The Full Body Scan Hate-fest

Body-scanners Truth be told, I sometimes get a tad jealous of my uber-successful friends whose Facebook statuses mock me for my mediocrity. This one is going to the conference in this fantastic locale. That one is giving the keynote speech at that Ivy-covered building. "Off to London. Ta-Ta!" or "Oh, dear. Yet another  honor. What should I wear?" And then there's me. Sitting in a dreary suburb with poison ivy on my face from raking leaves.

Then I slug back another shot of luke warm coffee and plan my day doing whatever inspires me at that particular moment, and I'm fine.

I'm also amused by the rants on Facebook and the blogs about the new-TSA scans. Dan Drezner, Nate Silver and Megan McArdle rant away.

45 thoughts on “The Full Body Scan Hate-fest

  1. I really do hope this thing hits the airlines hard enough that the feds have to back down. But I wish the backlash would move more rapidly as I’m flying for Thanksgiving. I’ll be travelling with a small child who I’d rather not have irradiated or groped. Maybe we don’t have the machines in our airport yet.
    Anyway, as unhappy as I was about the end of Bush’s presidency, at least he made sure TSA didn’t get civil service protection. I’d hate to have something horrible and, even in theory, unfireable.

  2. Then I slug back another shot of luke warm coffee and plan my day doing whatever inspires me at that particular moment, and I’m fine.
    This is more or less my strategy in life, too, though you have to put something like “cognac” in for “luke warm coffee”.

  3. The FDA is banning alcohol/caffeine drinks such as fourloko. What does this mean for coffee and alcohol combinations? Mind you, when I saw on the local news a definition of how much of each substance is in fourloko, I stopped worrying about the caffeine/alcohol combination. Five beers and one cup of coffee? If most college freshmen drink five beers, they’re down for the count.
    The Full Body Scan would seem to me to fit the definition of an unreasonable search. I don’t think it’s constitutional. It’s like assuming you can search every house in the United States because a few houses have unregistered guns. (And the proportion of fliers who have evil intentions is smaller than unregistered gun owners.)

  4. (And the proportion of fliers who have evil intentions is smaller than unregistered gun owners.)
    The proportion of fliers with evil intentions is probably quite high since management consultants fly all the time. But, until there is a way to make money by murdering someone on a plane, the rest of us are safe from that menace.

  5. I really do hope this thing hits the airlines hard enough that the feds have to back down.
    MH, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m very, very rarely on the “just say no!” side when it comes to government agencies; I tend to accept that, however ludicrous some of their hoops, they are decent people trying to solve difficult problems at work. And seriously, I believe that about the TSA as well. But this? What about the respect owned to one’s fellow citizens? What about decency? I would far, far prefer to have invasive questions posed to me by an Israeli soldier, than stand like a criminal while radiation gets shot at me, making a nude image of me for some to blankly stare at. At least in the case of the soldier, I’d be dealing with a human being.

  6. “It’s like assuming you can search every house in the United States because a few houses have unregistered guns. (And the proportion of fliers who have evil intentions is smaller than unregistered gun owners.)”
    It’s not, ’cause you can choose not to fly. We travel a fair bit, but haven’t gotten hit by a full body scan yet. Will be interesting to see how I feel about it after experiencing it. I’m not particularly concerned about the radiation. I don’t fly frequently enough for it to be a worry. I think the pilots who are concerned have a point. I would be very uncomfortable with the pat-down search, from the descriptions I’ve heard.
    On the other hand, the incident last Christmas freaked a lot of people out — hidden liquid.
    I think a lot of people who rant and complain want the solution to be that you search the other guy, you know, the one who looks like a terrorist. Since that means the guy wearing the funny hat with brown skin, I’m pretty deeply opposed to that solution and also firmly believe that it is not a solution.

  7. This isn’t a solution either. It’s security theater.
    Search the fliers who book last minute, and pay cash. Search the infrequent fliers. Search the crews which service the airplanes. A management consultant who flies every few days may be a nasty person, but he shouldn’t be sorted into the “possible” pile.
    Simply that technology allows you to do a full-body search of every flier, doesn’t meant that you should do it. Has anyone run the numbers on how much all this costs per life potentially saved, or attack potentially averted?
    Again, this is unreasonable. You could search every postal employee at the start of every work shift. That would be a smaller number of people, with a much higher (statistically!) percentage of potential problems.
    This is not reasonable: http://www.news.com.au/travel/news/airport-pat-down-was-sexual-assault/story-e6frfq80-1225955026206. People have been convicted of sexual assault for much less.

