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Teaching Compliance, One Traveler At A Time

On Thursday I experienced the new TSA screening procedures for the first time. The security line I went through had both a metal detector and a backscatter X-ray scanner. (Two lines fed to these machines.) A TSA employee "randomly" directed citizens to one of the machines. My informal count suggested that approximately two-thirds of the lines were directed to the backscatter X-ray scanner. The randomness seemed to be more about time. Observationally, as the line for the backscatter filled, overflow was directed to the metal detector.

I got the backscatter X-ray machine. I opted out. After confirming that I wished to opt out, the TSA employee directed me to the individual screening area. As I stood on the mat, I told him that I wanted to let him know upfront that I would cooperate with his search but did not consent to having my genitals touched, and that if he touched my genitals, I would file a complaint. He stared at me dumbly for a moment before going to get his supervisor.

I repeated to the supervisor what I'd told the first agent. I told him I've had skin cancer and do not wish to be exposed to more radiation than necessary. That's true, though incomplete. I'd rant about the 4th Amendment, but that wouldn't be any more productive than the implication of my statements already.

He seemed mildly surprised but remained focused. He asked me to clarify, telling me what they would be doing. After I repeated my position, he asked if I was refusing to be screened. I told him that, as I said before, I would cooperate but do not consent to having my genitals touched and would file a complaint if anyone did so. I also stated that I understood he did not set the policy.

The supervisor opted to perform the pat-down. He asked if I'd like to have the screening performed in private. I declined because I wanted everyone to see my objection. Once underway, he informed me of each step he was going to take before he proceeded. He ran his hands over my clothing but did not press into my body. When he finished the pat-down, he asked if I wished to file a complaint. I declined because, as I told him, he behaved reasonably within an unreasonable policy. He showed a level of professionalism that I have not encountered in any other encounter with TSA (c.f. August 2008).

I will engage future TSA experiences the same way, even in the inevitable likelihood that someone will be unreasonable and deny me access to my flight. I would have filed a complaint if he'd touched my genitals, regardless of his professionalism. He did not touch my genitals. I did not believe a complaint would be a useful means of protest in the context. I want more people to object, as I explained to the woman receiving a pat-down next to me. But dumping on the TSA employee wouldn't convince him I'm right that he's wrong to continue violating other's rights by following unreasonable policy. Our representatives are the ones we should be blatantly and repeatedly antagonizing.

The kicker is what demonstrates the stupidity of this: to get to the individual screening area, I had to walk through the metal detector. It didn't buzz.

Comments

I have to compliment you for taking this stance. I too would opt out of the back scatter devices though I am not sure if I could go so far as to declare my intent to complain as you did, though I’d want to. I haven’t had to fly since this silliness started so I am not sure but I know I wouldn’t go through. For me it’s about safety; these are the kinds of things that you just know they’ll discover a problem with years down the road. Just look at the stories on cell phones (which I am very skeptical about) and that isn’t even ionizing radiation that they’re emitting. Now we have an x-ray machine that was rapidly developed, rapidly deployed, and minimally tested being operated by a slew of barely sentient drones who know little if anything about the equipment they’re using. The show they put on at these airports does not make me feel any safer; to be honest they should just make everyone fly nude; no need for x-ray machines in that case. ;)

I had no idea if I would voice my opposition since they're obviously working to intimidate. But I'm glad I did.

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