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"Terrorism – or the perceived threat of it – has turned democracies into paranoid armed camps in which the state feels justified in assuming that every citizen is a potential terrorist." – John Naughton
We are the last ones to board the flight to LA. It's not the first time that our refusal to pass through the airport scanner has caused us to nearly miss our flight. Donn is already ahead of me and in the spread-eagled, humbling position when I reach for my iPhone to get a picture. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent gathering my possessions ever so slowly, despite my telling her our flight is boarding, advises me not to touch anything on the belt. "Just a quick picture ... I'm writing an article on the scanner that the European Union just banned at nearly the end of the 3-year trial period."/1 "It's against policy for you to touch any of your possessions." But my talk about the EU banning the scanners momentarily diverted her attention.
I snatch my iPhone off of the "verboten belt" and quickly get my shot of my husband, Donn going through the process no one else in the vast lines of people opted for. Realizing she's lost control, the TSA agent snaps, "Hurry and take it [after the fact] – that's my boss coming!" and then proceeds to ask her burning question, eyes widening, "The EU did what?"
"They are banning them, scrapping all those expensive airport scanners declaring them unsafe at nearly the end of the term, but they are still in use in the US. They also revoked the once-mandatory 'no scan/no fly' rule."/1 She pats me down and, over the top of her rote monologue, I tell her everything I know about the latest developments. "Send me your article please," she admits with fear in her eyes, "I'm extremely worried about my exposure here."
Meantime, Donn sees my Nikon in my stash of personal belongings and reaches over the counter, grabs it, and starts taking pictures of me getting the pat-down. The TSA agent's boss is now running at top speed, telling him, "No pictures!! Put it away." Donn says "Okay, will do" and then takes several more before complying. What is this "no picture" rule? Where is this stated? Are they afraid we'll have evidence? Faces to pin a crime to when TSA agents are likened to those tried for Nazi war crimes for exposing our bodies and our unborn to cancer-causing radiation?
I hand my NHF business card to this woman and she said so sincerely, "Thank you so much. I will email you for this article." She then trusted me with her name, which was all she could give back to me in exchange for having run her hands all the way up the inside of my mini-skirt in a move that would be called molesting were it done in any other setting than at a security checkpoint.
Compromise and Controversy Surround Airport Scanners
Whole-body x-ray backscatter scanners – which flood the body with x-rays in an effort to detect explosives and other weapons – have been deployed at U.S. airports since 2007. Although originally announced as a screening tool for a limited number of passengers, the government's goal now is to use them for all U.S. airline passengers. Many passengers do not realize that they may "opt out" of the scans and "participate" in a full-body pat-down instead.
In 1998, prior to their installation at airports, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brought together a team of radiation safety experts to determine whether any health risks were associated with the use of an airport scanner called the Secure 1000. Their joint conclusion resulted in the violation of a longstanding principle that humans should not be X-rayed unless there is a valid medical purpose. Yet, here we are; they are doing it.
In January 2011, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura sued the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, alleging that the scans and pat-downs violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure. He is sick of being treated like a criminal and no longer flies. The judge threw the case out, claiming she did not have jurisdiction. "You have to realize, when you go to an airport you are not protected by the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. They can do anything they want and there is nowhere you can go to seek regress," Jesse advises.
Individuals and groups have initiated lawsuits. Jonathan Corbett, who said he works in "technology," is acting as his own attorney in a Federal lawsuit against the TSA. The suit objects to him being forced to enhanced pat downs – if he refuses to go through one of the machines – "that require the touching of his genitalia area by TSA officers." Corbett also sewed a metal object into a pocket on the side of his shirt and passed through the backscatter x-ray with it undetected, multiple times, proving the machine's ineffectiveness in detecting anything laterally. Others complain or sue for "groping," and one woman had her breasts laughed at by TSA agents, one even following her to the boarding area saying he wished he had been part of that search. There have been comments about the similarities to Nazi Germany.
Some religious groups have refused to pass through the scanners, citing a violation of their privacy, while some on the other side of the scanner enjoy the "virtual stripping." The U.S. Marshall's Service admitted that it saved thousands of stored images from a Florida checkpoint even though they will claim images are never stored. Some of these body scans are leaked and circulated
All of this bad press coupled with the fact that TSA shut down for three days over a busy Thanksgiving holiday, not even offering pat-downs when their public image came under question and the fact that lateral views are not registered on scans, so weapons and "metal objects" can and have been brought through without detection and they don't detect "booty bombs" either – anything inside the body, make the scanners a dubious and dangerous entity that are definitely not about "safety in the skies" at all.
An anonymous blog comment on the TSA's blog.tsa.gov site made this observation in January 2012 about the Top 10 Catches of the Year (three of the ten were snakes, turtles, and a tactical martial arts spike):
"And just think, those Top 10 Finds only cost us, the lowly taxpayer, what $8.1B? Good God, think of the good that could have been done with that money compared to employing a bloated, undereducated work force whose Top 10 Finds don't amount to a hill of beans. Add this pathetic look at the successes to the scorching information released by Congress and you see that we're paying a lot for little to nothing."
11th Hour Reprieve
In the U.K., a "no scan/no fly" mandate was recently revoked. Manchester Airport has been the only European airport using the £80,000 machines; but after a three-year trial, the European Commission (EC) declared them unsafe. Last May, the EC reviewers had stated that the scanner's risk was "close to zero," so it was understandable that Manchester airport would expect the technology to be approved for permanent use. However, with no approval forthcoming, the Manchester Airport authorities have been left with no option but to axe their 16 scanners because the EC does not allow security trials to exceed a three-year period.
So, even though the report from the EC in May had claimed that radiation doses were "very low," it did ominously add that the long-term effects – such as cancer risks – from its use could not be ruled out. Meanwhile, a U.S. academic, Dr. David J. Brenner, opined that these scanners could deliver up to twenty times more radiation to the skin than previously thought – potentially increasing the risk of skin cancer. It is well known that there is a direct correlation between radiation exposure and cancer.