meh, they probably wont molest me’???

  141. Mythago@155 – thanks for the links. It’s a relief to know that I’m not mutating as we speak, from the exposures I’ve had in the last few weeks. Or at least not mutating from backscatter radiation.

  142. Mythago @ 155 — Here’s a link to a letter of concern from UCSF scientists (pdf warning), who are biophysics and biochemistry experts including a Nobel Laureate.

    They dispute what the TSA and FDA are saying and express concern that no independent safety data exists and about keeping the machines in proper repair/calibration, among other concerns.

  143. Beagles work better. Sure, we’d need a lot of them but they’re a better investment overall and most people would rather be nosed by a dog than touched by a stranger.

    Q: Whatever happened to the nitrogen-compound sniffer machines, the ones that blew a stream of air over you and detected trace amount of potential explosives (and also the lawn fertilizer on your shoes)?

  144. Ellie @158 – that’s the letter that the FDA is responding to in Mythago’s links. I may not trust the TSA to do science, but I do trust the FDA – generally.


  145. Apologies if someone above posted this already…if so I missed it. One concern over the millimeter wave scans is that they intentionally focus the radiation at the skin surface. It sounds like some of the calculations used to assert safety have assumed the radiation was distributed over the body volume and not its area, thus underestimating the dose. Not my area of expertise. The linked open letter of concern posted by some UCSF faculty explains it better:

  146. Tor @ 160— those scientists have said that the FDA’s response is inadequate and they are formulating a response of their own.

    And I wouldn’t be so fast to trust the FDA. Hormone replacement for women, Vioxx, Thalidomide, etc. More than not trusting the FDA though, do you trust the TSA, whose workers are hardly radiologists, to keep these machines in proper calibration?

  147. For a girl, it’s actually very noninvasive due to our blessedly small anatomy. I flew unaware that in a skirt, they are required to pat you down. I was taken to the side by a FEMALE officer (had to wait for her actually) who wanted my father present until she learned I was 23 and traveling with only my sister, offered a private screening (which I decline), and simply flattened the skirt against my leg and kept hand strictly to the leg and ran down on both sides.

    That was it. And I was entirely comfortable with that.

  148. ok i have called all the major airlines today to say i will I will refrain from flying until full-body scanners are removed and security procedures return to a reasonable level. please do this as well if you can

  149. Ellie @ 163:
    “And I wouldn’t be so fast to trust the FDA. Hormone replacement for women, Vioxx, Thalidomide, etc.”

    Wait, what? First of all, hormone replacement therapy was based on years of research, and many women do use it — what’s the issue? That it can potentially increase your population risk of breast cancer? That’s not even nearly the same thing as your own personal risk of breast cancer, plus heart disease/stroke kills ten times more women each year (400,000 women versus 40,000 women with cancer), only the breast cancer lobby is better-known. Even if I had a family history of breast cancer, I’d still want HRT in case menopausal symptoms became unbearable, as they can.

    Vioxx and the other NSAIDs also have the same perceptual issue: they raise the population risk of heart disease, but not your personal risk. At the same time, those drugs were — in some cases — the only pain killers that actually worked for patients with chronic severe pain and were not narcotics. My mother-n-law needed celebrex for her severe arthritis, and narcotics in the elderly are just problematic — constipation, sedation (on top of dementia — not a good combination), etc. — there’s no one perfect drug for everyone. As long as the patient is made aware of the potential complications and is allowed to make a choice, then drugs like Vioxx and Celebrex have their place in the formulary.

    Finally, thalidomide? Really? The FDA blocked thalidomide from being used in the USA in 1967 and you want to blame them for it? Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey of the FDA prevented the release of thalidomide on the market, as it was intended for use in pregnant women then. Currently, thalidomide is used for specific cancers and for the treatment of wasting syndrome; it’s a fine drug as long as it is never given to a pregnant woman in her first trimester. Accutane, for comparison, is teratogenic throughout the pregnancy. Both Accutane and Thalidomide are currently approved for specific use by the FDA, with stringent guidelines. That’s their job, to prevent unnecessary illness or death from dangerous drugs while still allowing drugs with specific purpose to be given to patients in need.

  150. I think I have no problem with a full-body scan.

    The problem for me, though, is that even if you choose that option, it’s no guarantee you won’t have an additional invasive pat down.

    If someone’s child in your line travels with a stuffed animal, that animal has a good chance of having metal washers used to set its eyes in, and that can cause the x-ray scanner to go off (multiple times for multiple animals). And that can cause the entire line to get patted down.

