Full Monty Scanner or Enhanced Pat-Down – the Only Options?

There are a thousand things wrong with flying, considering that it’s an excellent way to burn precious liquid fuels for something that does not produce lasting economic value, that it puts combustion products into atmospheric layers where they really do not belong, and a score of other things as well. In that way, it may be a bit strange to see advice that superficially is related to flying on the PRI blog. However, the actual issue at hand is actually not about flying, but about a government testing how much further it can go with tormenting both its citizens as well as its guests. You guessed it: this post is about how to deal with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) recent implementations of security procedures. Actually, this is a fairly general issue — it would be a mistake to believe that there are no plans to extend the measures introduced at airports to e.g. maritime transport as well.

Let us get an overview over the present situation: When going through U.S. airport security, depending on when one arrives at the checkpoint, one will be urged to go through one of the newly introduced full body scanners — or not. (As it happens, during peak flows the previous method of X-raying hand luggage plus metal detector scans still seems to be okay, strangely.) For passengers asked to go through a body scanner, there is the alternative option of submitting oneself to a manual security check, which recently has changed to become an "enhanced pat-down". It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand what that means.

Actually, if one thinks a little bit deeper about it, the ‘choice’ one has at this point as a passenger is a fairly interesting one. The most immediate observation is that most passengers are quite willing to accept what will be done to them, as they get the impression that they have exercised ‘choice’ in the matter. (Now, does that not remind us a lot of ‘bipartisan democracy’?) Likewise, the people employed to perform these security checks seem not to have any qualms about what they do to passengers, as they can always conveniently tell their conscience that passengers do get a ‘choice’.

But what sort of ‘choice’ is this? More importantly — what choices are missing here? If a passenger considers the options as they are presented to them, then, quite evidently, the choice one does not have at this point is to not be sexually harassed. One only gets to choose: (a) to have a picture of your naked body taken (I assume the majority of passengers never would consent to that if not under pressure) and stored digitally. (These days, even modern photocopiers come with hard drives that record every document ever copied on them — so how would anyone trust the TSA that this does not hold for their scanners?), or (b) being touched in a highly inappropriate way that has been explained at length in many other places.

To me as a sort-of external observer of the madness of western civilization, it was fairly revealing to see how society would respond to this. Of course, U.S. citizens approach the situation as they have been trained to: problems are solved by buying a product that has been invented to deal with this issue. Ah, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail to you, and in consumer zombie-land, that one hammer is the credit card.

Let’s consider a saner approach to all this. After all, it’s a petty game the TSA wants to play with its passengers. If I may say so, my hunch is that this is to a far lesser extent about security than it is about government testing the waters of how far it can possibly go in controlling and even humiliating its citizens and guests. Personally, I find that very concerning, as it indicates that a very dangerous process is going on. Quite likely, the U.S. has already gone further on the road to fascism than most people realize, and also, a key problem seems to be that in the U.S., most citizens are not sufficiently well educated to know how fascism works and what it looks like.

Here is a suggestion for a very simple alternative way to deal with the TSA which might just help to put an end to this nonsense. Just remember: if they tell you to do something, then either there is a valid reason for that or there is not. And as there can be no valid reason for having to submit oneself to sexual harassment of one form or another, there must be a better way to deal with them than the options they put in front of you.

a) Whatever you say to them, make sure you say it in a friendly (but if it has to be, determined) voice. This is the only way to take a strong position against them. Never ever swear at them. Make a conscious effort to remind yourself of that just before you talk to them.

b) When asked to submit yourself to a full body scan, opt for a pat-down. You do not have to state any reasons for doing so, but you may express concerns that these sophisticated devices might actually come with persistent storage, and you certainly would always object to being forced to have a naked image of you taken, as you consider this as a form of sexual harassment.

c) When opting for a pat-down, they will get a same-sex security assistant to check you. Better be prepared for this to be a particularly un-attractive individual. (Or, for that matter, an, erm, particularly attractive one.) Here, make the following requests — should these be denied, make sure you record the names of all involved, and make it very clear to them that they must expect being confronted with this in court later.

  1. You want the pat-down to be done in a dedicated area, away from the eyes of the public.
  2. You want a non-TSA person (maybe two) to be present as a witness who would be willing to testify in court should there be any reason for a lawsuit. See if you can get the procedure filmed by that witness, if possible.
  3. You certainly want the security assistant to use fresh gloves for hygienic reasons.
  4. Ask them to explain the pat-down protocol step by step to you. Make sure the witness gets that as well.
  5. Ask this question: "Is the enhanced pat-down procedure actually warranted for security reasons, or has it been deliberately made unpleasant to discourage people from not submitting themselves to the body scanner?" (If you get an answer similar to the one I got — a la "actually, it’s both" — this will quite likely be relevant in court.) Make sure the witness gets the answer.
  6. Let them perform the "enhanced pat-down", but before they go too far (where that point is reached depends on you) and e.g. start to pat down your trousers, ask them to stop for a second. Then, regardless of what they say, take off your trousers and hand them over to them for the pat-down. (We’ve presumably all been to the beach and have no problems showing or seeing naked legs, so that should be fine, right?) Furthermore, you are in an enclosed area where the public cannot watch, so this is no reason for any complaint either. After all, you are just making their life a bit easier, and there is no reason whatsoever security-wise why your trousers would have to be on your body for the pat-down.
  7. If they try to stop you, or still insist to touch you, take their names and IDs, don’t stop them, and make it very clear to them that you will meet again in court, for what they’re doing is not justifiable as a security measure, but instead is clear and definitive sexual harassment. And what’s most important: don’t get angry, but smile. If it helps, think about this: you will bring that to court, and they might just have made you a millionaire.