The TSA wants to molest you

Tulsa International Airport was one of the first airports in the country to get the new full-body scanners. I went through it a couple of years ago, and didn't think anything of it. I had a pat-down too, and didn't think anything of it. And so when all the hoopla over the TSA's "enhanced security" began foaming with choruses of people claiming that their rights were being trampled on, I thought they were talking about some even newer security protocols. But, as I found out later, I was ahead of the game on this one.

The concerns about the TSA's methods are valid: they use something called backscatter radiation, which sounds scary. And they can see through your clothes, which sounds like an invasion of privacy. If you decline to go through the machine that will presumably give you cancer and take naked pictures of you (which of course will wind up all over the internet or on some TSA pervert's hard drive), you are subjected to a pat-down. During this pat down, your genitals will be fondled by a heavy-breathing TSA agent who probably just got out of prison.

Having been patted down myself, I have to say that I have had more invasive pat-downs by security at rock concerts. In all likelihood, the chorus of protests equating a pat-down to molestation are just as hyperbolic as they sound. I'm more interested in the nude photos – how much they reveal and whether they are stored or transmitted – and whether the radiation exposure is dangerous.

Whenever there is a conspiracy allegation of some sort – even if it's just allegations of government power run amuck – the most hyperbole comes from underground news sources, like these headlines from a site called "Natural News" or "Alex Jones' Info Wars", the latter of which is a headline that is flat-out false. I'm always curious why anyone would trust news from sources like this – who are they and how do they gather and verify their information?

Does this turn you on?
Suffice to say that researching the major news sites revealed the opposite of the hyperbole found on the underground websites. Most people just want to get where they're going, and don't care about protesting the security measures. The radiation exposure is completely harmless, and the pictures are not exactly pr0n quality. The TSA insists that the scans cannot be stored or transmitted, and while there are allegations of leaked scans, they are in all likelihood simple forgeries.

Naturally, to someone who is entertaining notions of government power run amuck, none of the above will be convincing. They'll assume that the TSA cannot be trusted, and that the major news organizations are in cahoots with the government in a campaign of misinformation designed to placate you while they strip away your freedoms. In this case, I'd direct people to Michael Shermer.

Does all this stuff really violate our civil liberties? No. Sorry. Flying on commercial airplanes is not an inalienable constitutional right. It's a privilege. You can take the car, the train, or the boat instead. If it could be demonstrated that body scan images were in fact being stored and transferred, we'd have a legitimate concern. But while we do have some right to privacy, we don't have a "right" to fly on airplanes, nor is flying on airplanes and going through TSA security a requirement for citizenship.

The bigger question, though, is whether this really makes us safer. It certainly makes us a tiny bit safer, by identifying particular threats. Of course, the likelihood of a terrorist attack, even if we had zero security, is very low – and face it, plastic explosives have been around long before we got the fancy new scanners. What the enhanced security doesn't do is guarantee us safety. It's also more hassle, and it's perfectly valid to wonder if the hassle is worth the trouble. On that, I don't have an answer. I conjecture that most of us would like the best security possible with the least hassle possible. I find the TSA procedures pretty trivial, so I welcome the improved security.


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