There has been a growing outcry against the Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA) new “enhanced pat-down” policy and their use of the invasive Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners at security checkpoints in many of our nation’s airports. The scanners are a largely untested commodity, irradiating thousands of passengers, and for frequent flyers, multiple times and may or may not provide full-body images to be recorded and stashed somewhere by government agencies. Further, TSA has been accused of using the pat-downs as a punitive measure against passengers balking at the scans with the pat-down techniques being compared to sexual assault.
I have to admit I’m of a mixed mind about this. You see, I never stepped into a plane until I was an adult. My first plane trip was in 1999. Because I wear a pacemaker, I have always avoided the scanning devices and have received loving-but-firm pat-downs by TSA staff for my entire flying life. This is not a new experience for me.
Now, when I heard about the “enhanced” pat-down I imagined something involving boards and lots of water. And, frankly, it’s unclear to me what these “enhanced” techniques do involve. Visiting the TSA Blog, their “Blogger Bob” has made several entries but no clarifications on the difference between past pat-downs and the new enhanced versions. To hear others, it sounds more like groping or heavy petting.
My experience with pat-downs has been neither pleasant nor unpleasant. A worker goes over my limbs and torso with the backs of (in my case) his latex-covered hands, announcing what he is about to do every step of the way. Then I sit down and he checks the bottom of my feet (my shoes are trundling through the scanner as I sit). I actually get through the checkpoint a little faster than my wife in most cases. Afterwards, I collect my carry-on bags, and my belt, hat, and shoes and get on with my life.
I generally favor the least amount of government intrusion into people’s lives as possible. Now, where that line is drawn is where I sometimes part company with folks of either political stripe. Some would claim I’m a sheep for allowing the pat-downs that come with my plane ticket, that I put up with tyranny for the sake of safety. Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. I just never felt particularly put out about the situation. It’s a hassle, but a minor one in my life. If people want to boycott flying due to the intrusion, more power to them. As for me, when I go to Alaska, I’ll take my pat-down and get on a plane–it beats the hell out of driving.
Do the pat-downs work? Have any potential terrorists been caught out by one? I don’t know. But have any had their plans thwarted by the possibility of being caught out? We can’t know that one. If we don’t want the full-body scan and we don’t want the pat-down, what should we have? I simply don’t have the answer to the question of how much security is too much. I know what I’m willing to put up with and, so far, I’ve been more put out more by the ridiculous nail clipper-and-Chapstick regulations and by additional luggage fees than by my pat-down.
I can certainly understand the folks that balk at using the full-body scans. They could be dangerous for frequent flyers and the information gathered could easily be used in an abusive manner. But without knowing for certain what an “enhanced” pat-down entails, I am left wondering if the uproar regarding the pat-downs is due to a more invasive procedure or simply that more people are now experiencing what I have been expected to endure since pre-9/11 days.
This December I’ll be traveling to visit the in-laws in Anchorage. Being as how DFW is one of the busiest airports in the world, I expect that I’ll experience first-hand one of the new TSA pat-downs. Then I’ll know if they represent a bad touch or just a case of “not in my backyard!”.