To Opt Out Or Not To Opt Out

I don’t normally write about the controversial current events issues, but this one really infuriates me. I want to share my opinion of the new procedures, and I have read an accumulation of related articles over the past week or two, many of which I have linked in this post.

All in the name of SAFETY, the US government and TSA continue to implement countless rules that restrict the way we travel. I’m all for safety and catching terrorists, but I believe things have spiralled out of control. Over the years since the 9/11 attacks, terrorists have tried numerous ways to cause damage and take lives by using the airlines. Just a few rules which have resulted from these thwarted efforts:

  • We must now take off our shoes when going through security – minor annoyance
  • We are only allowed a certain amount of liquids in 3 ounce containers – slightly more annoying but manageable
  • Toner and ink cartridges over 16 ounces are not allowed at all – this probably doesn’t affect too many people

But because a man tried to detonate explosives he had hidden in his underwear last Christmas, airports are now starting to use full body scanners. These scanners see through the passengers’ clothing in order to detect hidden weapons, but this means the agent viewing the images sees thousands of virtually naked people every day. There is debate about the amount of radiation exposure passengers receive from the scanners, so their safety is in question. People have also questioned the claim that the images are not and cannot be stored. I don’t like the idea of potentially developing health problems from too much radiation. I also don’t like the idea of some pervert checking out or making fun of my psuedo-naked body, even if he is in another room and doesn’t see my face.

Passengers can opt out of the scanners. But the alternative is an “enhanced” and more aggresive pat-down. The TSA agents now use the palm of the hand to completely feel you up (including your most personal areas) to check for explosives and weapons. A few years ago, I once set off the metal detector for some reason and had to get patted down. It wasn’t overly invasive and the agent didn’t touch my crotch or anything like that, but it still made me feel uncomfortable. The thought of now being completely groped totally creeps me out.

These new procedures started at the end of October, and already dozens of ridiculous, insulting and horrifying stories have come out about passengers’ experiences with the new pat-downs. TSA agents seem to be acting with little to no logic or respect for passengers:

The screening process and overall approach needs to change. TSA keeps changing their procedures as a reaction to an attack or attempted attack, and the terrorists will always be one step ahead if our security measures continue to be reactionary instead of proactive. I read an article called 5 Ways to Fix the TSA Pat Down Problem which makes some great points. While I firmly believe that you cannot lump people into a certain stereotype because of their race, gender, religion, etc., I do believe profiling works to a certain extent when it comes to aviation safety. Israel has been doing it for years successfully, and while our overly politically correct society might not like it, it makes more sense than feeling up 13 year old girls and little old ladies in wheelchairs. Another travel blogger, Land Lopers, recently visited Israel and wrote about his experience with their airport security and how effective it is. It does sound annoying and time consuming, but smart and not at all violating.

A big part of making any decision in life is weighing the possible risks with the possible benefits and deciding if it’s worth it to you to take that risk. Getting on an airplane involves a multitude of risks from engine failure to extreme weather to terrorism. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for those people who don’t think the benefits of flying are worth the risk, but for me, I need to get on that plane. Traveling is as essential to me as oxygen, and flying is typically the only practical way to do it. At some point, we all need to look at the risks of flying and decide if it’s worth it. And if we do get on that plane, we must accept the risks involved. TSA cannot prevent everything, and they have proved time after time that they actually miss a lot. A close friend of mine once got through TSA with bullets in her purse (she honestly forgot about them) which are definitely prohibited items. TSA is more about putting on a show to make us FEEL safe, but these new procedures aren’t really making us safer. Someone recently said to me “whatever it takes to make flying safer is fine by me.” So what happens the first time a terrorist makes it through security with explosives hidden up his ass? Is TSA going to start doing prison-style cavity searches in order to clear us for air travel? Might sound crazy, but did you ever think someone would be looking at your naked image as a pre-flight requirement?

Someone started an account on Twitter under the handle @TSAgov to point out the ridiculous direction TSA is headed. His location reads “London/France/Your Underpants.” Most of the tweets are rather funny, but one in particular stood out: “Some people view 1984 as a cautionary tale on the danger of authoritarianism. We view it as a handbook.” He has a point. Our country was built on freedom, freedom people in lots of other countries only dream of. Terrorists hate us because of our freedom, among other things. They want us to be miserable, and even if they don’t take another American life, they have won if we give up our freedom by allowing so much invasion of privacy and violation of basic human dignity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 is the day before Thanksgiving in the US and the busiest travel day of the year. It’s also Opt Out Day, which was started to encourage people to opt out of the full body scanners and go for the pat-down, which will clog up the system and theoretically instigate change. I’m flying to Prague (with a quick stop in London) for the long holiday weekend, so I will be flying on the 24th. I’m still a bit undecided about which degrading screening method I will choose, but I will do a follow up post sometime after my trip. If you want to find out more about Opt Out Day, here are two posts with opposing views:

And some other articles I found very thought-provoking and informative:

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