It’s Body Scanner Opt-Out Day but I Don’t Support the Protest


I know it’s Wednesday and I should be going dark, but with Thanksgiving tomorrow, I decided to switch things around and post today instead. Here we are on November 24, and if one group has its way the lines will be jammed at airports. If you’re flying today, get to the airport very early just in case. I hope that most people don’t participate in this, but if they do, you should be ready. So while you’re sitting in a long line nervously hoping you don’t miss your flight, let’s talk security.

TSA Opt Out Day

The idea behind National Opt Out Day is to fight the latest Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security measures. As we all know by now, in those airports where there are body scanners, you either have to go through them or opt-out and get a full body pat-down instead. That would be fine except for the fact that the new pat-down is very invasive. Instead of using the backs of their hands, Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) use the fronts of their hands and get right up into your “junk” as the saying now goes.

Do I like these new procedures? Certainly not. I don’t think it keeps us much safer, and there are plenty of other recommendations out there for ways that we can do things better. (Israelification seems to be a nice buzz word these days, and I agree with the premise.) But I don’t agree with how people are going about protesting this.

First of all, the TSA is not going to listen to opt-out protesters. The problem with security is that they can always just claim that it’s a “national security issue” and keep doing what they’re doing. Sure, maybe if the President told them to back off, things would change, but I can’t see these particular protests making that happen. There is plenty of noise being made right now about this, and if it’s going to change, people should just keep up the noise as is. But an opt-out day? It’s not going to do anything but ruin travel plans for people trying to see their families for Thanksgiving.

Those TSOs get to go home at the end of their shifts regardless of how long the lines are. But the passengers who opt-out of the body scanner and try to overwhelm the line with lengthy pat-downs? They just get delayed and might miss their flights. More importantly, they delay the people behind them who really want to get home. If someone misses his flight home, there’s a good chance that he’ll miss Thanksgiving because flights are very full at this time of year. Not good.

And while we’re on the topic, let me address the issue of the TSOs. Go easy on them when you fly. These are people who are just doing their jobs. They don’t make the rules, but they are paid to enforce them. Do you think they like feeling up a 500 pound dude? I don’t think so. But they have jobs to do. I’ve heard some people say they should quit their jobs in protest. Are you crazy? You may be gainfully employed, but the job market is very weak at best. If I had a good job with good benefits, I wouldn’t be walking away.

I have heard that TSOs hate this rule just as much as you do. It’s awful to get yelled at by people all day long, and they don’t deserve it. If I fly, I’ll flash a smile and maybe even say thank you. If I get the pat-down, I won’t be pretending to enjoy it. It’s bad enough for these guys. I may not support what they’re doing, but I do support them doing the job they’re given.

So with that, let me say that I hope you all reach your destinations on time and without any trouble. I’m already with my family (we drove), and this is my favorite holiday of the year. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I’ll put up a discussion topic on Friday and then I’ll be back again on Monday with a new post.

[Original photo via Flickr user silas216]

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44 comments on “It’s Body Scanner Opt-Out Day but I Don’t Support the Protest

  1. But of course, delay is the whole point of these proposed acts of civil disobedience. If you really want to get the currently ridiculous TSA procedures changed then *enough* people have to be miffed that there is immediate political pressure. And the best way to miff a lot of folk is delay them as they try to get home to thanksgiving.

    Indeed, given that you agree that the new procedures don’t really help security—”I don’t think it keeps us much safer, and there are plenty of other recommendations out there for ways that we can do things better”—then it seems irresponsible not to do everything you can to get them changed as soon as possible. And National Opt-Out Day seems to fit that bill brilliantly.

    In other words, it’s just plain unAmerican not to opt-out! ;)

  2. “And while we’re on the topic, let me address the issue of the TSOs. Go easy on them when you fly. These are people who are just doing their jobs. They don’t make the rules, but they are paid to enforce them. Do you think they like feeling up a 500 pound dude? I don’t think so. But they have jobs to do. I’ve heard some people say they should quit their jobs in protest. Are you crazy? You may be gainfully employed, but the job market is very weak at best. If I had a good job with good benefits, I wouldn’t be walking away.

    I have heard that TSOs hate this rule just as much as you do. It’s awful to get yelled at by people all day long, and they don’t deserve it. If I fly, I’ll flash a smile and maybe even say thank you. If I get the pat-down, I won’t be pretending to enjoy it. It’s bad enough for these guys. I may not support what they’re doing, but I do support them doing the job they’re given.”

