Passport? Boarding pass? Assault?

So since I made the move to FTB (and I’m still super happy about that), people have started talking to me about conferences and meetups and conventions and whatnot. Being fairly new to organized nonbelief, I have never been to one of these fancy functions (although I will be at Imagine No Religion 2 in Kamloops in May). I’ve never had a major yen to congregate in this way. While I do enjoy the company of my fellow infidels here in Vancouver, I’ve never had a strong desire to attend a large event organized for that purpose. I’m not knocking them, I’m just saying they haven’t been a big draw for me.

However, as I make more friends who I would otherwise not have a chance to see (I am referring largely, but not exclusively, to my colleagues at FTB), I begin to see the desirability of getting to hang out with a big group of heathens. The problem, for me at least, is that very few of the meetups happen in Canada, which forces me to go to the United States. Where this happens:

Women passengers complain that TSA agents are targeting them for extra screening. The Transportation Security Administration has a policy to randomly select people for extra screening, but some female passengers are complaining. They believe there is nothing “random” about the way they were picked.

A Dallas woman says TSA agents repeatedly asked her to step back into a body scanning machine at DFW International Airport. “I feel like I was totally exposed,” said Ellen Terrell, who is a wife and mother. “They wanted a nice good look.” When Ellen Terrell and her husband, Charlie, flew out of DFW Airport several months ago, Terrell says she was surprised by a question a female TSA agent asked her. “She says to me, ‘Do you play tennis?’ And I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘You just have such a cute figure.’”

So I’ll level with you here: I’m good-looking. Like Derek Zoolander good-looking. Even still, I don’t have to put up with this horseshit. And here’s the other thing: NOBODY SHOULD HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS HORSESHIT. Especially not from a government agent without whose blessing you cannot conduct business, visit family, or attend a fun atheist meetup with your buds.

Whatever the caricatures about liberals are, and whatever level of liberalism one would wish to ascribe to me, I can definitely line up with anyone who thinks that it’s wrong for the government to have the power to leer at your naked image. Any institution that has power with nothing forcing it to exercise its abilities judiciously will become corrupt. It is an inviolable facet of human nature. Giving unchecked power to a government agency is going to result in cases like this every single time.

And then, if we’re lucky, we’ll get offered milquetoast “fixes” like this:

One of the most powerful senators in the country is taking action after watching a CBS 11 investigation.  Democratic Senator Charles Schumer from New York saw our story uncovering a pattern of women complaining about  the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents. Now, Senator Schumer wants to give passengers a way to complain if they feel mistreated.

Another government agent that we can tattle to after we’ve been perved on. At the risk of going “full Ron Paul” on this one, the answer appears to be pretty obvious to me: get rid of the pornoscanners. Come up with a better, evidence-based way of screening for dangerous items and passengers, and take the power to ogle women out of the hands of entry-level peons who have nothing but their own good sense to hold their skeevedom in check.

So, for the foreseeable future, if the question starts with “Hey Ian are you going to the…”, the answer is probably going to be ‘no’. Not unless I can drive there.

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  1. Anonymous Atheist says

    Everyone should absolutely insist on using their right to ‘opt out’ of the pornoscanners and take the patdown instead. Patdown vs ogle may seem like a tossup (many pornoscanner ogles lead to a patdown anyway, though), but the pornoscanners are massive health risks.

    In addition to the wide variety of crap that the regular TSA puts people through to get on a plane, the customs people who you’d be dealing with when getting off a plane from another country are given even more latitude to do even worse stuff.

  2. Luna_the_cat says

    The pornoscanners are potentially/possibly very small health risks if you are particularly unlucky and fly every week. They are not, on the balance of any available evidence, “massive health risks.”

    I hate them too, but let’s try to keep things evidence-based.

    …Also, if it comes to a choice of being leered at or felt up, I have to go with leered at; I hate it, I think it is stupidly pointless and illegally intrusive, but it just makes me angry. However, as someone who has been assaulted in the past, being subject to “invasive pat down” spikes my blood pressure and fight-or-flight response like you wouldn’t believe.

    This is also part of why I haven’t visited my family in the US in three years.

  3. bcoppola says

    Don’t get me started. I used to enjoy visiting Canada as I live near the border (suburbs of Detroit). But it’s no fun being treated like a potential miscreant when returning legally to MY OWN FUCKING COUNTRY WITH A VALID FUCKING PASSPORT!!

