Forget Fear of Flying, Fear Airport Screening?
While flying the past few weekends, I refused to go through the scanners, which is every passenger’s right, although the option is almost never indicated anywhere (the Collins bill also requires clear signage). I was made to wait while TSA employees were clearly available to conduct what is euphemistically called an “enhanced pat-down.” The agent’s aggressive questioning of my decision to “opt out” was matched only by her aggressive pat-down when I would not give in. Arriving back in New York, a friend who had just flown in from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport recounted how the TSA agent had her hands down the front of my friend’s pants and said, “Feels like you’ve lost some weight”!
TSA agents themselves may face the greatest risks. A recent TSA inspector general’s report acknowledged that “wing shields be installed to further reduce radiation exposure levels for backscatter operators.” It also noted that TSA employees reported insufficient time for training on the machines. Michael Grabell, a reporter with ProPublica who has written extensively on full-body scanners, told me: “Radiation technicians have told some of the TSA screeners that ‘If I were on these machines, I’d be wearing a radiation badge.’ But the TSA has refused to let them.”
All these concerns have led the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center to sue the TSA and DHS, seeking a halt to the use of the scanners, at least until independent testing of the risks is performed, and the results made public.
Until we know that these full-body scanners are safe, I’m opting out.