    That gives me chills. There was probably a well-meaning Jewish journalist in late 1930’s Germany who made the same arguments about those poor boys with the swastika armbands.

    1. As much as I sympathize with some TSOs, when they are screaming at you, it becomes significantly more difficult to smile. In Canada, for example, the security performs the same exact policies on flights to the US, but the officers are much more professional about it. Then again, that may be the consequence of being paid $25 more/hour.

    2. “That gives me chills. There was probably a well-meaning Jewish journalist in late 1930?s Germany who made the same arguments about those poor boys with the swastika armbands.”

      Of all the hyperbole floating round about this issue, this is the one that I couldn’t let slip. Everywhere one turns in America these days there is some idiot comparing this or that to 1930/40’s Germany. People seem to flippantly compare figures they dislike to Hitler.

      The holocaust is perhaps the worse moment in human history. Something that haunts the history of millions around the world. Your throwaway references to this because someone might accidentally touch your ass at the airport is deeply offensive to me.

    3. I absolutely can’t believe you are equating Nazis with TSA agents….you are WAY off base here and shame on you. TSAs have a legitimate job to do and there is nothing immoral or unethical about it. Maybe the US needs to get away from this Puritanical way of thinking….nobody cares about your “junk”, so what’s the big deal with getting it scanned? And if it’s radiation you’re worried about…they already debunked that…enough already…..

  3. Cranky

    I agree totally with Andrew’s sentiments.

    This country has a record of changing the way the government governs via civil disobedience (the Boston Tea Party and the Civil Rights movement to name two).

    Just the threat of the “opt out day” protest as well as the “don’t touch my junk” video has even gotten the president to ask for a review of the procedures.

    Actions like opting out are one of the few ways the flying public can get the message across to the TSA, that we understand that what they do is “security theater” and except for the allusion of security, the machines and/or the pat downs, do not make us safer.

  4. I don’t understand why everyone is blaming the TSA for this. This entire issue was caused by 9/11 and the subsequent bombing attempts on commercial aircraft. The flying public should be demanding that the U.S. military (and allies) take action against the groups that caused the increase in security measures (not action like we are taking now – something more aggressive). Lets assume that the TSA would relax the security measures recently put into place and there would be an incident on a US commercial airliner where there would be loss of life due to a militant suicide bomber that got on to the plane and blew it up. What would the public whine about after that? ‘How come the government didn’t protect me?’

    1. Perhaps some of the populace would, but most frequent flyers wouldn’t whine. The issue at play here is that a suicide bomber could blow something up anywhere, not just on a plane. If the TSA continues to curtail our 4th amendment rights, then one day, we might find ourselves in a totalitarian society. The TSA has already began to screen people at train stations, and they put a highway stop in near atlanta a few days ago, just to prove they could. Sure, I don’t mind some security, but to what end?

    1. That’s not what I’ve said. I have no concerns about radiation, as I wrote last week, but if you do, then go ahead and opt out. I’m simply suggesting that those people who are only opting out because it’s opt-out day shouldn’t do so. If you have real concerns and would opt-out on any day, then that’s a different story.

  5. I would be proudly opting out at BOS today, but the TSA turned off all scanners. Just this action shows that the protest is getting to them. And as much as I agree with you, cranky, that the TSA won’t change by itself, congress has the power to make them

  6. Cranky – Other commenters have suggested this before – I would love to see you do a detailed post about what you think airport security should look like, given that we are not Israel, considering the huge number of passengers we have in the States, as well as the cultural constraints in play here, such as how we think about race and religion as the potential base for screening decisions. You would certainly distinguish yourself. There are a million articles out there about what people hate, and _very_little about proposed alternatives. I don’t think privatizing security at MCO is going to help, for example, but maybe you disagree? Has anyone asked people who want to protest TSA procedures today what they would like to see in its place?

    Perhaps people would hate the Gate Rape less if they could select their own screener – heh heh. Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. “Given that we are not Israel”

      Really? Do you think they have fewer Muslim fliers than we do?

      What would be wrong with having database checks for flying history, visa history, and passport history? What would be wrong with asking questions of anyone for any reason security feels is worth checking out? They do it at border crossings, they do it for international flights at Customs…why is “regular” flying less important to selectively screen and use judgment and discernment than international flying and border crossings?

      Not profiling is America at her dumbest. If Muslims of good will have a big problem with being questioned, they can get on the phone to whoever runs the big Islamic Jihad Institute and tell them they’re just not going to put up with it any more and to cut it out. If not, they’ll just have to live with it. This will inconvenience Christian and Jewish and atheist Arabs, as well as those from SE Asia.


