There is a recent thread over at MilePoint in which the original poster recalled an encounter with the TSA during a recent pat-down. The employee asked, “Do you find this easier?” I wasn’t there, but I can guess the employee thinks it’s silly to wait for a pat-down and slow down the line when the backscatter scanners can process people more quickly.
Of course, if something gets flagged by the scanner, you have to get a pat-down anyway, but I frequently see signs of annoyance from the TSA whenever a passenger opts-out. This only gets worse when you are with a group of people with similar opinions because the general rule is that if one person is selected for the scanner and opts-out, the person behind him/her is the next to be selected. I have seen as many as four or five people in a row opt-out and wait for a pat-down. Regardless of who’s at fault, it looks bad for the TSA when they can’t process people quickly.
And that’s the point.
At least, it’s the reason I opt out every time I pass through airport security. I’m not one of those people who asks for a private room, or who tries to videotape the TSA doing something stupid. While I certainly invite my fair share of trouble, I do try to be polite.
However, I object to the inane and Constitutionally questionable security practices that the Transportation Security Administration has implemented. I argue that very little of what you actually see at the airport is helping to prevent terrorist attacks anymore than the screening practices prior to 9/11. That doesn’t mean the TSA isn’t doing its job at least somewhat right. I still believe it’s the stuff you don’t see that is probably having the greatest impact.
So why I do I opt out every time I’m directed toward one of the backscatter scanners? There are two reasons, one legal and one personal.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads as follows (emphases mine):
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
I’ve highlighted three key phrases in that Amendment that I think are abused by the TSA’s current security practices. First, I do not feel secure in my person. The TSA has taken it upon themselves to investigate me at a level skin-deep to determine whether I have any weapons or other dangerous articles hidden beneath my clothes. I don’t care if they re-process the data so that their employees (I refuse to call them “officers”) only see a stick figure with highlighted areas. It seems excessive and makes me feel vulnerable.
Second, I strongly believe the search is unreasonable. What have I done to threaten the United States of America? Searching everyone only suggests that they have no clue who poses a real threat. I used to carry a button with me through security checkpoints that read, “I am a suspected terrorist.” It’s true. If they didn’t suspect you of terrorism, why would they waste their time screening you? The current rollout of the Trusted Travler program is a step in the right direction and serves as evidence supporting my point that not everyone is an equal threat.
Third, and related to point number two, there is no probable cause to justify such an invasive search. I haven’t done anything other than purchase a ticket to fly from point A to point B. I have never owned a gun. I have no criminal arrest record, nor do I have a driving incident record. I have done NOTHING to offend ANYONE with any governing authority in this country. I’ve even stopped cracking jokes in the security line. 🙁
Since logic and the rule of law seem to have gone nowhere in stopping what I perceive as a violation of the Constitution, my response, to opt out, is based on my personal opinion that one should respond to annoying people by being even more annoying. If they think an invasive, uncomfortable search is necessary, then I will do my best to make it just as tiresome and uncomfortable for the TSA.
Just see how creative you can be from this XKCD comic!
TSA employees don’t exactly enjoy pat downs. How would you feel groping Grandma? And even though my decision may delay the security line a little, annoying fellow passengers, it also looks bad for the TSA when there is a line of people refusing to go through the scanners. (I’ve seen as many as four or five people waiting for an assist.) It’s for this reason that I choose a pat down in public rather than a private room. You can’t make a public stand against an oppressive government policy in private.
Occasionally I’ll get a rude TSA employee who treats me like an idiot. I make it clear that they I take 50+ flights a year and they should just get on with it, but otherwise keep my mouth shut. I follow orders, raise my arms, lift my shirt, and all the rest. I don’t care if they’re annoyed because that was my goal. Maybe if enough of their own employees complain, something will change at the top.
But most often the employees I get are curious or just friendly. They realize I hate opting out as much as they do. Sometimes they pepper me with questions, asking why I opt out, why I think the pat down is less invasive than the scanner, whether I have any beefs with the President, etc. I just try to give non-committal answers because I really want to get to my gate, not go through an interrogation or debate.
Is the scanner really that much better than a pat-down? Not really. The scanner is taking pictures of everything and with its technology probably sees more than the employee can feel with his hands. Sure, maybe the computer masks some of it, but that doesn’t make it any more enjoyable. Besides, I don’t really mind the pat down. It isn’t that unpleasant, and it’s certainly better than going to the doctor, where I’m half naked and get poked and prodded everywhere. Keeping (most of) my clothes on is a big plus. And as I told one employee at Baltimore, it’s the best $2.50 massage I’ve ever had! That certainly got a few laughs. Now if only they would change their policy so I could request a female assist. 😉