INVASION OF THE BODY SCANNERS – And Other Close Encounters of the TSA Kind

Nov 28, 2010 | Danger Zones & Dark Sides, Travel Issues, U.S. Travel

The thing that has excited me most about the controversy over the Transportation Security Administration’s new enhanced screening is that it has found people on both ends of the political spectrum agreeing on something. It turns out a lot of people, liberal or conservative, don’t want the TSA looking at or fondling their naughty bits.

My husband and I argued briefly over whether it was worse to have someone wrap a hand around his junk, or press fingers against my vag. I conceded that perhaps the level of invasiveness was a draw.

I’ve been patted down by security in the past. A female agent ran her hands over my groin, but she was so businesslike it didn’t bother me. I imagine her pressing harder, to make sure I have no explosives in my coochie, and the thought only makes me twitch the tiniest bit.

Then I picture someone doing that to my 14-year-old sister, and the shudder deepens. I think about the years spent explaining inappropriate touching to her, and why she shouldn’t allow it.

By now you’ve likely heard about the little boy who was too shy to allow the intensive TSA pat-down. To expedite the process, the father removed his son’s shirt and thrust it at the TSA officer, after which the officer patted down the shirtless boy. OK, so the agent didn’t take off the kid’s shirt. But watch the video and imagine the whole thing from the boy’s point of view: officers searching him like a suspect, the father taking off his son’s shirt because the agents aren’t backing off, and the uniformed man touching his body in a way no one probably ever has – except maybe his mother when he was a toddler in a bathtub. All this in front of a crowd of strangers.

Does anyone really think patting down children makes us safer?

Is it possible someone will use a child as a bomb? Of course. Is it likely? Of course not. Is it possible someone will try to hide explosive materials in their crotch again? Of course. Is it likely? Of course not. Is it likely that the next thing a terrorist does will be something the TSA hasn’t considered? Absolutely. Does that mean we should, or can, intensify security everywhere? Absolutely not.

I’m not as afraid of terrorists as I am of the idea that my country might build its laws around the constant threat of terrorism. In such a world we all become potential suspects. We give up our rights in tiny pieces for the safety of the many. We then put security decisions into the hands of a small group of sometimes undertrained government employees with badges and a too-easy list of suspicions on which to base their actions. Why do I say undertrained? Did you hear how a couple of them treated the cancer survivor with the urine bag? If not, check it out:

Some want to make all the hassles go away by resorting to racial profiling. Have you seen the racial profile on Muslims? Surprise: they’re not all Arabic, or even Middle Eastern. Many are white, or black, or Asian. Many Latin Americans and Native Americans look Arabic, and vice-versa. I think that about covers all of us. In any case, arresting, questioning, or detaining people based on ethnicity and/or religion has been done for thousands of years, and it has never succeeded in making the world a safer or more just place.

But let’s get back to the little boy. That boy ran something of a gauntlet to make it to his place in that security line. Nearly 7 of every 1000 American children under five will have died by the end of this year, most from preventable causes – such as diabetes, pneumonia, or accidents. Twenty years ago, the U.S. ranked 29th in the world in preventing child mortality. We now rank 42nd, behind much of Europe, as well as the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, and Chile. This even though the U.S. spends nearly twice as much per capita on health care as most other industrialized countries. The data suggests broader problems with the nation’s poorly planned health care system, according to international health experts.

What does that have to do with national security? Not much, and that’s my point. Around the world, 22,000 children under five die every day. That’s nearly eight times the number of victims killed on 9/11 – every day. We stand a better chance of preventing those kinds of deaths than preventing another terrorist attack. So why do our leaders spend taxes on body scanners, border fences, and homeland security drills – yet get scared by cries of socialism when it comes to spending taxes on health care? Both are supposedly for the common good. But buying gadgets and locks and cops to fight the monsters we envision busting into our lives from the outside, is easier than sitting down to the complicated task of educating people about the daily threats to security within our borders: such as poor health care, repressed wages, and failing education.

So, we let the government blast us with x-rays, stare at our faceless naked bodies on a screen, or grope our groins – because it gives us the illusion of safety.

As I prepared for my flight home for Thanksgiving, my husband found a bit of light reading to prepare me for my security screening, TSA’s new book for kids: “My First Cavity Search.” It’s a fake of course, but it gave me just the laugh I needed. What else am I going to do. Cry? So I can add “joy” to the list of things that terrorists, and those who live in terror, have taken away?

I suppose you’ve heard of the “flying pasties” designed to protect the privacy of those who go through the full-body scanners. I’m tempted to buy some, to hide my girl parts while saying “nanner-nanner” to authority. But I’m not stepping into a scanner.

The government says the x-ray dosage is within safe limits. But remember, this is the same government that’s not paying the health claims of dozens of former employees from Rocky Flats – where they used to make plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons. These workers have contracted cancer at much higher rates than the general population, yet the government’s legal experts have decided no one can prove which ones might have gotten cancer anyway.

I’m a frequent flyer, and I’m not taking chances. If they want to get personal with me, they’re going to have to pat me down. I’ll admit, even after all I’ve said, I still don’t mind the idea all that much

Since this brouhaha began, I’ve been through airport security twice. If the groping became egregious, I was ready for a righteous Fourth Amendment lawsuit. But nothing happened: I didn’t get scanned, I didn’t get patted down, and the security agents were downright friendly.

In the end, it seemed to be much ado about nothing. But I don’t blame anyone, conservative or liberal, for raising a stink, or for threatening a National Opt-out Day – the security slow-down plan that went bust. I think it’s good to remind our leaders now and then that we the people do have power, and that we do care about our rights. It’s important to draw the line somewhere. And even if we sometimes draw it a little too soon or too ineptly, that’s usually better than drawing it too late… or not at all.

About Cara

Cara Lopez LeeCara Lopez Lee is the author of They Only Eat Their Husbands. She’s a winner of The Moth StorySLAM and performs in many storytelling shows, including Unheard L.A., and Strong Words. Her writing appears in such publications as Los Angeles Times, Manifest-Station, and Writing for Peace. She’s a traveler, swing dancer, and baker of pies. Cara and her husband live in the beach-town of Ventura, California, where they enjoy tending their Certified Wildlife Habitat full of birds.
Cara Lopez Lee

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