  8. It’s not, ’cause you can choose not to fly.
    Then I can drive 17 hours or take the train for 36. If it gets so bad that I won’t fly, I’m fairly certain the airlines will go broke.

  9. Simply that technology allows you to do a full-body search of every flier, doesn’t meant that you should do it. Has anyone run the numbers on how much all this costs per life potentially saved, or attack potentially averted?
    I’d be interested in those numbers, but that’s not what ultimately convinces me. What convinces me is that this is a step too far down a path that we’ve already tolerated far too many steps down already: the path of presuming that “safety” is always and in every way a superior value to showing some damn respect for one’s fellow human beings. Search luggage, sure; make them walk through x-rays or metal detectors to make sure they aren’t lying, sure; ask them questions and check their identification, absolutely. But treat them like meat? Too far, I say.

  10. Been through the x-ray machine. It doesn’t feel invasive but then again, you don’t see what they see. I don’t care about me going through but I do care about my husband who travels several times a month and my 4.5 year old twins.
    I am most concerned for my girls. You have to carry paperwork now for children, did anyone tell anyone this? My girls are adopted and Asian so we always do but what ramifications will that have that they are a different race than us? Will we be flagged now? Do we know there are no pedophiles in this group of people patting down children for banned things?
    If they can’t figure out I have matches/liquid/batteries in my purse, what is this pat down crap going to do? Really.

  11. I had a full-body pat-down in the BOARDING area while flying last Christmas. They were “testing a new security arrangement.” You gotta love some bored-looking, gloved lady running her hands under your breasts while your 8-year olds look on.
    The randomly-selected folks for this procedure couldn’t board their flight (we were chosen from the line as we were boarding) if they didn’t consent.
    I’ve only flown once this year, and both airports had the new scanners. I tried not to think about it. (The radiation and the “naked photo” thing bothered me less than the ridiculous “you have lint in a pocket” problem. The lines were CRAZY.)
    It seems to me this is just the latest in a long line of infringements on our personal liberties, all in the name of stopping the evildoers. Meanwhile, has anyone driven past the gazillion and one vulnerable bits of our power grid and infrastructure, or spent any time in a major port? The focus on airline security is BEYOND ridiculous.
    Yay if the whole “strip before you can fly” provision gets rolled back, but given past experience, I’m not holding my breath.

  12. “Search the fliers who book last minute, and pay cash. Search the infrequent fliers. Search the crews which service the airplanes. A management consultant who flies every few days may be a nasty person, but he shouldn’t be sorted into the “possible” pile. ”
    I really feel like I have to defer to the security experts on this. Profiling based on race I see as a civil rights issue (so, not an issue I’m willing to leave to the security experts). Profiling based on behaviors might pass my civil rights muster, but I wouldn’t pretend to understand its security effects.
    Why for example, would you suggest searching the airport crews but not the frequent flying management consultants?
    I am not in favor of every more invasive security, but if we have it, I want it to apply to everyone, or to have us think very very hard about who we’re applying it to. Then, we all have to take responsibility for the degree to which liberty is being invaded in order to protect us. When the demands and invasions are heaped on the few we avoid that difficult decisions. And, here, I’m talking about a civil rights issue. Even if searching only one category of person was more efficient, I’d be opposed to it, because I want to protect the innocent person who belongs to that category.

  13. I really feel like I have to defer to the security experts on this.
    The ones who keep a “no fly” list that is nearly impossible for an eigth-year old to get removed from and that someone flying from Nigeria, after their parents have notified various authorities about their murderous intend, aren’t on.

  14. I hope this gets even more traction and lets us, collectively, give the pendulum a great big honking push in the other direction. There are lots of behaviors by the security state and their friends in the police forces that need to be rolled back about five years ago, maybe longer. But now would be acceptable.