    And apparently that’s what happened in the journalist’s-daughter-was-groped video.

    I hope that it’s not the case that they always move their hand up until it touches the lip of one’s vagina or the outline of one’s balls. The world isn’t built around people who suffer from PTSD, I know that, but that kind of pat-down may or may not be enough to cause a fully-immersive flashback for me. And the last full flashback I had was violent.

    But apparently, from what others say here, this kind of security is par for the course in airports globally, so it looks like it’s not going away, and any protest is useless. If you’re not ready to be patted down, or if it would cause you some kind of psychological issue—don’t fly. It’s not like you’d be able to if you lived in another country. We just happened to be slower than the rest.

    Anyways… I’m not flying. Not really any other choice that can be made for me. For others, apparently there’s no problem at all, so good for them.

  151. @ 169 Ginger. There may be really good uses for hormone replacement therapy and Vioxx or Celebrex. I wasn’t commenting on their medical uses or saying people shouldn’t use. Just that the FDA has a history of saying things are safe before independent studies have been done, and those things aren’t as safe as the FDA initially stated. Before scanning an entire nation of people we should be damn sure the FDA is correct and there should be independent analysis of the data, which has not been done to date.

  152. My problems are with the calibration and maintenance, presuming FDA is correct about the dose administered.

    As to the young girl that was searched: (1) The parents should have sent the teddy bear through the baggage scanner; (2) The TSA people involved must have below room temp. IQs to have mishandled that so badly (or well).

    Personally, I think the TSA should be using profiling. I also think they should issue any adult passenger a .45 Colt on demand, to be surrendered at the terminus.

    What happened to the Sky Marshals who were to be onboard flights?

  153. The video of the 3 year old seems to have been removed (perhaps anothe rcopy is around, I’ve not gone searching). But the text that goes with it makes it clear that it was not that she took the teddy bear with her through the metal detector — it was taken from her to go thorugh the regular baggage scanner, which upset her greatly and made her not walk properly thru the detector, which caused it to go off.

  154. @#174:

    Ma’am, with all due respect, a metal detector isn’t affected by stride, just metal. I haven’t seen the video, have no idea as to the child’s attire (overalls, forex, have metal fastenings, females have things like barettes in their hair, et c.), but physics is physics.

  155. This’ll work: TSA Announces Facebook Integration For Full Body Scanners.

    John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, announced yesterday that full body scanners at airports across the nation will be seamlessly integrated with Facebook next month, allowing travelers to save, tag, and share their near-naked security photos with friends, family, and co-workers through the popular social networking site.

  156. I’m not sure but has anyone thought of using bloodhounds and beagles as people bomb sniffers? They don’t need to buy the expensive scanners that seem to not detect what they want them to detect. I don’t think it is possible to fool a bloodhound, even with an implanted bomb. Between cute doggies and passengers willing and able to beat the crap out of the moron who smuggles a knife aboard, I think that we all would be safe as can be without being sexually assaulted having the 4th amendment run over for no good reason.

    Of course I’m sure that the top TSA officials are getting some sort of kickback from the scanner makers and since the above solution makes sense and is likely cheaper, it will never happen.

  157. I’m of the opinion that no one (aside from three very specific people) should be touching my ladybits unless there is a warrant involved and the only person who should have control over how much or how little clothing I am seen wearing is me.

    As far as I’m concerned the TSA are no better than terrorists.

  158. #177
    Actually, metal detectors are absolutely affected by how you move through them.

    My husband used to travel in military uniform with the little metal backed ribbons and badges and shiny belt buckles and all that. A pilot taught him a trick regarding how to go through the metal detector: Step through with your body held almost sideways, arms out, so that your watch, your belt buckle and your pockets don’t occupy the same plane at the same time as you step through the doorway.

    If he walked through head on like a normal person, WEEP WEEP WEEP, but if he imitated Mr. Zip (I’m old–GIS it), nary a blip. I also tried it with overalls (don’t judge me, it was the 90’s) and got the same results.

    It’s my understanding that walking too slow or too fast or touching the sides of the doorway will also bring on the wrath of the beepity beep, and little kids frequently take direction poorly, especially when their magical little kid radar detects that This Shit Is Important, Yo.

  159. The head of the TSA is worried about the potential hassle and increased security threat to people flying on Nov 24th because of those planning to protest. (

    To those people, I would say: Don’t fly that day. Simple solution, right? I’m sure your plans can easily be altered, to either travel a different day or by a different method, or not to travel at all. Sure, it’s slightly inconvenient, but no where near as inconvenient as being told to not fly at all if you have a probelm with the current security measures.