      But since there is no connection between little old ladies and workaday business travelers with millions of FF miles, they can stop acting like “zero-tolerance” middle-school principals who have abdicated adult judgment and discernment in favor of a “not my fault, it’s just a policy” excuse.

      If I knew that they were looking for something or someone specific, I would have a lot more faith in the government’s ability to screen than this PC nightmare.

      This is just plain unreasonable search and seizure. Where does it say lady business travelers and 16-year old black and white high-school students are currently suspects. Who are they looking for? No one, it appears.

      Customs looks for drugs and money and contraband, and they find them…Border agents look for illegals and find them.

      TSA exists to reassure the Islamic jihad that they’re right on target with attacks on a large part of our economy and a satisfying fulfillment of “striking terror into the hearts of Unbelievers” (Quran 8:12) and economic jihad, as explained to them by Mohammed in Quran 8:36: ” The Unbelievers spend their wealth to hinder (man) from the path of Allah, and so will they continue to spend; but in the end they will have (only) regrets and sighs; at length they will be overcome: and the Unbelievers will be gathered together to Hell;”

      They have no idea how weak they make America look. Allowing our wives and children and elderly to be molested? For no reason? We are laughable.

      Get control of your culture and stop pretending every other culture is just as nice as the next. It’s not.

        1. “Google “Jihad Jane”. This is why you randomly profile.”

          No, this is why you profile INTELLIGENTLY based on a variety of criteria. The current “random” criteria really does nothing to promote security, except for making the system acceptable to CAIR and the PC-types who don’t want to offend certain groups of people. Instead, you humiliate poor guys with urostomy bags and peg legs. Sounds real effective to me.

          Singling anybody who looks Middle Eastern or appears to have a Muslim name is also useless and won’t solve anything. You’ll unnecessarily harass thousands of Indians, Southeast Asians, even some Mexicans because your average TSA agent can’t tell his or her a** from a hole in the ground, let alone differentiate between an Arab and an Indian. Plus, such a dragnet never would have targeted Richard Reid, or Jihad Jane, or John Walker Lind, or anyone else the jihadists enlist that don’t look “Middle Eastern”.

          We need to develop an intelligence-based profiling system that can single out high risk individuals based on travel history, visa history, congregating with known terrorist outfits, etc. Force them to go through the gropings, and quit wasting time on these supposedly random checks on people that obviously pose no threat.

          1. My bad, sorry. I did mean intelligent profiling. Really my post was in response to the line:

            “Where does it say lady business travelers…”

            and by all accounts, LaRose going through security could look just like a “lady business traveler.” I agree with your post, except to add that you do need an account of true randomness (as in, a random number generator chooses which people to scan again), to make it a bit more unpredictable. I bet that various terrorist organizations have at least a couple of people who would pass all clearances and checks. This is true even for foreign governments, which is why
            once you have a security clearance you’re actually scrutinized *more* than before.

    2. The first thing you should have to accept is that there is no check that gives 100% certainty that there will be no terrorist attack on a plane in the future. (What do you do against a gliderplane loaded with explosives, launched from a helium balloon at 50.000 feet?)
      So you’ll have to do a cost-benefit analysis: How much are we willing to spend for security. I am all in favour of walking all passengers through a metal detector, to keep guns off a plane. But if you do that, it should expend to all people getting near or in the plane, including cleaners and caterers.
      Either get rid of the colour coding or [b]explain to the passengers[/b] how they should act on a specific colour. Your citizens are an important line of defence against terrorists, but they should know how (and when) to act. Don’t look at Muslims only, the Oklahoma bomber was white, anti-abortionists claim to be devout Christians.

    3. The problem here is that I’m not a security expert, and therefore, my opinion would simply be ignored. The security world seems to have that sort of mentality. But I’m happy to provide a framework.

      1) Behind the scenes work should continue to be as strong as possible to detect any potential issues before the person arrives at the airport. I’ve been skeptical of SecureFlight in the past, but I now support the continued development of it so that people can be checked out. Nearly everything should be done before the person gets to the airport.

      2) Every bag should be x-rayed. Carry-on, checked, or cargo.

      3) There should be security checkpoints that every person has to go through. (No registered traveler and no crew shortcuts.) This would probably involve a metal detector but I’ll leave that to the experts. It just needs to be a point where the traveler can be stopped to be questioned while bags are being scanned.