  15. I can remember being a young child (say 10 or so) and playing with airport security. I’d get my dad to lend me some coins and his keys. I’d then go back through security with them in my pocket. It took a pocket full of metal to set-off the beep and nobody said anything.

  16. And, here, I’m talking about a civil rights issue. Even if searching only one category of person was more efficient, I’d be opposed to it, because I want to protect the innocent person who belongs to that category.
    So, it’s better to search the millions upon millions of innocent people? Under both approaches, that innocent person you want to protect is subject to a search. Under the present plan, however, we can pay people to molest millions of travelers. Repeatedly. I’m not convinced by, “We have to subject everyone to intrusive searches.”
    If we’re serious about security, we have to devote our limited resources to the most likely threats. Baggage, for example, is not going to sweat during questioning.
    Why for example, would you suggest searching the airport crews but not the frequent flying management consultants?
    Airport crews are in the position to leave *things* on airplanes. They could *transfer* things from one airplane to another. It’s not work which calls for highly specialized skills, and all the workers would have to have a security clearance (I hope) to access the planes. The story of razor blades found on an airplane recently makes one wonder how they got there: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20101102/ts_nm/us_usa_japan_flight.
    Frequent flying management consultants have enormous exposure to x-rays from the air travel alone. We know people who travel insane amounts. Has a management consultant ever decided to drop the consultant gig for something more obviously threatening to society? Some might have gotten drunk and obnoxious in flight, but that doesn’t show up on an x-ray scan or pat-down.

  17. “I’d then go back through security with them in my pocket. It took a pocket full of metal to set-off the beep and nobody said anything.”
    Yeah, and this doesn’t work anymore. Ask my son about the magic eight-ball incident. The TSA agent felt really bad about taking it away (he’d put it in his backpack when we weren’t looking). I didn’t mind.
    I see the full-body scans as a way of decreasing our reliance on flawed no-fly lists. The no fly lists were imposed all the costs on a few, and the rest of us could sign petitions, if we cared, or feel safe, if we didn’t, and otherwise ignore them. Random full-body scans require all of us to participate in the discussion, and I think it’s no accident that we’re talking about this now, and not five years ago.
    (I think I’m channeling an argument Megan McArdle made against profiling a few months ago)

  18. “It’s not, ’cause you can choose not to fly.”
    When they start wanting to do cavity checks, will you say the same thing?
    “You gotta love some bored-looking, gloved lady running her hands under your breasts while your 8-year olds look on.”
    So much for all those talks about how our bodies are private and strangers don’t have the right to touch us if we don’t want them to.
    “Profiling based on race I see as a civil rights issue (so, not an issue I’m willing to leave to the security experts). Profiling based on behaviors might pass my civil rights muster, but I wouldn’t pretend to understand its security effects.”
    Geography is important, too. I would like security to pay a lot of special attention to anybody who has spent time in Pakistan or Yemen, to begin with.
    My dad (he used to be a licensed blaster in order to do explosives projects for the Forest Service) says that none of these security procedures make any difference. If you are a well-trained and knowledgeable individual, you’ll be able to figure out how to get explosives onto a plane.

  19. “I would like security to pay a lot of special attention to anybody who has spent time in Pakistan or Yemen, to begin with. ”
    Yeah, this is one I’d see as a civil rights issue. Any other nations you want to add to the list? Indonesia? Nigeria? Kenya? People don’t usually suggest adding India (too politically unfeasible, too big, and too discriminatory), but, if one adds Pakistan, India should be added, too. Or perhaps, only Muslims from India?
    Effectively, discriminating on the basis of “where you’ve spent time” is the same as discriminating based on national origin, race or religion.
    I think there’s a real issue to be discussed about whether the random scans increase security, but not at the expense of dangerous profiling.
    When you’ve bought your ticket and whether you paid with cash, your frequency of travel. All those are OK with me. Where you’ve visited? no.

  20. Or perhaps, only Muslims from India?
    Excepting people who know me personally, everybody who wants to kill me is Muslim.
    Anyway, there is a point where profiling becomes “probable cause.” The trick is to keep the profile closer to that.

