Taking a Stand Against the Full Body Backscatter X-Ray

Stand up for our rights. You can make a difference.

Yesterday, when I went through security at Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA) for a flight to Wenatchee Pangborn Airport (EAT), I was one of four people in a five-minute period who opted for a pat-down rather than subject my body to the highly controversial full body scanner or backscatter x-ray machine.

BackscatterWikipedia image. (No, it’s not me. Sheesh.)

Because we had to wait while the TSA called screeners for each of us, we discussed why we’d made the decision. The four of us agreed that the use of backscatter x-ray technology for security screening was a violation of our privacy and constitutional rights. This “virtual strip search” is not only ineffective for revealing hazardous materials carried by determined terrorists, but it raises additional health concerns. Two of us were certain that the machine was hazardous — more on that in a moment — I’m not convinced either way.

All four of us had decided to make a stand against the use of the equipment by forcing the TSA to conduct a pat-down each time we were asked to go through the machine. This inconveniences the TSA far more than it inconveniences us. It only adds about 10 minutes to your screening time, but it forces the TSA to shuffle around staff, thus slowing down the whole security line. If enough people do this on a regular basis, the TSA will be forced to increase its staff to handle screening needs during busy times — or simply cease using the machines. After all, the normal metal detectors are still there and are used when the backscatter x-ray machines are down for maintenance. Why is it that they’re good enough at, say 5:10 to 5:30 PM one day but not good enough five minutes before or after that? It’s all bullshit, if you ask me.

One by one we were taken away for our pat-downs. Soon, it was just me and a man left chatting. He said he always gets the pat-down and is convinced that the machine is dangerous. I told him that I always ask for a private screening. This doubly inconveniences the TSA because it requires not only a private space, but two TSA screeners of the same gender: one to conduct the pat-down and another to observe — so you can’t cry foul, I suppose.

In addition, because they can’t separate you from your luggage, they must carry all your luggage and bins into the screening room with them. If you have a lot of stuff — think laptop, coat, belt, purse, briefcase, carryon bag, etc. — that could take more than one trip. You’re not allowed to touch it once you opt out so they’re forced to carry it for you to the screening room. One time, I had three of them tied up carrying my stuff around.

The man I was speaking to obviously liked the idea as much as I did and he opted for a private screening, too.

While a lot has been said about the obtrusiveness of pat-downs, having gone through it three times now, I can assure women that it isn’t a big deal. I didn’t feel violated or uncomfortable at any time. It’s just another woman wearing gloves patting you down. I’ve had seamstresses get more friendly when fitting me for a gown.

I try to make the situation more tolerable by chatting up the TSA women, teasing them gently, making sure they understand that I’m just opting for the pat-down to “get my money’s worth” out of the screening process. Occasionally, I’ll get one that admits the process isn’t effective or doesn’t make sense, but most times they’ll stop short of actually saying so. Yesterday, one of the women actually admitted that she thinks the backscatter x-ray machine is dangerous. Not only will she avoid it, but she’s told her mother not to go through it. Good to know that the TSA can’t even convince it’s own people about the safety and security of the system.

I usually mention the Israeli airport security system as an alternative method of screening. Often, they are familiar with it. Yesterday, one of the women said that they couldn’t use that system “because we’re not allowed to profile.” We both agreed that profiling should be allowed — at least to a certain extent. But rather than the kind of racial profiling Sheriff Joe uses to harass Hispanic people in the Phoenix area, airport profiling should look for signs of nervousness or other indicators that might suggest a person has something to hide. This is psychological profiling that requires extensive training and dedicated screeners. Unfortunately, members of the U.S. government would rather spend our tax dollars on sophisticated machines manufactured by their friends than useful training for TSA and other security agents.

As usual, yesterday’s pat-down was a non-event. I made my statement and was very pleased to see that I wasn’t the only one doing so. My only question is this: Why are most people acting like sheep, walking through a machine that displays nude images of them to strangers while dosing them with radiation?

The GOP and its propaganda arms (think Fox News and Rush Limbaugh) are constantly talking about government intrusion in our lives and violations of our constitutional rights, yet I don’t see any of them complaining about this complete disregard for privacy and Fourth Amendment rights. Why not?

Don’t they see that every time they introduce a measure like this, they’re subjecting us to more government intrusion and violating more of our rights?

I’m an American and I value my rights. Because of this, I arrive at the airport an extra 15 minutes early and do my part to protest the use of this ineffective, unnecessary, and possibly harmful intrusion of my privacy and violation of my rights.

If you care about your rights, you’ll do the same.

2 thoughts on “Taking a Stand Against the Full Body Backscatter X-Ray

  1. I completely agree. Ever since TSA deployed the Nude-O-Scopes, I’ve always opted-out. Some people I talk to think that scanners make us safer, when in reality, they don’t. However, the TSA Security Theater has made people think that they’re actually saving lives, while being irradiated at the checkpoint.

    As a GE member, I’ve been able to use Pre-Check a couple times, which is like a time-warp to 9/10/2001. Only WTMDs are in the Pre-Check lanes, which saves me the harassment from opting-out..

    When will people learn?

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