Friday, May 6, 2011

Airport Security - A True Story

I recently had occasion to "check out" the new airport security scanning techniques while the TSA checked me out. And in the process found myself embarrassed, humiliated, threatened, and my privacy invaded.

I was traveling home from Penguicon in Troy, MI when I encountered the new "nude" scanners in the Detroit Airport. Images posted at the scanners plainly depicted the full extent of the scanners' capabilities: Unlike the television images, which were blocked out, it turns out, to MAINTAIN TELEVISION CENSOR STANDARDS, the scanner depicts EVERYTHING - buttocks, breasts, and genitals. The only thing it does not depict is the face of the "scannee." My alternative was an invasive, full-body pat-down. When I protested that this was a gross invasion of privacy, I was told that I "would not be flying, then."

Now, for those of you who don't know me, I had major surgery (as in removing a 25lb, 4-6L cyst from my abdomen) last August, and only a couple of months ago got the go-ahead to exercise at all, let alone fly. I have a full-abdominal incision scar that runs from my pubic bone up to only a couple of inches from my sternum. It is not pretty, and involves staple and large suture scars in addition to the incision scar. Because I could not use my abs or obliques for fully 6 months, and because the scarring is prone to forming keloids, I often wear a body wrap akin to the commercial "Spanx" products. This not only keeps the scar tissue relatively flat, it supports my back in its efforts to stabilize my torso. Had I not had this wrap, my back would have gone out months ago and I would be invalided. As it is, my back is chronically in pain.

But the wearing of this wrap also makes it difficult to keep my jeans up. My body is still changing shape as swelling, etc. decreases, and the wrap is made of slick lycra material. Belts are a necessity, but I usually wear woven cotton belts - which I did this day. Minimal bulk, minimal hardware.

So I stripped off jewelry, pocket contents, wristwatch, shoes, and cell phone, dumping them all into a tub with my carry-on. I stepped into the "nude" scanner (having been given no other choice to get home) and "assumed the position." (Yes, the position for scanning is the same as the one assumed when being placed under arrest - spread-eagled, hands in the air.) The scan took place, I stepped out...

...And was promptly detained.

I had to take off my belt. Scanned down to skin, but they took objection to my belt. My COTTON belt. I explained that I had had surgery and needed it to keep from losing my jeans, but it didn't matter. I was taken into a small room off the screening area, where two women in latex gloves stood and watched while I raised my shirt and removed my belt. One patted down the belt while another patted down my midsection. Finding nothing, of course.

THEN came the coup de grace.

"What's this?" the woman patting me down asked, tugging at my wrap.

"My surgical wrap."

"Does it come off? Is it down in your pants?"

"It comes off, but it goes down in my pants and it's difficult to remove."

"Let me see, please."

I was forced to unfasten my jeans, dig the bottom of the wrap out, and raise it up, openly displaying my badly scarred abdomen TO PROVE I WAS TELLING THE TRUTH. There was no chance that such a form-fitting garment could be concealing anything, but my privacy was invaded just the same, to prove some sort of point which I couldn't see.

Before I could get myself fully dressed again, the TSA agent who'd patted me down opened the door into the main area and walked out, calling back, "I have to go have the gloves checked. Keep her."

Once I was covered, I was led back through the still-open door by the 2nd TSA agent into the main security screening area, where I was held - still without shoes, jewelry, cell, etc - until the first TSA agent could have her latex gloves screened for contraband chemicals.

Only when that was okayed was I allowed to complete dressing and leave for my concourse.

Never before have I been submitted to a body search DOWN TO THE SKIN by anyone who was not a doctor. And then, only with my consent. I find this to be a serious violation of my rights as an American and as a human being. As a scientist and former reserve police officer, I can say that this is not a reasonable, efficient method of security screening - and it is sliding down a steep, slippery slope toward the abrogation of our rights and freedoms.