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Full-body scan or pat-down search – necessary or an invasion of privacy?

To say that the new security measures being implemented at airports across America are stirring up a controversy would have to be the understatement of the year. More and more, we are seeing news stories about the new policy being used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of givingFull Body Scan passengers about to board an airplane a choice. Either submit to a full-body scan or a pat-down search. It’s your choice, but no matter what your decision is, it is bound to be humiliating. There just seems to be no way around that fact. If a person is just browsing the news channels, they could get the impression that full-body scanners are a new fad, but that isn’t necessarily the case. I wrote an article almost a year ago that mentioned the scanners. They were beginning to come online at airports across the country and at that time, I had not reached a conclusion on how I felt about their use. The reason we are seeing so much about them in the news is the new security guidelines TSA started using on October 29 of this year. That’s when they started randomly choosing people from the crowd and giving them the choice between a full-body scan or a pat-down search.

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As I write this post, I have been doing some research on the fly and it seems all one has to do is a Google search to come across all manner of news articles and blog posts that detail the horrors of what some travelers have gone through. I have seen a video of a three-year-old girl being searched, while being held by her mother and videoed by her father. Needless to say, the little girl wasn’t a bit happy at being touched like that by a stranger. As a father, I can honestly say our two daughters would have been throwing themselves a fit a situation like that. My wife and I always taught them to not submit to something like that. If a stranger touched them, they were to raise as much fuss as possible. Also as a father, I can tell you that someone would have had to bail me out of jail, had that been one of our daughters. At the end of the day, do you think the TSA employee who was trying to search the girl really believed her parents may have hidden an explosive on their child? There is no way I would stand by and allow it to happen, even if it meant renting a car and finishing my trip by driving.

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There are also horror stories of women being selected to be scanned or searched because they have an ankle-length skirt on. Again, our two daughters would fall into that category, as either of them will be wearing such a skirt almost anytime they are in public. It’s just the way they dress. If TSA security personnel can not tell they are not a terrorist by the way they are acting, then I would suggest they need more training. I would like to know how travelers are randomly chosen for these scans or searches. What criteria do they use?

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Some of the horror stories I have read include one by a rape survivor who was given the choice of be Pat Down Searchscanned or be searched. She submitted to the search, but says it feels like she was sexually assaulted all over again. If her description of the search is accurate, I would have to agree. Surely there is a way to enforce airport security, without subjecting men or women to such invasive searches. I understand the need to make sure our airports are secure and by proxy, our airplanes. I just fail to see how these scans and searches are anything but an invasion of our privacy.

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What’s even more troubling, puzzling, bothersome (insert your own adjective here) is the fact that pilots and flight attendants are being subjected to the same security procedures as any normal traveler. Again, I understand the need for airport security, but pilots and flight attendants? Have they already not undergone security scrutiny? One would think so, given the amount of access they have to the planes. Why would they be required to be scanned or searched, as any other traveler? Just one more question that I have no answer for.

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What is the answer to the problems we are facing with airport security? Some say we need to take the approach used by Israel, who has not had an incident with one of their airplanes for years. They use extensive profiling to spot and isolate anyone who may be a threat and everyone who works at the airport is part of the security team. It should also be noted that they only have one major airport that conducts international flights. I think their techniques should be studied and implemented, where possible, but it would be different in America. We have many more major airports and the attitude of their citizens is completely different than is ours.

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TSA is certainly part of the problem. Their employees are not well paid and no doubt, their’s is a thankless job. I don’t fault the employees on the ground so much as I do the people in charge. It’s for certain that the full-body scans and pat-down searches are not going over so well, especially when you look at who is getting searched or scanned. There are plans for a national opt-out day on November 24, one of the busiest travel days of the year. You do realize that is the day before Thanksgiving? What some people are wanting travelers to do is to opt-out of the scans or searches. Maybe that’s a bit of an overkill, but it might also get the message across that something needs to change.

About LD Jackson

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LD Jackson has written 2053 posts in this blog.

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Founder and author of the political and news commentary blog Political Realities. I have always loved to write, but never have I felt my writing was more important than in this present day. If I have changed one mind or impressed one American about the direction our country is headed, then I will consider my endeavors a success. I take the tag line on this blog very seriously. Above all else, in search of the truth.

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  • Israel does strip searches on those who raise suspicions. Would you be in favor of that?

    • I honestly don’t know where I stand on that, Harrison. In an environment such as we have in the United States, I wouldn’t want to see it come to strip searches. There are too many variables that could leave someone open to abuse.

      I will say this about Israel. By the time a situation progresses that far with Israel, they already have a pretty good idea that the person in question is hiding something. They are very good at what they do.

