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Deals That Are Nifty by Sister Thrifty: New TSA screenings

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New TSA screenings

Would you like to see me naked on a scanner or just pat down my private parts with my clothes on? That’s pretty much the choice we give the TSA employees as we arrive at their security checkpoints in airports these days.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the scandal that has covered airwaves and TV news shows, relating the story about a passenger who refused to be groped or X-rayed, yelling “Don’t touch my junk!” This past week he thought he’d figure out a good plan on another business trip: drop his pants at the security gate. The TSA wasn’t amused and arrested him for indecent exposure.

A couple of weeks ago I flew out of Las Vegas for a business trip and noticed that the security checkpoints were different. I was escorted to a glass-encased box, so I held my breath, thinking it was one of those machines that used to blow a big burst of air on you, checking for explosives. When nothing happened, I asked the TSA guy what the scoop was and he said they were new X-ray machines.

I wasn’t given a choice of how to be checked, nor was I informed that an off-site TSA employee had just seen me nude through the machine. Ignorance was bliss. Now that I know, it’s going to be a less pleasant experience. Am I worried about being seen naked on a reverse X-ray machine? I’d really rather not, but I’m pretty confident that there are very few TSA employees desperate enough to WANT to see my aging body. Do I want to be groped or stripped? Absolutely not. Given the choice, next time I’ll walk through the visual strip search machine with a wink.

This new security procedure has everyone talking around the water cooler, and often with unfriendly gestures. Several of my work associates are hesitantly headed off to the airport today to visit loved ones for Thanksgiving. Some of you are doing the same. What can you expect? Someone in front of you is probably going to freak out. Maybe that someone is you. Get to the airport early.

Passengers have 4 choices:

1. Don’t fly.

2. Walk through the machine and try not to think about the TSA employee watching you naked.

3. Agree to be groped inappropriately in public.

4. Ask to be groped inappropriately in a private room, if it’s available.

Homeland Security Chief, Janet Napolitano, urges Americans to be patient. "Al-Qaeda and those inspired by its ideology are determined to strike our global aviation system and are constantly adapting their tactics for doing so," she said in a USA Today article. "Our best defense against such threats remains a risk-based, layered security approach that utilizes a range of measures, both seen and unseen, including law enforcement, advanced technology, intelligence, watch-list checks and international collaboration."

Sounds a bit clinical and vague, eh? When you’re being man-handled, you’re probably thinking more about how violated you feel than how protected you are. This kind of feels like the terrorists have won. So what else can we do?

Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote keeps ringing in my ears: “Those who give up their liberty for more security deserve neither.” With all the angry talk, however, threatened protests over these new airport screening procedures have failed to materialize. Is it because people are largely uninformed, they don’t care, or are they too tired and just want to get to Grandma’s house for Turkey Day without the drama? A Gallup/USA Today poll released this week shows that, while the public doesn’t like the new procedures, they’re not bothered enough to fight it.

The truth is, we simply don’t have all of the answers. For example, how much radiation are we really being exposed to when passing through the new scanners? I’ve seen a wide range of answers from supposed experts. Are our children going to be exempt? So far they haven’t been. Polls on CNN show that most adults don’t mind walking through the body scanners, but are furious when their children have to be patted down like criminals. And to think that I felt violated when we started having to take our shoes off at the security gate after 9/11.

James Babb has co-founded the “We Won’t Fly” campaign, encouraging Americans to opt out of the radiation scans by leaving the airports empty. The heightened screening measures began on November 1 and TSA is happy to announce that only 3% of passengers have actually gotten the physical treatment, with even fewer actually taking the time to complain about the new procedures.

And what about racial profiling? Why do we have to be treated like a criminal while our government tip-toes around certain ethnicities for fear of offending? Is being politically correct more important than protecting our citizens these days? The topic of Israel’s security has come up, as that constantly threatened country seems to be able to protect passengers without incident. Granted, their security process is rumored to take a couple of hours.

I would like to suggest a great alternative to body scanners at airports. How about a booth you can step into that will not X-ray you, but will detonate any explosive device you may have on you? I see this as a win-win for everyone, with no profiling. It also would eliminate the costs of a long and expensive trial. Justice would be swift. Case closed!

You're in the airport terminal and you hear a muffled explosion. Shortly thereafter, an announcement comes over the PA system . . . "Attention standby passengers — we now have a seat available on flight number XXXX.” What do you think? Pretty good, right?

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