  4. Anonymous Atheist says

    There are certainly other difficulties and concerns for some people that may cause them to make different decisions. And obviously many people (like Crommunist) choose to avoid flying as much as possible to avoid the whole security theater mess, of which the scanners are just one part. But I and many other people suggest to anyone who will listen that when someone does have to fly, they strongly consider the merits of opting out of the scanners both on health grounds and as a protest to the general violating wrongness of it. (And FTR, sometimes you get lucky and it’s even possible to opt out without a patdown, by being careful to get in the right line at a terminal where one of the scanners is shut down for some reason and they revert to the older patdown-free procedures for that line.)

    Scientists have stated the risks are worse than the government and manufacturers claimed to the public; the full extent of the risks are unknown due to the government and manufacturers not wanting proper testing; and many medical professionals agree there is no justification for any amount of increased risks from these unnecessary exposures which serve no medical purpose.

    Evidence, for example:

    If you want to nitpick about my use of the word ‘massive’, replace it with ‘an intentionally-unknown higher-than-portrayed amount of unnecessary’ risks. The point remains valid, and as evidence-based as the government has made possible.

  5. Gregory says

    The problem is, no one can actually prove the safety of the scanners. The TSA steadfastly refuses to permit independent, third-party testing, and instead provides a one-line summary of their own alleged tests with no details or description of methodology.

    Allowing independent testing would end all speculation. They refuse. One has to wonder why.

  6. Gregory says

    I made the mistake of driving by myself from the States into Canada a few weeks ago at Blaine, Washington. Apparently, the Canadian border agents saw that as a potential terrorist act: I was pulled aside, had to go in, empty my pockets, answer to an inquisition, and watch as my car was strip searched. (I insisted — and got — the right to be present while my car and luggage was gone over. Both Canadian and US law gives you that right, and I refuse to give my rights up for anyone, for any reason. They were not pleased at having their absolute authority challenged.) I noticed that there were a number of others who were undergoing the same scrutiny, and all of them seemed to be single male drivers.

    Trust me: it is not just the American TSA engaging in pointless security theater.

  7. Jenni says

    I find the wording of the quoted article annoying… “said Ellen Terrell, who is a wife and mother.” Why is her family status relevant? Would the TSA agent’s comment and their “random” selection have been somehow different if she was a childfree single lesbian?

    Sorry, small feminist gripe there.

  8. says

    How about get rid of the TSA entirely? Phil Plait and Adam Savage both just tweeted this blog piece [1] by a retired FBI agent arguing that the TSA is a total bureaucracy with no useful purpose beyond providing the illusion of security.

    It’s a really good, well-reasoned piece I would encourage everyone to read and think about.


  9. Dunc says

    Exactly how many terrorist plots have these scanners foiled, anyway? I’m guessing that if the answer was greater than zero, we’d have heard plenty about it…

  10. ischemgeek says

    When I was a teenager, two middle-aged airport security goons threatened to have me strip-searched because I protested being made to hop through a metal detector on a very recently (read: three days prior) badly sprained knee. They did this despite documentation of the injury in the form of a letter from the ski patrol first responder and another from the emergency room doctor, and the fact that a procedure existed in case injury made it difficult to get through the detector unsupported: at the time, the alternative in case of injury was a manual go-over with the wand, with assistance offered by the airport security people.

    I hopped through, it didn’t go off, but the felt the need to go over me with the wand and order a pat-down anyway (while I balanced on one leg without support, no less… and aggravated the pain of my injury every time I had to put my leg down for balance). My parents intevened (why they didn’t intervene over the strip search comment, I have no idea – aside from being an ignorant-of-my-rights kid, I was drugged to the gills on codeine and in a boatload of breakthrough pain so I was in no condition to standup for myself) and insisted they get a woman to pat me down.

    So these stories don’t surprise me one bit. There’s a reason I don’t travel by air, and it’s not a fear of heights or flying.

  11. David says

    From an interview I once read with the manufacturer of these machines, there is a conservative statistical estimate of 6 people every year getting cancer as a direct result of these machines. Out of millions of travelers that may not seem like a lot, but any number greater than or equal to 1 is “massive” in my opinion, especially when you consider that the US doesn’t have a proper health care system: these 6 people are expected to pay for their own cancer treatments that were caused by a government funded program so that millions of others can have the illusion of safety.
    How would you feel to be told you were going to die just so that everyone else could feel (not be) a little safer about their trip?

  12. David says

    The regulation is definitely misplaced, but to the best of my knowledge (at least as of when I read about this back in December) no trans-person had been refused for not “looking like” the gender listed in the passport. Small comfort, I’m sure.