  21. You know, when someone starts thanking the goverment’s security forces for confiscating their son’s Magic-8 Ball because somehow that shows the system is fair, I’d submit that this is pretty close to a done deal for a police state of some kind. A mild, squishy-soft one, sure. But still: we go along and go along and go along with security theater that’s mostly about covering the ass of people in power, and every time we think that it’s gone as far as it ought to, another step gets taken and people grouse but submit because who wants to stop flying.
    Well, I’m getting close to wanting to. And I’m really tired of my fellow citizens who meekly concede that if the government says they need everyone to sit in disposable diapers and be sprayed down before boarding a plane, the government must have a point. If we’re that certain that the worst possible thing in the world would be a plane being blown up, then let’s take the cars away from everyone, re-prohibit alcohol, and fill every swimming pool in with cement, because those are all way more dangerous freedoms that we have foolishly permitted to pose a risk to our people.
    I really have no patience any longer for apologists on this point. This goes way beyond being discomforted: this is about training for sheephood that will potentially go well beyond flying on planes, and maybe already has.

  22. bj,
    I haven’t been following terrorism news super closely, but what I mean is that visitors to any area known for terrorist training camps should get special scrutiny. I was looking for more information and I turned up this article (not clear on the date)
    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/news.aspx/135346
    that says that the US has been talking about “increasing body scans and physical inspections for all passengers from 14 countries that are considered prone to terror. They are Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.” However, from what I’ve been reading and watching about Israeli methods, the physical checks may be the wrong way to go. The Israelis seem to go in for a much more talky, personal approach, with lots of questions and eye contact. If you think about US air procedures, there’s almost no eye-to-eye, person-to-person contact during the ordeal. Admittedly, this style may not yield good results with East Asians and autistic people, so in the US you’d have to tweak it to deal with cultural/psychological difference. The depressing thing is that TSA as an entity probably just isn’t smart enough to do person-focused rather than stuff-focused security.

  23. My 19 year old daughter is flying home Saturday for Thanksgiving. She is mortified about this whole ordeal. She called and asked if she could cash her plane ticket in and try to catch a ride with a friend.
    What’s next? Vaginal and rectal ultrasounds? And really, if someone wants to take down a plane, they will figure out how- they don’t need a bomb, they can aim the damn thing for a building. Oh, wait, they already did.

  24. What’s next? Vaginal and rectal ultrasounds?
    Please! Don’t give them any ideas.
    I don’t like finding myself playing the anti-government flag-waver here, and I surely don’t want to dump on the folks at TSA obliged to execute these policies, but seriously, I’m with what Tim just said: “I really have no patience any longer for apologists on this point.”
    Opt out. Cause trouble. Refuse. Complain. Be heard.

  25. “What’s next? Vaginal and rectal ultrasounds?”
    “Please! Don’t give them any ideas.”
    That’s lots better than the manual version. Blech. Do they even change those blue gloves between passengers?
    I understand that the folks in Al Qaeda have an airplane fixation, but now that the cockpit doors have been hardened, the attention paid to security screening is disproportionate considering how many other options for mayhem are easily available.

  26. Excepting people who know me personally, everybody who wants to kill me is Muslim.
    Well, except the ones who are Russian. But since they have the ability to do it to at least four order of magnitude more than the most successful Muslim terrorist action, no one likes to talk about that anymore. And so the Republicans in the Senate are sabotaging our right to inspect Russian facilities to make sure they’re holding up their end of the current bargains. Thanks, guys.

  27. O.K. How about:
    Excepting people who know me personally and those who work for Arby’s, everybody who wants to kill me using a weapon that requires close proximity is Muslim.

  28. “Excepting people who know me personally and those who work for Arby’s, everybody who wants to kill me using a weapon that requires close proximity is Muslim.”
    That’s just so unlikely to be true as to be blatantly ridiculous.
    But, the point is that I don’t care. I don’t care if there’s a high probability that a terrorist assailant is likely to be a Muslim (while I’m not admitting that’s true, it’s completely irrelevant to my opinion). This kind of state-sponsored profiling and targeting can only be directed at minority population (we weren’t rounding up all the white guys wearing baseball hats after the Oklahoma bombing) and thus is wrong. Period.
    (So are torture and the death penalty. Doesn’t matter if torture provides us “useful” information — though of course I don’t believe it does. Doesn’t matter if the DP never killed innocent people — though, of course, it does).

