Full Body Scanners Revisited

Joel Mathis at Philadelphia Weekly has been kind enough to respond to my recent post on full body airport scanners:

Conor Friedersdorf chalked the opposition to scanners up to prudery, claiming they’d be worth it if they somehow made it quicker to get through airport security.

“My hatred for lines is such that I’d gladly walk a gauntlet of TSA employees completely naked were it offered as a speedy alternative to arriving at the airport two hours early and standing in line for 45 awful minutes,” Friedersdorf wrote. “But don’t the people who are apparently uncomfortable with this get checkups at the doctor? Didn’t they take showers after gym class? Shouldn’t it be far easier for the modest person to stay dressed while passing through a scanner being viewed by a TSA employee they’ll likely never see again? So long as faux-nudity isn’t irrationally fetishized, I don’t understand what the big deal is here.”

Here’s the problem: Airport security isn’t the after-gym shower. In that case, you might’ve been naked, but so was everybody else in the class. The vulnerability was roughly equal. Not so in an airport security line. Chances are, faux-nudity will be fetishized; this kind of stuff always is. Sure, security professionals claim that the virtually naked images won’t be stored—but does anybody really want to bet on how long it takes for some of those images to hit some creepy website? Why on earth should we have any confidence?

I suppose it is possible that an image like this one might be saved somehow by a TSA worker in violation of protocol, uploaded to some obscure Web site for the 7 people who get off on body x-ray scans, and… then what, precisely? I am sorry if the answer is obvious, but I am unsure how it would affect my life if a weird scan that doesn’t even identify me by name or race winds up somewhere on the Internet.

The writer goes on:

Ann Davis, a TSA spokesperson, says that screeners shouldn’t have been waving my birth control in the air.

“We do instruct our officers to screen passengers with the utmost respect and dignity,” Davis says. “We expect a high level of professionalism. We’ll investigate when we get reports otherwise.”

And yet problems happen. Dirtbags get jobs that require a discretion they lack. The problem is that—unlike Friedersdorf’s fantasy—TSA screeners aren’t doctors, who have years of training on how to act professionally and a massive financial incentive to keep their jobs. Instead, the airport security line usually appears to be staffed by people who couldn’t quite make muster to staff the overnight shift at 7-Eleven.

Oh, come now, apologies for being graphic, but once we get old enough doctors strip us naked in private rooms where they penetrate our orifices with their fingers. We hardly require the same training and professionalism for someone who is going to sit staring at a monitor as thousands of people pass briefly by, never interacting with him at all.

Mr. Mathis concludes:

It’s possible that the government will decide full-body scans are a necessary tool to deter terrorists, and we will probably adjust. But when I think about standing in an airport security line, watching a blue-shirted man wave my condoms around to his friend, I know abuse of a full-body scan by TSA screeners isn’t just a possibility—it’s a dead-on certainty.

For me this example demonstrates how TSA is capably of abusing passengers in the course of searching their luggage far more than they’d be by having them walk through a full body scanner.

2 Responses to “Full Body Scanners Revisited”

  1. zak822 Says:

    It seems that most of the people who are ok with full body scans are men.

    I wonder how many of these men are willing to have total strangers seeing their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers virtually nude. And whether they’ve even asked them about it.

    Women do not seem to be jumping on the body scan bandwagon, and that’s is rightfully going to be a real issue.

  2. ghowardjr Says:

    It seems to me that this entire conversation misses the point. Body scanners and the like are just another infringement upon our civil liberties.

    The federal government believes that treating everyone like criminals equally makes it OK to violate our rights, and people just allow it because they are afraid of the terrorist boogeymen.

    If you continue to give up your rights in return for supposed security, you will end up with neither. As evidenced by eight years of us being subjected to post-911 “security” at airports and still have a guy with a bomb get on a plane–thwarted only by a faulty ignition mechanism–not by our gigantic homeland security department or TSA airport security.

    Wake up!

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