      4) Significantly increase spending to hire and train more qualified security experts who specialize in behavioral profiling. Racial profiling will not work, but behavioral profiling will.

      That’s how I would structure security. Thoughts? (And if any security experts are out there, I’d love to hear why this won’t work.) Oh, and yes, I know it will cost more, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay to improve the security effectiveness.

      1. I’ld like to add:
        5) Send TSA supervisors on an internship to east asia, to learn how to run a checkpoint without shouting. (Respect is mutual, if you want it, show some.)

      2. BRAVO, Cranky – that’s exactly what I’d like to see. The behavioral profiling in particular is something we really need to get after.

        (However, I’m not a security expert, either, so I’m sure the TSA will ignore my opinion, too.)

  7. I agree with you. Making a point is one thing, but inconveniencing other people for the sake of your own viewpoint, which they might not agree with? Super lame and disrespectful of others. It amazes me how people who want to make a point about a particular inconvenience, do it at the expense of someone else’s inconvenience. If I was behind these people in the line, I wouldn’t be ticked off at the new TSA rules, the agents, the government, or even terrorists – I’d be ticked off at the douchebag who thought it would be a good idea to (indirectly) use disruption of my personal travel plans to make his point.

    I’m not arguing for or against the scans or pat-downs, mind you. A different subject for a different post comment. I’m just saying the end (and I don’t think any end will result) does not justify the means.

  8. Sorry. I disagree. It is the threat of these protests, at least in part, that has brought this issue to the forefront. This is one of the only ways we can make our voices heard. The TSA security checkpoints are de facto extra-Constitutional zones and they are taking full advantage by infringing on our 4th amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. (“I’m sorry, I’m going to have to seize this completely harmless bottle of water because my bosses are complete morons who are just trying to cover their butts in case it all hits the fan.”)

    I also don’t feel badly for the TSOs. They made a choice to take this job. They make a choice every day to go to work. They make a choice every time they grab someone’s junk. We all make choices in life and our choices have consequences. Why should the TSOs be immune to consequences.

    The scanners do not make us safer and they infringe on our Constitutional rights. It’s a no brainer for me.

  9. As someone who has had 31 colleagues from my current and previous employer murdered by terrorists, I just don’t have an issue with the pat down. I could have just as easily been on any of the airplanes that were blown up or crashed and the knowledge that there are people still out there trying to kill me and my crew and passengers makes me appreciate anything that is being done to insure they don’t succeed.

    1. They attacked so you would be submitters, not free men. Now your colleagues are dead and you are submitting.

      They are winning if you have shrugged off freedom. Profiling and targeted questioning and databases might have saved those flights and your colleagues.

      I am terribly sorry for your loss and work every day to expose these monsters for what they do to humanity on a daily basis.

  10. I think that the problem is that it was marketed as a protest. Protest is a loaded word and reeks of frivolity. I flew on Tues so the point is moot but I chose to no get in the line for the nude-o-scope and was able to go through the metal detectors just fine.

    For those who say that we are inconveniencing people, I ask “Where does it stop?” I do blame the TSA for this because they are the ones that overreact every time a new challenge occurs.

    Just like if one chooses to pay for a buck’s worth of penny candy in pennies, the people in line behind me might not like it, but it is my right to do it as pennies as still legal tender.

    Don’t we teach of individual freedoms? Then why are we asking people to forget about it because of the length of the line. I am against people protesting just to be a part of something but am fine with those that have real issues with the violation of 4th amendment, questions about the radiation, etc.

  11. At travel times like now people just want to get where they are going so will just do the quickest thing and walk into the x-ray chamber and not be happy if people are slowing them down even if by doing pat-downs. Seems to me if a lot of people are trying to slow the system today they would be the ones waiting in long lines for pat-downs and other people would be sailing in and out of the x-ray chamber.

    But like I’ve been saying about the pat-downs, at least the police read you your rights before they do the same thing TSA agents are doing to you.

  12. Last time I checked access to air transportation is not a right guaranteed by the constitution. If you don’t like the screening procedures then work to change them in a way that doesn’t harm somebody else. The TSA is a stupid reactionary government bureaucracy and it’s that way because we made it that way as a response to 9/11, etc. They do things the way they do because every time something happens we tell them they have to find a way to stop it.

  13. I was just reading a news item that there are people protesting today and one guy is wearing a traditional Scottish Kilt with no underwear. The TSA agent who pats him down will have to rethink his method……LOL

    I wonder how many people are opting out and going for the pat-downs because they want to be ‘fondled’ by someone of their own gender? And the flip side, how many of those TSA agents are liking being able to ‘fondle’ people of their own gender?

