When I first heard about the new TSA body scanners (they debuted in 2009), I read quite a bit about how they worked and what some of the objections were, as well as why some thought they were necessary. And after all that research, I decided that I fundamentally disagreed with their use. So I'm really happy that the TSA is now removing the machines, because the agency can't address certain privacy issues inherent to the machine's design and use.
As a frequent-ish flier (my trips tend to be long-haul a few times a year, not several times a month to a local city) from a family whose second home was away from home, I've literally been flying since I was born. So I have watched how security is maintained (or not) over a span of 30 years, and from many non-American airports and perspectives. I've flown from airports so small there was no "airport" building, and landed in countries that Americans were advised away from visiting. So naturally, security has been on my mind. (Though it has never, ever been as front-and-center as the cause of most fatalities having to do with flying: pilot, or some other human error).
I didn't get upset about taking my shoes off, or taking my laptop out of my bag, or the general idea of letting whoever wanted to rifle through my stuff. I'm in the "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" camp, and reasonable security measures were OK by me. But when the body scanners were introduced, I reached my limit. To me, they were unreasonable, for two reasons. First, nobody has the right to see under my clothes, period. Even if they are in another room, and even if they can't see my face. This is my body, and I get to make the call about who sees me naked.
For people who know me, they might be surprised; I'm not a super-modest puritan, by any means. But what I wear is my choice, and I'm making that choice for me on that day, for that time. And so I thought it was excellent for travelers to have the choice to opt out of the TSA's body scanners, which I always did. Was I gently bullied into using them? Was I left standing, once for 10 minutes, waiting for a female TSA agent to give me a pat down? Yes, on both accounts, but I am used to inconveniences for sticking to my guns (I've been a vegetarian for 20 years!). The agents who did the physical pat-down were always polite and respectful. I've read stories in which this was not the case, but I have been given at least seven different pat-downs over the last few years and I've never had a problem. (Though I would play a game with myself to see if I could get them to smile at something funny I might say while they were doing their job.)
I also refused the body scanners because of the low-dose of X-rays that the body receives. I'm perfectly aware that it is equivalent to the radiation that one receives while flying, but the thing about radiation is that it is cumulative; one's lifetime exposure matters. I also refuse dental X-rays. (I've had a few in the past, and that will have to be sufficient for my dentist moving forward) Again, this is about my body — my body, my call. There is a line for me when it comes to security — my stuff is fair game; after all, it is only stuff. But invading the privacy of my physical self, that is not a step I am comfortable with. I know for some people that it's not a big deal, but it matters to me.
For both these reasons, I'm glad that the scanners are being done away with. Because at the end of the day, we all have to make compromises and decisions. How much is security worth to us? It seems like that's a question we are sorting out now; trying some tactics, rejecting them because they are onerous, and working through how we achieve what human beings have tried to since (probably) before we were even modern humans. How do we stay safe in a dangerous world? With the retirement of a technology that enough people saw as problematic, I see hope that we are actually, genuinely figuring this question out.
Related post on MNN: What some TSA-approved toiletries?
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