Tuesday 23 November 2010

You win, TSA

For years, my husband has said he will not travel to the United States.

Too dangerous, he says.

They're not that bad, I counter.

Well, I've been forced to admit that he was right. (Ow. My pride.)

It was bad enough when we suddenly couldn't cross the border without a full passport or enhanced drivers licence. But fine, whatever, we'll stay here and support our own economy. I prefer to support local business anyway. I had plans to get my passport should I ever convince my obviously over-reacting husband to fly anywhere in the States.

But now?

Passport or not, we'll stick to more local vacations or other countries. I would rather not be molested through an "enhanced pat-down" nor seen naked via an advanced imaging technology (AIT) screening just to board a plane in that country. Nor will I teach my children not to allow themselves to be touched, only to turn around and let a stranger grope them in the name of "safety".

Really? Safety? Does anyone honestly believe such security theater will keep them safe?

Is there anything that country won't allow in the name "safety"?

To "ensure your safety", the American government permits:

  • mothers to be effectively sexually assaulted
    "I stood there, an American citizen, a mom traveling with a baby with special needs formula, sexually assaulted by a government official. I began shaking and felt completely violated, abused and assaulted by the TSA agent. I shook for several hours, and woke up the next day shaking."
  • rape survivors to be left in tears after being pat down
    "He started at one leg and then ran his hand up to my crotch. He cupped and patted my crotch with his palm. Other flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and started praying to the Goddess for strength. He also cupped and then squeezed my breasts. That wasn’t the worst part. He touched my face, he touched my hair, stroking me. That’s when I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped. There’s no way I can fly again. I can’t do it."
  • a woman to be handcuffed to a chair for asking questions
    "The TSA chose Meg McLain for special screening. They wanted her to go through the new porno-scanners. When she opted out, TSA agents raised an enormous ruckus. When she asked some question about what they planned to do to her, they flipped out. TSA agents yelled at her, handcuffed her to a chair, ripped up her ticket, called in 12 local Miami cops and finally escorted her out of the airport. Listen to her story as she told it on radio show Free Talk Live last night."
  • cancer survivors to have their prosthesis removed
    "Bossi was asked to show her prosthetic breast, sticking her hand down her own shirt and removing the prosthesis from her bra.

    A T.S.A. representative says agents aren't supposed to remove any prosthetics, but are allowed to ask to see and touch any passenger's prosthetic."
  • a bladder cancer survivor to be left covered in his own urine
    "'One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.'

    The security officer finished the pat-down, tested the gloves for any trace of explosives and then, Sawyer said, 'He told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened.'
  • young children to be subject to enhanced pat-downs
    "...the boy went through a metal detector and didn't set it off but was selected for a pat down. The boy was shy so the TSA couldn't complete the full pat on the young boy. The father tried several times to just hold the boys arms out for the TSA agent but i guess it didn't end up being enough for the guy. I was about 30 ft away so i couldn't hear their conversation if there was any. The enraged father pulled his son shirt off and gave it to the TSA agent to search..."
  • a three year old girl to be patted down while screaming "don't touch me!"
    "Why was Mandy searched in the first place? She started crying when she was asked to put her teddy bear through the X-ray machine. This made it difficult for her to walk calmly through the metal detector and she set the machine off twice, which meant she must be hand-searched.
  • a heavily armed soldier to have his nail clippers confiscated
    Soldier: [touches butt stock of the rifle] But this actually is a weapon. And I'm allowed to take it on.
  • the TSA to deliberately make the enhanced pat-downs humiliating and intrusive in order to coerce passengers to use the ATI scanners, effectively punishing those who opt-out of the scanners
    "I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. 'Nobody's going to do it,' he said, 'once they find out that we're going to do...We're trying to get everyone into the machine.'"
  • the TSA to detain those who refuse to undergo screening
    "The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is warning that any would-be commercial airline passenger who enters an airport checkpoint and then refuses to undergo the method of inspection designated by TSA will not be allowed to fly and also will not be permitted to simply leave the airport.

    That person will have to remain on the premises to be questioned by the TSA and possibly by local law enforcement. Anyone refusing faces fines up to $11,000 and possible arrest."
  • the TSA to lie about what the images look like and whether these images can be saved or transmitted

...all for the illusion of safety.

Many are concerned about the exposure to radiation. I appreciated this quote from a physics professor:

Peter Rez, a physics professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, did his own calculations and found the exposure to be about one-fiftieth to one-hundredth the amount of a standard chest X-ray. He calculated the risk of getting cancer from a single scan at about 1 in 30 million, "which puts it somewhat less than being killed by being struck by lightning in any one year," he told me.