  14. I agree with Cranky on a couple of things:

    First, sorry to break it to you, but the TSA, Pistole, Napolitano, et. al. really don’t give a flip if you choose to opt-out of the scanner and voluntarily endure a groping instead. Makes no difference to them at all, and if anything, you’ve just submitted to the more egregious piece of the new security regime. I would argue that the results you’re seeing are more a result of airlines being worried about hits to their profits, and Congressmen being inundated with nasty phone calls and e-mails, then the threat of protests.

    Second, you should be nice to the TSA agents, though for a different reason – they can make your life miserable if you aren’t. Remember, once you enter the security checkpoint, you are essentially in a due process-free zone. The TSA can boot you for whatever reason they want to, invoking “national security” as the excuse. I’m guessing they’re going to be given “zero tolerance” instructions for the day, so any lip at all is liable to get you tossed. Or, they could just follow you to your gate and inform the gate agent or FAs on your flight that you were uncooperative at the checkpoint, and they’ll give you the boot instead.

    IMHO, a more effective form of protest would be to simply choose an alternative mode of transport for your next trip, then e-mail the airline you would have flown along with your Congressman and tell them that the reason you’re not flying is the ridiculous security theater. If Gerard Arpey starts complaining to Congress because his revenues are being hit, something might actually get done. Alternatively, even if Arpey doesn’t care, if your Congressman and/or Senator gets flooded with enough complaints, they won’t have much choice but to make some anti-TSA noise to score political points.

    For the record – I really don’t care about the scanners, but I do have a problem with the new pat-downs. We truly are a banana republic if we now meekly submit to having our privates groped in full view of everyone else, just because it’s related to “national security”.

  15. Here’s why making a TSO’s holiday weekend miserable is a good idea: the more disgruntled they get, the more likely they are to complain to their supervisors. The more the front line workers complain, the more likely the rules will be changed. Pistole doesn’t care about the general public (seriously: the new scanners really don’t prevent anything) but he had better care about his employees

  16. Just wait until we get the first incident with a “Body Cavity” bomb. Maybe the future is to fly naked and no luggage. That should decrease the line up at security check point and all you have to do is bend over for the cavity check.

  17. I remember being in MCO a year or so ago and they had “Extra Assistance”, “Standard” and “Expert” security lines. I suggest we implement a two lane system in our airports. A “Paranoid Attention Seekers” line, where those who want to make a giant fuss, spout out about their constitutional right and be generally abusive to TSA staff just doing their jobs can wait. Then we could have a “standard” line for those of us who have got better things to do and just want to get to our destinations with the minimum fuss.

    Regarding the much vaunted “Israelification” of airport security. I pass through TLV a few times a year and what these people really mean by “Israelification” is Profiling. They seem to think that one breezes through Israeli airports because of some behind the scenes expansive profiling effort. Whilst its clearly a part of their security apparatus, the airport security experience itself is intense. If the current TSA rules make you mad I’d hate to see how angry you’d be if we had actual “Israelification” of our security.

    Last week it took me 85mins to clear the whole security process leaving TLV. Often all your checked and cabin baggage will be opened and completley examined (I had my prescription meeds emptied out and toothpaste checked) and the pat downs are more invasive than anything I have experienced from the TSA. Questioning is intensive and invasive. The number of flights leaving TLV is a fraction of a % of the number of flights per day in the US. Also almost all ex-TLV flights are long haul, so people are accustomed to showing up early.

  18. BOS has had the scanners since March, and no one has had a problem with those AFAIK up to now. I’ve been through those scanners many times. I don’t care what the scanners see, I have nothing to hide and I’d rather be safe. Plus having had a hip replacement, those scanners are a lot more convenient to me than having the metal detector go off and having an enhanced pat-down: not a pleasure for me or for the TSA.
    I detect a different kind of conspiracy here. NPR reported this AM that a group called Americans for Prosperity organized opt-out protests at LAX yesterday. This group is funded by David Koch, ultra rightist billionaire, who uses it to do anything to disrupt and discredit the Obama administration. No doubt that many who have gotten their dander up about the scanners and enhanced pat-downs are in actuality stooges for a neo-Con “Tea Party” political machine funded by the very rich. To create a kerfuffle over the TSA when we need to consider more pressing issues in this country is down right unpatriotic and un-American.

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