  160. “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

    -Benjamin Franklin

    Mr. Franklin, is 100% correct, those who are “ok” with the TSA taking away their freedom for the ILLUSION of security, are cowards and fools. Especially since this security is fundamentally flawed, anyone who is determined to smuggle anyhing onto a plane can do so.

  161. I also think they should issue any adult passenger a .45 Colt on demand, to be surrendered at the terminus

    Not so sure that’s a good idea. Setting aside the whole safety issue of some bozo accidentally shooting a hole in the plane body or a window, it’s just too tempting a method of dealing with that asshole next to me who steals the armrest and jabs me with his elbows while obliviously using his smartphone.

  162. We could do away with all the outrage, and save a butt-ton of public money, by closing down the passenger screening (continue to check luggage, of course), and simply restore our Second Amendment Civil Rights in airports and on planes. Armed Passengers=No More High-jackings.

  163. Oops, apparently someone beat me to it…

    @mythago: The “explosive decompression from a bullet hole” shtick is a movie myth. A BAD movie myth. And I say this with 20 years of military aviation maintenance experience. 99% of an aircraft is nothing but sheet-metal (or composite skin…) and the other 1% has a lot of redundancy. It takes several square feet of missing skin to make a noticeable amount of lower cabin preasure.

    I know how to bring down a plane from the inside with a sidearm, but it would still take a lot of effort and luck. Meanwhile, the guy/gal next to me SHOULD be doing their dead-level-best to stop me, and they should not be handicapped in their efforts by being disarmed by a government afraid of its own citizens.

  164. Pave @192: I wasn’t talking about explosive decompression, but decompression. I’m glad to hear that a single bullet hole won’t make much difference, but really, the “one hero with a gun saves the world” thing is also a movie myth – and I say that as a fellow gunfondler. One handgun vs. two hundred angry passengers? *I* wouldn’t want to be the guy with the handgun. Let’s please advocate for the Second Amendment with reality-based arguments, rather than the pretense that if we can’t take guns on the party flight to Vegas, we’re sitting ducks for Al Qaeda.

    Plus, you know, a Colt .45 is a pretty freaking big gun, especially for those of us who don’t have big manly-sized hands.

    Bruce Schneier makes a very persuasive argument: “Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back. Everything else — Secure Flight and Trusted Traveler included — is security theater.”

  165. mythago @ 194: If you examine links to news reports such as those at, it is quite frequent that one person with a gun, or simply the will and tools to resist a criminal, does “save the world”, or at least a small part of it. And, since you seem to have stipulated that disarming Citizens accomplishes nothing to increase security, perhaps it is time to try it the other way, which demonstratably works in the non-mythical real world.

    I like 1911’s a lot, but they certainly aren’t for everyone. Fortunately there are a plethora of sizes and shapes of handguns with something suitable for almost everyone, should they so choose.

  166. And, since you seem to have stipulated that disarming Citizens accomplishes nothing to increase security

    What increases security is, as has been pointed out over and over, secure cockpit doors and passengers who are happy to beat any potential terrorist to death with their bare hands. Intelligent profiling – not the “search all Muslins” stupid variety we tend to practice in the US – helps too. “Should people be allowed to bring their weapons on an airplane?” is a separate and completely unrelated question that shouldn’t be an excuse to hijack the debate to one about the Second Amendment.

  167. The point is that the passengers shouldn’t have to be forced to use their bare hands (while the pilots remain shielded behind their door in relatively greater safety). Not when society has gone to some effort to create tools much more efficient and that allow us to stop criminals with less threat to our own safety. I should not have to accept greater risk to myself by being forced to grapple bare-handed with a criminal, who may or may not be armed.

    And this is exactly what the Second Amendment is about, to ensure the means to defend ones-self, ones community and ones nation, against threats external and internal. Not a thread highjack, it’s the logical extension of the “security” debate.

  168. I’ve also neglected to add that it is very deeply a Fourth Amendment issue as well. Warentless searches are a huge problem for me.

  169. Failed, take two.

    “It is very likely that a large (15–20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology, ironically, because of its large volume, since it is easily confused with normal anatomy. Thus, a third of a kilo of PETN, easily picked up in a competent pat down, would be missed by backscatter “high technology”. Forty grams of PETN, a purportedly dangerous amount, would fit in a 1.25 mm-thick pancake of the dimensions simulated here and be virtually invisible. Packed in a compact mode, say, a 1 cm × 4 cm × 5 cm brick, it would be detected”.

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