Feeling violated at the airport

Coming back from last week’s AAAS 2011 Annual Meeting in Washington D.C., some of my classmates and I went through Dulles International Airport. After a fun, but stressful, three-day meeting, I was ready to come home. But as airport security herded my fellow travelers and I towards the metal detectors, I wound up facing those controversial full body scanners.

Not everyone got scanned. Other lines subjected passengers to the good old metal detector.

This really didn’t seem fair or effective to me. If someone wanted to bring materials through security that a metal detector wouldn’t catch, but that a full body scanner would, they could just walk over to a different line.

The TSA insists that going through the new scanners is optional, but I didn’t notice any signs or placards to that effect, nor did any of the security personnel give me a choice. To be fair, there could have been signs that I just didn’t notice. Either way, in I went.

I felt a little foolish, standing there with my arms up as photons patted me down. One of the TSA employees kept admonishing me like I was a little child not to move. I heard you the first time lady.

After the machine finished its strip search, I turned to walk on. But security had stopped the man in front of me for further examination. I was forced to stand about two feet behind him as a male TSA employee asked him to pull up his shirt so that the employee could frisk the waistband of his pants.

Aren’t they supposed to take you behind a privacy screen before they do that? I didn’t want to go through that machine in the first place, let alone stand ringside as someone got frisked half naked.

They finally sent him on his way and the TSA employee ditched the gloves he was wearing. But before I got the go-ahead to continue to my gate, the employee put on a fresh pair of gloves and approached me.

Oh, no. There was no way I was going to let some strange man touch me. Thankfully, we only stared at each other for several seconds before he waved me through.

Blech…I wanted to take a shower. I kept hearing all the arguments people have been shouting at each other since these contraptions came out. They don’t store images – oh yes they do. The technology is harmless – some scientists aren’t so sure. This will make us safer – no, not really.

However it eventually shakes out, the bottom line is that it’s an invasion and I don’t like it. Even if identifying marks on the scans are obscured or done away with, as in the new software the TSA is testing, somewhere out there, a naked, x-ray image of me is floating around. Not a happy thought.


About janejaelee

Jane Lee is a graduate student in the UC Santa Cruz Science Communication Program.
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3 Responses to Feeling violated at the airport

  1. Mark says:

    Don’t put up with this unconstitutional garbage! It’s all worthless security theater that does nothing to keep you “safe”. Boycott Flying ENTIRELY until sanity returns! Please join us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boycott-Flying/126801010710392

  2. Seavu says:

    Jane, you are not alone. There are several groups on facebook you can join: We Won’t Fly, Boycott Flying, Fed Up Flyers, & Americans for Travel Freedom. Most of these groups have their own websites too. What the TSA is doing IS wrong. You were violated and it is not right. Please join the movement to make this stop and restore our Constitutionally guaranteed 4th Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable searches.

  3. Seavu says:

    Also, Jane, the TSA says going through the scanners is “optional” because, technically, you are allowed to refuse, but then you MUST submit to the full body pat down, no exceptions. The pat down is even more invasive for women, as your breasts are encircled by the TSA agents hands, inside and out, in addition to having your genitals touched and your pants pulled out and reached in to, not to mention that they also feel up the back of your legs, to between your buttocks. No male agent should ever be allowed to pat you down. Women agents search women, and men search men. That’s the law.

    Yes, you can request a private screening so that this isn’t done in full view, and you can request a witness, but reports I’ve read seem to indicate the pat down becomes that much more revealing and invasive, with fliers being asked to lift their shirts to show their bras or open or pull out their waistbands until the tops of their underwear is visible. The agent may then feel inside. Male fliers who have already removed their belts, sometimes have their pants fall to their ankles with the force of the patting down.

    If, having started a pat down, you decide you really don’t like it, and ask to go back to the scanner, you are not allowed to. If you then continue to refuse to be molested (because that’s what it really is), then they will tell you that you now are not permitted to fly and that you must leave the airport. They will provide you with an escort out. Technically, they also have the right to fine you $11,000, which is what they did to the guy who famously said “don’t touch my junk,” as well as a few others.

    You should also know that even if you agree to the scan, you may still be randomly selected for a pat down too, for no stated reason (probable cause), and again, you cannot refuse. Finally, if you know anyone with any kind of knee or hip replacement, pins from broken bones, prosthetic devices of any kind, insulin pumps, deep tissue scarring from mastectomies, etc., you should warn them that even if they are scanned they will also AUTOMATICALLY get a pat down, because those things appear as anomalies on the scanners.

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