  • Laurie

    As frequent flier, this discussion hits home. Necessary evil? I dont’ know. Adopt Israel’s approach? Would be effective, but practical? Too many airlines, too many ariports perhaps?

    But this really catches my attention:

    “There are also horror stories of women being selected to be scanned or searched because they have an ankle-length skirt on.”

    Ankle length skirts are a staple for many Muslim women. “Traditional Muslim garb” for men can also include robes that are ankle length. Why, after all the support that you voiced for Juan Williams and what he voiced, would you mind this sort of precaution at all?

    These are hard decisions and good discussions for Americans to have. I just think that it’s good to be consistent, and by singling this one thing out I think you’ve done otherwise.

    • I don’t have a problem with anyone wearing ankle length skirts or robes, Muslims or otherwise. My support for Juan Williams was over the fact that he was voicing his opinion and was censored by NPR for that. That’s what I had a problem with and I thought I made that clear in my previous post.

      • Laurie

        Actually, Larry, that’s not all you said. You said you agreed with Williams, that what he had to say wasn’t out of line. That’s certainly support, not just for your thought that he was censored but also for his statement.

        I think that too many of the hard decisions in our country are being affected by emotion-filled conversations that Americans are having without ever considering that they, too, (one day) might be negatively affected by the things they support and call for. How many times, on this and other blogs, have moderators and posters pointed to “the majority of the American public feels..” (pick your issue)?

        I contend that our political and governmental agencies are listening hard to these conversations, and are making decisions based on what they think the American people will accept. Thus, the majority of Americans (polled, voicing on this and 7 million other blogs, calling into talk radio, writing to their newspapers) say “Juan has a point: Muslim garb would scare us, too”, and our government agencies? They take their cues (they’ve been taking them for years) and presto-we have it in the open, only we forgot that it’s going to apply to all of us, not just terrorists. The “majority” of the American people have also been calling for tighter airline security to keep out the terrorists, and when we get it? That, too, is something we forgot that we ourselves will be affected by.

        This may surprise you, given that I’m Liberal Laurie on this blog :), but I happen to agree with fleeceme’s comment above. Profiling, done right, is 90% of why Israel’s airliners are so safe. But they leave it up to well trained professionals, not $12 an hour TSA workers who can’t look for anything but the obvious. Perhaps it’s time for the US to implement a strong profiling program that isn’t about religion or ethnicity but about a person’s entire makeup. That, too, will affect us as we will be pre screened just as hard as anybody. But I’m willing to say it might be a better way.

  • fleeceme

    This problem all stems from America’s aversion to “profiling”. The idea that we can’t look for a “type” of person who is most likely to commit a terrorist act. So instead we are increasingly assaulted by more and more ridiculous measures to ensure our safety. The worst part is they are all reactive in nature.

    Remember all the crap years ago about the amount of liquids you could carry? People had to leave shampoo bottles and hairspray behind because it had too much liquid in it. Or the ban on toe-nail clippers? Now we are doing full body-scans/pat-downs because of the underwear bomber.

    We have a lot of counter-terror specialists in America – delta force operatives, Navy seals, CIA SOG agents, Israeli mussad – it appears to me we are not consulting any of these people. These guys are trained to think like terrorists, better allowing them to predict the actions of the bad guys. I think history has proven we are not doing so. We have been lucky so far that all these recent attempts have been failures, but it has been luck only.

    Richard Marcinko, former CO and founder of Seal Team 6 (the main counter-terror force in the navy), made an important statement we should all listen to. He said basically, “If you are determined enough, and are willing to die, you can hit any target in the world.” Just for some insight on why he believes this, his team was the only people to successfully break into the reactor room of a nuclear sub – during a security exercise run by the Navy. He knew he could get in to the reactor room, but he also knew he would never get out alive – luckily it was just a test.

    Al these security measures are fluff for a scared populace. The government needs to have an overt face to show the public “they are doing whatever they can” to stop terrorism. Well, they aren’t doing the one thing that is most successful in preventing airline attacks, profiling.

    • I totally agree, Colin. We need to implement a policy of profiling. I mean really make it a policy. Find the right people, train them to know what to look for and set them at it. It will work, it will be fair, and it will be effective.

  • [A]s a father, I can tell you that someone would have had to bail me out of jail, had that been one of our daughters.

    Good for you! I’d be thrown in Guantanamo.

    This is about power and control. America has become a police state. We’ve become the old USSR we were told we “defeated.” So long freedom, and thanks for all the fish!

    • Thanks, CL. There is simply no way I would have stood there and allowed one of our daughters be subjected to what that three-year-old girl had to go through. There would have been trouble and I would have been right in the middle of it.

