If you haven’t been flying lately, you’re in for quite a treat. As of the end of October, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) unveiled a new regime of heightened security for airline passengers that include full body xray scans or some very intimate pat downs.
Many people are dealing with the invasions of privacy with a “what can you do” attitude. Others are attempting to find a little humor (and make a little profit), like the creators of these “Your Naked Photos Are Safe With Us” anti-TSA shirts. But more and more passengers are complaining about the treatment, which some have said borders on out and out sexual assault.
The new screeners, known as “backscatters,” allow the security personnel to see a fully detailed body image of the passenger, without clothing. Some are objecting, refusing to head into the machine for privacy reasons. Others are worried about the possible health effects of being subjected to radiation from what is essentially a high tech x-ray machine, an allegation that the White House is currently denying.
Whatever the reason people are forgoing the backscatter machines, there appears to be a conscious and planned agenda by the screeners to then submit those people to a full body pat down, and one that many are accusing is exceptionally detailed, intimate and humiliating, as a way to deter others in line from opting out of the machines. Jeffery Goldberg reports, after his own talk with TSA agents:
I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. “Nobody’s going to do it,” he said, “once they find out that we’re going to do.”
In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.” He called over a colleague. “Tell him what you call the back-scatter,” he said. “The Dick-Measuring Device,” I said. “That’s the truth,” the other officer responded.
The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, “Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.”
The agent snapped on his blue gloves, and patiently explained exactly where he was going to touch me. I felt like a sophomore at Oberlin.
“I’m going to run my hands up your thighs, and then feel your buttocks, then I’m going to reach under you until I meet –”
“Resistance?” I interrupted.
“Yes, resistance. Do you want to go into a private room?” he asked.
“Are you asking me into a private room?” I said. He looked confused. I said, “No, here is fine.”
Goldberg reacted with some humor, but he seems to be a rare case. One man reports being escorted out of the security area, then being told he would be fined $10,000 if he attempted to leave the airport without going through a pat down, as he “gave up his consent” when he originally purchased his ticket. Another woman, a rape survivor, ended up in tears as she felt herself being touched against her will, and by a male agent (the TSA promises a same sex agent, but many reports deny that is occurring). One woman in Dayton reports being giving the “enhanced pat down” with no warning that it would include touching her breasts and genitals, in an airport that didn’t even have a new scanning machine.
She patted my left arm, my right arm, my upper back and my lower back. She then said, “I need to reach in and feel along the inside of your waistband.”
She felt along my waistline, moved behind me, then proceeded to feel both of my buttocks. She reached from behind in the middle of my buttocks towards my vagina area.
She did not tell me that she was going to touch my buttocks, or reach forward to my vagina area.
She then moved in front of my and touched the top and underneath portions of both of my breasts.
She did not tell me that she was going to touch my breasts.
She then felt around my waist. She then moved to the bottoms of my legs.
She then felt my inner thighs and my vagina area, touching both of my labia.
She did not tell me that she was going to touch my vagina area or my labia.
She then told me that I could put my shoes on and I asked if I could pick up the baby, she replied Yes.
She then moved back to my belongings to finish scanning them with the paper discs for explosives. When she finished she said I was free to go.
I stood there holding my baby in shock. I did not move for almost a minute.
I stood there, an American citizen, a mom traveling with a baby with special needs formula, sexually assaulted by a government official. I began shaking and felt completely violated, abused and assaulted by the TSA agent. I shook for several hours, and woke up the next day shaking.
As the Atlantic reports, these sorts of tactics would be unheard of if the military did them, especially to women and children.
A US Army staff sergeant, now serving in Afghanistan, writes about the new enhanced pat-down procedure from the TSA. Summary of his very powerful message: to avoid giving gross offense to the Afghan public, and to prevent the appearance of an uncontrolled security state, the US military forbids use on Afghan civilians of the very practices the TSA is now making routine for civilian travelers at US airports. Here is what he says:
>>In reading your post and the most recent one from Mr. Goldberg about the War on Terror and pedophilia, I am disturbed. What bothers me is that I am on the verge of re-deploying from Afghanistan after a 10-month combat tour that involved having to deal with, among other things, conducting searches of local nationals when involved with security tasks within my Infantry company. At no time were we permitted or even encouraged to search children or women. In fact, this would have been considered an extreme violation of acceptable cultural practice and given the way word travels here, been a propaganda victory for the Taliban.
But that doesn’t seem to be stopping the screeners who are dealing with obviously terrified children, as this video demonstrates:
The TSA is attempting to answer questions and allegations on its own blog, but the new stories seem to be coming in too quickly for them to keep up. Either that, or it is only responding to accusations if they have verifiable proof that the screeners were in the right.
Many people are willing to sacrifice a lot for security, but not their own right to personal privacy of body, nor the safety of their children. Organized efforts are already being made to protest these new searches either by arranging no fly days or mass opt-outs of the backscatter machines, to create so many additional patdowns that it would essentially back up the airports.
But the most important thing to do when flying is remember that you do in fact have rights as a flyer, as much as the airport security people may try to tell you otherwise. Be certain those rights are given to you and stand up for yourself.