  29. I did not say that it was OK to confiscate the Magic 8-ball or do full body scans. I just said that if we are going to do any of those things, they should apply to my son as well as the brown guy wearing a funny looking hat who might have spent time in the wrong country and has a funny sounding name.
    Now, I do actually believe it was appropriate to confiscate the magic 8-ball, given the particular hazard of liquid explosives. Full body scans — those I do worry are just CYA behavior by the people in power. But, I think they’re a lot more likely to be done appropriately (i.e. for cause) if they apply to everyone. Then we’ll decide if the invasion of liberty is worth it. If they’re only imposed on the few, we’re not forced to confront the effect of the police state. Only the targeted people are.

  30. This kind of state-sponsored profiling and targeting can only be directed at minority population…
    I don’t think it should be done without probably cause.

  31. “I don’t care if there’s a high probability that a terrorist assailant is likely to be a Muslim (while I’m not admitting that’s true, it’s completely irrelevant to my opinion). This kind of state-sponsored profiling and targeting can only be directed at minority population (we weren’t rounding up all the white guys wearing baseball hats after the Oklahoma bombing) and thus is wrong.”
    Nobody’s rounding anybody up. What is so wrong about asking questions like “What were you doing in Yemen?”, “Where did you stay in Pakistan?”, “What were you doing in Afghanistan in 2000?”, “Where are you going?”, “Where are you going to be staying?”, “Who will you be meeting?” When we go to Canada by bus or ferry, we usually have to answer the where-are-you-going?, what-are-you-doing-there?, who-are-you-staying-with? questions. It’s not really a big deal, much less of a big deal than having some TSA person practicing gynecology or urology without a medical license. Also, with regard to the racial/ethnic stuff, I’d be a lot more concerned about a white person who had been to Pakistan and couldn’t produce a good reason for it than I would be about a Pakistani who said he’d been visiting grandma in Lahore.

  32. Also, now that I think of it, some of the areas of the world that we are talking about (Afghanistan, Iran, etc.) have at least a minority of the population that are pretty darn white (see for example National Geographic’s famous cover photo of the green-eyed Afghan girl).
    http://www.labnol.org/internet/favorites/the-young-afghan-girl-by-steve-mccurry/624/
    Get that girl a haircut and take her to Walmart, and she’d fit in perfectly well in Appalachia.

  33. I was just looking at Jeffrey Goldberg’s 2008 article, “The Things He Carried.” This is a really amazing piece of journalism. It has a big interview with Bruce Schneier, an airport security skeptic, as well as a practicum where Goldberg sees how much he can get away with with security, what he can carry through. It would be interesting if they re-did the article with the body scanners and pat-downs to see if this time, TSA can catch Goldberg doing all the crazy stuff he did (like wearing the “Beer Belly” full of liquid through security).
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/11/the-things-he-carried/7057/1/
    Goldberg’s security skeptic has this to say about the effectiveness of airport security: “Counter terrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better,” he said. “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” This assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking, or target aviation at all. “We defend against what the terrorists did last week,” Schneier said.”

  34. Wanna stop scans? Don’t fly. Boycott. Hot ’em in the pocketbook. Teleconference for business when possible. Tour local. See the country by alternative means. Drive or take the train. Or stay at home and get to know your neighborhood. See how long they last. The power is in the hands of the people.

  35. Timothy’s point is well-taken. We are planning travel, and I don’t know what we’re going to do. I don’t want my 11 year old felt up, and my husband doesn’t want her to go through the scanner. I’m thinking a letter to Southwest (our airline of choice) may be a good idea.

  36. The talk of taking the train pretty limited to the coasts. Pittsburgh to NYC is slower than the bus and more expensive than flying. Going west is even more limited. To go to Nebraska, I can either drive 17 hours (which I don’t want to do because I have a four year old or take the train (which is something like 30 hours and costs more than a plane even if you don’t a cabin (maybe if they put Thomas on the front it would work). Not flying is pretty much what I do now, but I can’t cut much more.

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