National Opt-Out Day

In response to the new screening procedures implemented by the Transportation Security Administration, there will be a national opt-out day on November, 24th 2010.  This campaign has already received national media attention and will definitely create more controversy on the day of the protests.  On Wednesday, I am flying to Miami to spend Thanksgiving with my family and will choose to opt-out of the new body scanning technology for the full-body pat-down.  Both of these options make me feel uncomfortable, but airline passengers are forced to make a decision between the two if they want to board their flight.

The new screening machines are advanced imaging technology units, which use millimeter wave and backscatter imaging technology.  The machine does a scan of your entire body and is able to detect many, but not all, dangerous materials/substances.

The scans done by this machines are also able “to identify a person’s gender… identify a passenger’s surgery scars, or to discern whether a woman is on her menstrual cycle or not” (Bhatt 1).  However, if you choose to opt-out of the body scan, you must undergo a full-body pat down.  During the holiday season, the TSA will instead be performing “enhanced” pat-downs, which requires the TSA official to touch the airline passenger’s genitals.  Both of these options are extremely problematic and controversial.

The AIT machines expose airline passengers to radiation.  Although the TSA assures the public that the radiation is less than that produced by a cell phone, this is only true if the machine is operating properly.  This dose of radiation will have different effects on all fliers, but will be particularly detrimental for young children and pregnant women.

The scan and pat down are both traumatizing and re-victimizing.  There have already been law suits filed against TSA officials that have sexually harassed and/or assaulted airline passengers; this includes unnecessary touching and inappropriate comments.  One woman reported that a TSA official put her hand down the woman’s pants to verify that the woman was wearing a waistband.  For survivors of sexual assault, going through these procedures can be extremely triggering of past trauma and abuse.  This is one woman’s experience:

“This was a nightmare come to life,” Celeste says, “I said I didn’t want them to see me naked and the agent started yelling Opt out- we have an opt here.  Another agent took me aside and said they would have to pat me down.  He told me he was going to touch my genitals and asked if I wouldn’t rather just go through the scanner, that it would be less humiliating for me.  I was in shock.  I couldn’t believe this was happening.  I kept saying I don’t want any of this to happen.  I was whispering please don’t do this, please, please.”

Other incidents with the TSA have also taken place relating to medical history.  Cathy Bossi, a flight attendant for U.S. airways, opted-out of the body scan “because of radiation concerns” (Choney 1).  While undergoing the pat-down, the TSA official placed her hand on Bossi’s breast and asked her to explain what she was feeling.  Bossi explained to the woman that she had breast cancer and was wearing a prosthetic; the TSA official made her remove her prosthetic.  Other fliers with prosthetics have had similar experiences.

Lastly, these new procedures challenge our constitutional right to privacy.  The full body scan produces an image which provides information about medical conditions, sexual anatomy, and a woman’s menstrual cycle.

For trans passengers, these new screening procedures have many implications.  If the passenger chooses the body scan, the TSA official will be able to see the person’s genitalia.  If the person’s genitalia does not “match” with their gender presentation or the assigned sex on their documents, this could lead to awkward situations, questioning, and or harassment. However, choosing the pat down is not any less problematic.  The pat down is supposed to be performed by a TSA official of the same gender.  If and when the TSA assumes the gender of the passenger, they decide which gender the TSA official needs to be in order to perform the procedure.  If the passenger’s gender is not that which has been assumed, this can lead to a situation in which the passenger must explain their transgender status or history.  As with the body scan, this can lead to questioning and harassment.  I think this blogger, Sebastian, offers a great explanation to support my argument:

“Concerns about being outed to individual officers are valid, but I am even more concerned about the increased scrutiny trans people will now face when going through security. And the dysphoria that could result. TSA officers are trained to look for things that seem ‘off’ in these scans and pat-downs. Unfortunately, someone’s genitalia and/or chest not matching up with their gender presentation and/or marker may be enough to raise an inspector’s suspicions. A trans person is then put in the position of having to explain their situation, which is not something most of us enjoy doing, particularly those living stealth. But really for any of us, it is uncomfortable and opens us up to the possibility of judgmental reactions from these strangers who have authority over us in that moment. Explaining to someone why I have a vagina, or why there is an elastic band around my waist with a pouch and a fake dick sounds like something really triggering.”

Overall, the new TSA screening machines need to be removed from all airports.  The advantages of this system do not outweigh the many disadvantages.  I am choosing to opt-out of this new screening because I feel it is a violation of my right to privacy.  Although this happens to be on National Opt-Out Day, my decision was not based on this campaign.  In fact, I had already chosen to opt-out before I found out about this campaign.  I encourage all people that are flying, on the 24th or any other day of the year, to become informed about the new screening procedures and make a decision that they feel is best for them.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Naomi N
    Nov 24, 2010 @ 04:48:19

    I’ll have to find out where I can purchase a hijab so I can go thru as a “Muslim woman” and get the same exemption of head and neck only groping, to avoid the radiation and the groping. Wouldn’t TSA have fun if all women came thru dressed as and claiming to be Muslim? By the way I wish you luck with your protest.


  2. Dianne Tichansky
    Jan 07, 2011 @ 19:14:32

    just trying to get private info off as many sites as poss, happened on this one. Very good, I hope ppl will do this. I hate flying because I have had a knee replacement and have to go through the whole pat down each and every time coming and going. I don’t believe these invasive scans and pat downs are in anyones best interest, except maybe the terrorists. It’s one more freedom that is being taken away from us, the freedom of privacy on the most basic level.


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