  • Laurie, are you saying the federal government is giving the people what they want? When did that happen?

    • Laurie

      Here’s the thing: I think, when it comes to security measures, the government is giving the people what the government thinks the people want and will accept-what will appease people and make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t do the job. But the sarcasm/humor isn’t lost on me 🙂

      • Again, when did ‘we the people’ ask for to be groped or radiated. We asked for the borders to be sealed and for illegal immigrants to be held accountable. How does THAT get us to a grope fest and a scanner?

      • Opinion polls show over and over Americans are in favor of racial profiling.

  • It was discovered by a TSA worker that my great Aunt wears depends. Think about it They thought about it and to what to do… in the end, they decided not to proceed further. What the further was I leave to your imagination. 75 year old white woman in a wheel chair. Enough of this. Profile…Profile….

  • AND ankle length dresses and Muslim dress looks quite different.

    • Laurie

      Precisely, just as a “Muslim” doesn’t look like a Mediterranean person (except to untrained TSA workers)…It’s why I think fleeceme has made a resonable assertion: Do we want invasive treatments that really don’t get to the heart of the matter, or do we want real measure that make a difference? I think Americans really want the latter but have been shouting about and demanding the former-and it’s exactly what we get.

      • I’m confused. When have we been demanding a grope fest or a radiation bath?

  • I opted out in August on the way to my daughter’s wedding. I was in a wheel chair and I was selected for the porno machine (disgusting how detailed that is – Ick). Anyway, all of a sudden people were yelling, Opt Out over here! Opt Out over here! I remember sitting there thinking, “Wow. That was an intimidation and manipulation tactic” Wrong person to mess with here. So the lady comes over and grabs my arm to take me in another room. I said no. She said then I have to do it here. I said, exactly. I want witnesses. She was very THOROUGH. I remember afterwards thinking, “Was all that really necessary? and “I know that who thing was a set up to force me into that scanner.” I also remember the male attended who was pushing my wheel chair was completely embarrassed and left while she did the groping exam.

    I think the above commenters are correct. We need to be profiling. Period. If we miss it occasionally, then we apologize, fix it and go on.

    Also, the fact that Muslim women may be exempt from the scanner and grope session is maddening because it re-iterates that this is nothing more than a power play against “we the people”.

    IF…the situation is dire enough to do this, then it is dire enough for EVERYONE to under go it (except children).

    Lastly, we do have profession profilers in this country. We could put them to work in the airports. We could even hire and train many more of them. They are called the FBI, CIA, etc. We have people who are highly trained within these organizations who do profiling every day.

    As a side note, since when did it become ‘illegal’ to leave the airport when refusing both the scanner and the grope fest? And how is this NOT the very thing our FOUNDING FATHERS warned against. I would think this is a violation of our 4th Amendment rights….

    • Thanks for sharing your travel story with us, Dominique. I can’t even imagine the humiliation you suffered that day. I have to ask the question though. Did they give you any reason why you and your wheelchair were chosen for the scanner?

      • Dominique

        No. I thought it was really odd to choose someone in a wheel chair…

        BTW- your blog looks awesome on my BlackBerry! The best of all blogs I visit hands down! Bar none!

        • Thanks, Dominique. I appreciate the kind words.

  • Laurie,
    Yes, I did agree with what Juan Williams said, but that was not why I wrote the post about his firing from NPR. Here is the last paragraph from that post, which I think sums it up nicely.

    Going further, this situation really has nothing to do with our agreement or disagreement with Juan Williams and his views on politics. I know full well that he leans much more to the left than to the right and I am okay with that, as long as he is open and honest with his opinions. What I question is if NPR should feel so free to sever his contract because his words violated their editorial standards. I could understand their actions if Williams’ remarks had been of a radical nature, but I fail to find radical in what he said.

    I honestly didn’t want the comments on this post to turn into a slug fest over how Muslims dress and if we should be profiling them, etc. However, as I think Dominique has already stated in her comment below, there is a world of difference between a Muslim garment and the skirt someone like my daughters would wear.

  • Laurie

    These are hard decisions and good discussions for Americans to have. I just think that it’s good to be consistent, and by singling this one thing out I think you’ve done otherwise.

    I am not sure how my mention of ankle-length skirts is being inconsistent.

