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Some Serious Thought On The TSA’s New Image Or Grope Policy

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I, like most travelers, have many issues with the TSA.  I find the majority of their personnel to be uninterested, incompetent, and poorly trained.   Their policies often make little sense and are unevenly enforced.   That said, I have devoted some considerable thought to the recent controversy over backscatter imaging, and I am not completely opposed to it.  At this time, I am having a harder time swallowing the rationale of its opponents than the technology itself.

Problem Number One: It’s Dangerous

The idea is that passengers are subjected to radiation through this technology.   Recently, pilots have begun to protest their repeated exposure to the radiation received through these systems.  Brett Snyder over at the Cranky Flier does a good job of debunking the idea that this technology is subjecting passengers and pilots to a risky level of radiation.   He concludes,“Bottom line? If pilots are really concerned about radiation exposure, they should stop flying. The additional amount from the AIT machines is negligible when compared to what they get while in the air.”

This advice is familiar to me based on an experience I had a few months ago.    At that time, I took a tour of a nuclear reactor used for research.   The scientist giving the tour asked us to guess which people receive the least and the most radiation as part of their occupation.   The people who receive the most radiation are pilots and flight attendants, since they spend the most time outside (most of) the protective envelope of our atmosphere.   Ironically, the least radiation is received by crew members on a nuclear submarine, as they are shielded from natural background radiation by the surrounding sea water.

Cranky points out that the level of radiation received by those scanners is .05 microsieverts.   Just by living in Denver, Colorado, a place with naturally high background radiation, I receive 10 microsieverts of natural radiation a year, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s fact sheet on the biological effects on radiation.   I would have to go through these machines 200 times to receive the same dose I get from living in Denver.   By the way, there are no adverse risks associated with living in places like Denver with higher than average exposure to radiation.

Problem Number Two:  What Is The Point Of Subjecting The Pilots To These Scans

This is one of those questions that really makes the TSA look stupid.   Obviously, a pilot already has control of the aircraft and is in a position to do harm without possessing contraband.   So the TSA are idiots, right?

Not so fast.  It certainly isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that a pilot might use his or her position to smuggle contraband into a secure area only to pass it on to a non-pilot accomplice.    It is even possible that a pilot could plant an explosive device on his aircraft to be detonated at a later time.   As a pilot myself, I have a hard time imagining a fellow pilot would do such a thing, but at the same time I really do not understand why anyone would commit a terrorist attack either.

Problem Number Three: Why Bother With These Machines In The First Place?

If you really think about it, X-Rays can’t detect explosive very well.   One liquid or solid looks pretty much like another of the same density.  Likewise, metal detectors don’t really detect anything that is not metal, and there are plenty of things that a terrorist could use, such as explosives, that are not metal.  Frankly, even a pat down is not all that effective at turning up contraband, as any woman who has hidden something in her bra can attest.  Men who smuggle beverages in artificial beer bellies know that fact as well.   Think about drug mules, and you get an idea of what someone could smuggle on their body if they are really motivated to do so.   If a terrorist is determined to board an aircraft with a harmful device, these imaging systems may be the only way to detect it.

Problem Number Four: Privacy

This is the argument against these imagers that I find the most compelling.   I really don’t like the idea of someone looking at an image of me naked, let alone that of my family.   On the other hand, I used to work at a photo processing lab and you would be amazed at the images of themselves that people regularly turned over to strangers.   Given enough safeguards against the storage of these images, I think ultimately we as a society may have to overcome the idea of strangers looking at these images anonymously.    I wish we lived in a different world, but sadly , we don’t.

I am not trying to make the case for these imagers, but I would at least like you to believe that the issue is not nearly as simple as it would seem.

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One Response to “Some Serious Thought On The TSA’s New Image Or Grope Policy”

  1. Justice Now For U (JN_FU) Says:

    TSA to turn normal citizens into new millionaires?
    Make sure you file a complaint with the police department if you feel molested during your pat down. This will protect your rights should the TSA employee be arrested in the future as a child molester or a sexual predator. Should a report be filed and the individual that did the molestation actually be found guilty, you may be able to sue the police department and TSA for exposing you and endangering your children for failure to catch this predator.
    The legal risks to local and state police departments for closing a case on someone who is later found guilty due to a future arrest is not something to be taken lightly.
    http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2010-02-01/news/os-tsa-security-myspace-orlando-20100201_1_tsa-spokeswoman-sari-koshetz-lewd-myspace-page
    If you or your child was groped by said agent, and you filed a complaint with the Police Department after the incident at the airport, you may be entitled to an extremely large settlement.
    When you opt out, and experience what you may believe is a molestation pat down make sure you ask for a police officer to be called and file a complaint immediately. Follow up to make sure you have the Police report number. Protect your legal rights now. Create a record and a paper trail showing negligence in background screening and investigation follow up. The odds that you are being violated are greater than winning the lotto?

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