As you may have noticed, people on the Internet are upset about new TSA security measures. Broadly, there seem to be three objections:
1: "I don't want to be exposed to radiation."
2: "I don't want government employees to see me naked."
3: "I don't want government employees to touch me."
In general, these are all valid concerns, but to me the current volume and hyperbole seem overblown. I have yet to fly with them in place, though, so I don't want to make any firm claims. However, in preparation for my trip to New York City on Monday, I found the TSA's Advanced Imaging Technology FAQ
Q. What has TSA done to protect my privacy?
A. TSA has implemented strict measures to protect passenger privacy, which is ensured through the anonymity of the image. A remotely located officer views the image and does not see the passenger, and the officer assisting the passenger cannot view the image. The image cannot be stored, transmitted or printed, and is deleted immediately once viewed. Additionally, there is a privacy algorithm applied to blur the image.
So objection #2
is pretty silly: the person who "sees you naked" doesn't also get to see the fully-clothed face-in-tact you. So arguably they'll be looking at naked pictures, but they'll have no way to know it's you. Even if the images aren't deleted, there's no record of who went through which security line when, so it's just an anonymous human body. And after several hours a day of looking at "naked" images
, these screeners are not going to be in any way aroused by the fuzzy monochrome body parts of American travelers. There's far higher quality naked pictures of more attractive people doing sexually suggestive things available for free on the Internet.
Another nugget from the FAQ in regards to concern #1
Backscatter technology projects an ionizing X-ray beam over the body surface at high speed. The reflection, or “backscatter,” of the beam is detected, digitized and displayed on a monitor. Each full body scan produces less than 10 microREM of emission, the equivalent to the exposure each person receives in about 2 minutes of airplane flight at altitude. …
Millimeter wave technology bounces harmless electromagnetic waves off of the human body to create a black and white image. It is safe, and the energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is thousands of times less than what is permitted for a cell phone.
So yes, you receive some harmful X-ray radiation while being scanned. But it's orders of magnitude less than the radiation you receive by actually flying on the plane you're about to board. Radiation exposure is a valid concern and you wouldn't want to walk through one of these several times a day, but avoiding the scan before you get on a plane is like refusing a breath mint after Thanksgiving dinner because you're worried about its calories.
The third objection is a touchy subject. elusis
has pointed out that women, minorities, and transgendered people have been uncomfortable with airport pat-downs for years
, but it's a big deal now because
suddenly an able-bodied cisgender white man is the one who was complaining
about the government touching their dicks
. I can sympathize with folks with an adverse reaction to people touching them, but I wonder what they do when they're sitting in a window seat and need to go to the bathroom, surfing over the laps of the two people in their row and sliding past the flight attendants. And it's not like pat-downs are a new thing, they're just doing a more thorough job.
I'm not trying to be a TSA apologist, I'm just trying to keep things in proportion. The whole airport ritual is absurdist security theater worthy of ridicule by Franz Kafka. That they could say "I'm sorry sir, but that's too much toothpaste" is an illustration that it's a human computer with a rather inelegant program. They've got Eric Schmidt's vision backwards. He says "Computers will clearly handle the things we aren’t good at, and we will handle the things computers clearly aren’t good at." But the TSA has humans implementing strict sets of rules (which computers are great at) and not making judgement calls about social situations (which computers are bad at).
I hope this episode will generate enough momentum to change the American approach to airport screening so that it's both more efficient and more secure. But it feels more like a hangover from all the tea partying, which quickly went from "Giving billions of dollars to major banks is unjust!" to "Let's bring a Republican majority back to Washington!"
DIA has over twice as many metal detectors as imaging scanners
, so it should be possible to pick which screening technology you get. I might ask for a grope, just to see how intimate it really is.