While the risk of getting a fatal cancer from the screening is minuscule, it's about equal to the probability that an airplane will get blown up by a terrorist, he added. "So my view is there is not a case to be made for deploying them to prevent such a low probability event."

Airports have other options, including opting out of the TSA program in favor of private screeners. Not everyone is willing to stand for this. Many travelers are choosing to "opt out" of ATI scans tomorrow, designated National Opt Out Day. Asserting that the new policies are unconstitutional, a man was able to avoid both the AIT scanning and the enhanced pat-down when returning the the US this weekend.

But then, of course, there's always the chance the TSA will threaten you with a civil suit and a $10,000 fine if you attempt to leave the airport rather than submit to either procedure, as they did to John Tyner.

I enjoyed this summary of the issue:
"The ultimate idiocy is the full-body screening of the pilot. The pilot doesn't need a bomb or box cutter to bring down a plane. All he has to do is drive it into the water, like the EgyptAir pilot who crashed his plane off Nantucket while intoning "I rely on God," killing all on board.

But we must not bring that up. We pretend that we go through this nonsense as a small price paid to ensure the safety of air travel. Rubbish. This has nothing to do with safety - 95 percent of these inspections, searches, shoe removals and pat-downs are ridiculously unnecessary. The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches."

America, land of the...free?

I'll stay right here in Canada, thanks.


  1. so, why was it that you wanted to visit the US in the first place? I mean I'm all for going places that are unsafe, but, to me the United States of America lacks in culture, genuineness, and it totally self absorbed. I was born in the US and lived here most my life, but that's really the feeling I get. There are a lot of places I'd love to go, but if I didn't live here the US would not be at the top of my list!

  2. True enough, Brittney! Unfortunately, the US has Hawaii, which I love, as well as many people I would like to visit. I am no fan of the US, but I do love some of its citizens.

    I'll just have to convince them to come visit me here, instead. ;)

  3. Hawaii is hardly the US... I would LOVE to spend all of my days there, and it has a totally different feel than most of the US (at least to me).

    I love a lot of it's people, too. There are some truly beautiful people that I would hate to live without (the main reason I am not expatriated). Visiting the US for the people you love is totally understandable... and I wouldn't let a little groping get in the way of that (joking of coarse).

  4. I'm a nice American, I promise! :) I'm also an American who is very thankful that all of our close family members live within driving distance. I'm dreading ever having to fly again. Good thing we like road trips!

  5. I'm an American and I love America and the freedoms we are allowed here. Unfortunately, I'm seeing those freedoms get stripped away one by one. It's sad.

    I COMPLETELY agree with you on this subject. I rarely flew anywhere anyways, but now that these new rules have been introduced - I'm NEVER flying. I will drive thankyouverymuch.

    And the whole profiling deal - I roll my eyes at. It's necessary duh! It DOES NOT mean we are racists. It means we are using our brains and critical thinking.

    Okay, seriously, I could go on and on about this subject so I'm gonna shut up before I write a paper here LOL

  6. The one spot of hope that I have about this particular situation is that the American people do have a voice. It seems to take more and more of an uproar of late, but eventually people will be heard and the molest-downs will stop. At least, we pray that it does. It takes us a long time sometimes to remember that our government is supposed to be 'of the people, by the people, for the people.'
    And I agree that many Americans are self-absorbed and that our culture promotes that way of thinking. I suppose I just try to focus on the parts of America that aren't like that. It seems more productive to me.

  7. I agree. I'm glad I never fly anywhere. We've always drove on all our vacations.

  8. My uncle in Mexico has refused to visit the US for years because he has the same name as a drug lord and is always strip searched, etc. We are driving as much as possible, but I hate the thought of going to Puerto Rico next summer.

  9. Yeah..when my grandmother came last Thanksgiving she was so embarrassed because she has a hip replacement and each time she had to unzip her pants and show them the scare 8|. It's not the same as it use to be

  10. As an American, I am equal parts horrified and defensive regarding air travel in the US. Stories such as you've listed appear on the news from time to time, outraging everyone I know. It seems the TSA, in an attempt to protect our freedom, has in fact limited even further. On the other hand, we flew 6 times (round trip) with an infant last year. The TSA employees were extremely considerate. We always were moved into a special "family" screening line, with little or no wait. They didn't question my large supply of pumped milk, and were quite helpful and patient. This was the case each trip--which I think is a pretty good average. I still hate the fact that we have such ridiculous restrictions, but I have to be honest by saying we had reasonable experiences each time flying. The TSA is not America (thankfully), nor are a handful of extreme stories.