  13. David says

    And for my own anecdote, I recently made a trip to Philly by way of Buffalo (significantly cheaper to drive the two hours and easier crossing at the border than out of Pearson, or so I thought).
    Every single security line had these scanners, all functioning perfectly. It was the first time I’d ever encountered them in real life. I had my plan all worked out, I was going to refuse the machine, take the pat-down, but by the time I got to the front I was just “ugh, I’ve been standing in this line for an hour, my feet are sweaty, just let me put my shoes on and go, stand like this? fine, whatever, I don’t care anymore”. It quite easily became one of my most shameful moments, knowing my rights and being ready to pull them, and then just… not.

  14. Ringo says

    Yep. I’m not planning on flying anywhere anytime soon, though I got into the US last year with a beard and a passport that said female.

    The year before that as soon as I got in line to go through security at Vancouver airport some official dude came through and shut down all the lines but the one with the scanner. I was freaking out a little, but when the guy asked me if I wanted a scan or a pat down I told him I was trans and they let me through with just a hand swab…

  15. carlie says

    There is a super easy solution that doesn’t even go near the hard questions about whether any of this makes us safer or not: change the scanner system. There’s a new scanning technology that doesn’t show body outlines.

  16. Dianne says

    You could do what I did once when patted down by TSA (my own fault for wanting to avoid the pornoscanner): Chat with them about the health risks of being exposed to radiation on a daily basis, even at a low dose. Perhaps inquire as to whether TSA provides a uniform insurance which would allow for gathering of statistics on cancer rates. Ask if the agent has experienced any weight loss, unexplained fever, chills, cough. Hand them your card if you happen to be an oncologist…

    Ok, I stopped short of asking about personal symptoms and handing them my card, but fwiw, commenting on the radiation risk won’t get you arrested. Or at least didn’t get me arrested…And is a fun way to release the frustration of the huge security line and ridiculous measures required at the end of it.

  17. Brian Lynchehaun says

    Out of millions of travelers that may not seem like a lot, but any number greater than or equal to 1 is “massive” in my opinion

    Then when you use the word “massive”, it’s meaningless noise.

    There is 1 glass of water on my table, not a “massive” amount of water.

    In a car accident, there is occasionally 1 or 2 people injured, not a “massive” amount of people injured.

    Righteous indignation is all well and good, but don’t allow it to turn your brain off.

  18. David says

    A glass of water next to the vast amount you can acquire from your tap is not massive. A glass of water in the middle of the desert is.
    A couple of injuries in a car accident where death is very probable is not massive. A couple of injuries doing something completely benign where there is no reason to even suspect injury is.
    A single atom of anti-hydrogen is a massive amount in isolation, a feat that is extraordinarily difficult to accomplish, and yet that is still just a single atom.
    “Massive” isn’t a specific number, it is defined as “exceptionally large”. Any amount that is more than expected or desired is exceptional: there should be zero cancer patients, instead there are 6 (statistically speaking: there could actually be zero, there could be 100). That six, compared to the zero that it should be, is massive.

  19. John Horstman says

    Come up with a better, evidence-based way of screening for dangerous items and passengers…

    Or, you know, don’t. Accept that there is a trade-off between liberty and security, that someone might be able to successfully blow up a planeload of people every decade or so (irrespective of what security measures we have in place), and live with it because the risk is worth not having to be scanned every time you want to travel by plane. Or travel by not-plane. I’m in favor of shifting the attitude from “if you don’t want to abdicate your privacy, don’t fly” to “if you don’t want to accept a slightly higher risk of being caught in a terrorist attack, don’t fly” and ditching every single new security policy put into place since 2001. As far as I’m aware, the new security policies have had no demonstrable impact on the incidence of catching people planning to blow up or hijack planes, though that’s based on a suspect, subjective, from-memory analysis of news reports on people getting caught at airports and therefore isn’t worth much/anything. Anyone have any actual data?

  20. Dianne says

    Just back home after a trip that involved airplane travel. Went through security twice and forgot (really) to take my liquids out and put them in a separate tray both times. Got challenged neither time. So much for the supposedly airtight security at airports. It really is all security theater.

  21. Who Cares says

    There is a fairly ‘funny’ clip about Adam Savage bringing saw blades on the plane he flew to w00tstock 2.0 with.

  22. says

    I’ve often wondered what would happen if more people opted out and took pat-downs. The TSA agents are inconvenienced by having to do more of them than whatever the random checks prescribe, so they’d probably change it. I always get there early enough, and I’ve never yet been through one of those pornoscanners. Though also, apparently you get pat down whenever you wear a long skirt.

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