  • Heres something I don’t think anyone has mentioned, if I’m wrong, sorry… Haven’t these attempted attacks (underwear bomber, shoe bomber, etc.) originated in foreign countries, on international flights? The point is the security breaches up to this point aren’t happening here… So “enhancing” security here isn’t really addressing the issue. If you have a whole in your fence it doesn’t make the problem any better to “enhance” the rest of the fence. This crap is just to make it look like their “doing something.” I believe someone else called it reactionary, and I agree completely that it is nothing more than knee-jerk idiocy. The problem is they are too arrogant to admit that they are wrong…

    • You make a very good point, one that I had not thought of. As far as I can recall, all of the terror plots that have been uncovered have originated overseas. Maybe we should be focusing our attention elsewhere.

    • Dominique

      Excellent point!

  • fleeceme

    We just need to re-privatize security again. Would you pay $50-100 more to fly on the airline that says, “Come fly Profile Airlines – Cause We Get It!” – I sure as hell would.

    I know the screening is done at the airport, but Airlines lease the gates, couldn’t they screen passengers on their own? If I knew my fictional Profile Airlines had two Navy Seals, a Delta Force guy and lets just throw in an ex-mussad agent in the mix screening passengers, I would be in freaking heaven. Not to mention, after a while, bad guys would know which airlines to not even try to get onto.

    First tip, if you are the only non-muslim in line to board the plane headed for Topeka, Kansas, you might want to sit that flight out.

  • Thanks CL. I’ve been thinking about some of your comments along the police state line a great deal more lately. They certainly seem to be proving your point.

  • Laurie
    Here’s the thing: I think, when it comes to security measures, the government is giving the people what the government thinks the people want and will accept-what will appease people and make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t do the job. But the sarcasm/humor isn’t lost on me

    I agree with the assessment that the government is giving us what they think we’ll accept. Do we want it? Nobody wants it…

  • This is a form of tyranny and no form of tyranny even if it is disguised as security for liberty is a good thing. There must a better way we can enhance security than this. I just have this sinking feeling the terrorists have in scored a major win here.

  • A large part of the problem is that this involves thousands of TSA agents everyday, and many more thousands of travelers. I had the pat-down at the Tulsa airport last week. It was very professional. I’m not complaining about the way it was performed. She did know that I had nothing under my jeans or shirt by the time she was finished. But I watched a man coming out of the scan and being told to step to the side, and what I saw amazed me. The traveler just looked straight ahead and took it.

    All scans and all pat-downs are not equal. That’s the problem. Too many humans are involved in this gigantic government program.

  • I flew for the first time a couple of months ago and on the flight home I went through the full body scanner, I didn’t have a problem doing it but I understand that there are many people who do. The issue that I have with the scanner is the reportd that I have heard about that say this scanner isn’t efffective in stopping certain types of bombs anyway. As for the pat downs, Americans–at least in this area–have been patted down for years when entering rock shows and sometimes sporting events, but this really seems to be taking this to another level altogether.
    DHS is afraid to do what it really needs to do and that is profile–racially and for behavior–because we know who is committing most of the terrorist acts. That would be a starting point, is it the end all be all? No, but until we start there innocent Americans are going to be groped and fondled.

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  • Me too Larry.

  • Israel looks for potential terrorists, and TSA/DHS looks for items that might be used for evil purposes. I think we should follow Israel’s example.

    I don’t fly, probably never will, by choice anyway, (that’s why I got an RV) but trusting our security to low-paid government employees in, as someone else said, a very thankless job, is a recipe for disaster. I can’t imagine how burned out they must get. And burnout leads directly to the “I-could-not-care-less” attitude that is dangerous.

  • Laurie

    I’m curious what everybody thinks about pilots being exempt from screening. Keep in mind: the 9-11 murderers were in flight training. Had it been necessary or advantageous, would they simply have played a longer game, got certified, gots jobs and then sailed through? It could happen again.

    I’ve spent a bit of time traveling through Texas lately. Especially in Dallas, I see a lot of military personnel. Often, they are brought to the front of the line so they can remove their considerable garb (those boots!)-a fair trade, I think. But here’s the thing: Never have I seen anyone in uniform do anything but smile through what I hear many, many in line behind them complaining ad nauseum about. The only thing I’ve ever heard that was close to a “complaint” from one of these (a soldier) was that he gets stopped and thanked so often for his service that making connections can get very hairy! They serve as a humbling example to me, and (even when the snaking line is slllllloooooowww) I try hard to emulate the attitude.

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  • Jade

    I understand how patdowns may be irritating and body scanners are intrusive, but honestly, what is the alternative? Seriously, body scanners and patdowns are the ablsolute best way to ensure safety when it comes to airplanes. Even though I see why one wouldn’t want to go through a pat down or body scanner, there is no logic to that. Just because it makes you uncomfortable or it’s irritating should not mean we shouldn’t be protected.