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.


Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is why there is not a greater public outcry about all this. You are hardly the first to have such a horrible experience, the whole thing is just an act by TSA to "make us feel more secure" (ie, it doesn't accomplish anything positive) and it IS a serious invasion of privacy. :(

BADKarma! said...

hijhinckx, it's called "dumbing down Totalitarianism". It's been going on since 9/11. Each small incremental step is dissolved in the kool-ade, and sold to the guzzling public as "a necessary safety measure". Each step paves the way for the next step, and the one after that, and so on, until we're living "THX-1148" and all the moronic sheeplies have no idea - NONE - as to how it could POSSIBLY HAVE HAPPENED.

Michael Z. Williamson said...

The response is to remember that TSA is not a police agency and DOES NOT have detention powers. If they try to hinder access to your phone, etc, you ask:

"Am I under arrest?" to which they CANNOT say yes.

"Then am I free to go[get my phone][my clothes][proceed on my trip]?"

They must either consent at once, call a police officer at once to detain you (if and only if they have cause), or face charges for kidnapping--a federal crime. YOU may call the Arpt police, who generally do not like the TSA and will file charges for you.

The downside, of course, is that this will take enough time you'll miss your flight if you're not very early, and may have to return to testify.

But you CAN have them arrested.

In this case, after the fact, all you can do is file with their own agency, and report it to the ACLU.

Stephanie Osborn said...

Mike, it's my understanding that now, if you "resist" the screening, you WILL be considered a terrorist and will be taken into custody. I don't know that's true, and obviously I didn't have that experience. But as my items were not in my hands but the TSA agents', I would say there's probably another charge lurking in there too.

Space Trucker said...

Earlier this week I flew back from New Mexico. They seemed to be randomly picking out people for the porno scanner which I won the draw.
I had forgotten to take off my belt, and even though the buckle hadn't set off the metal detector, that was enough for me to get pulled to the side and patted down. A fellow about my age with a sewn on patch for a badge rubbed my junk, but since it was the back of his hand, it was supposed to be ok.
The bad part of all this is, it is only theater. It really isn't doing much, just giving the illusion of security by inconveniencing everyone. I used to love to fly, now I hate it.

UG Photography said...

I still say Franklin had it right. (paraphrased) "those who would give up essential freedom for a little security, deserve neither freedom nor security." I understand where you come from. Even before this latest affront, it has been bad. Two years ago I had a partial achilles tendon rupture, for which I got the"boot". I was told to wear it always, as there was a risk of having a full rupture. But of course theTSA *required* me to remove it. and then to hobble over to another area for a pat down. As for your fear of being arrested for refusing a search. It is a valid fear.the"patriot Act" suspends many rights, as well as due process if terrorism is *suspected*. And you must be a terrorist if you don't want a pat down. The quote attributed toRichard Nixon sums it up:"I am certain they will be guilty until proven innocent, for that is the american way". Sorry for the rambling, its a sore subject.

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