The C is for Crank

No T&A for the TSA!

By Erica C. Barnett November 23, 2010

I agree with my libertarian dad: The government has no business putting its hands on my junk.

Tomorrow afternoon, if all goes according to plan, my parents will fly into Seattle for their second-ever visit since I moved here ten years ago. One thing you might not know about my parents is that they are, politically, quite conservative: My dad, in particular, is pretty much a libertarian. He's also a small-plane pilot (meaning he doesn't ordinarily have to pass through airport security). So as you might imagine, he's none too thrilled at the prospect of going through the TSA's new naked scanners or being subjected to a full-body gropedown. (It's not just lefties who are up in arms about the new TSA policy. Libertarian righty U.S. Rep. Ron Paul is sponsoring the bill to repeal the policy.) When I talked to my mom last week, she said, exasperated, "Well, I think I've talked your dad into flying."

Thing is, this is one of those rare instances (pot, free speech, a woman's bodily autonomy) where I agree with him. Dad, if you don't want to come to Seattle, I'll understand.

Here's why. Both the scans and patdowns are sexist; don't work; are ripe for abuse; and, perhaps most importantly, violate the constitutional protection against unlawful search and seizure.

Don't agree that parading naked or being felt up by federal employees constitutes an unwarranted search? Consider this: If  airports are extraconstitutional (meaning: The need for security trumps your constitutional rights), where do you draw the line? Internal probes? Vaginal exams? Walking through scanners in the buff? For me, it comes down to this: If the government needs to see me naked before it'll let me fly, I'm thinking our days together are numbered.

(Think they can't store the images? Think again.)

And guess what: These invasive searches don't stop terrorism. Leaving aside the people who've gotten through scanners with contraband like 12-inch razor blades, the new patdowns don't involve searches of body cavities. Shove it up your butt or vag, in other words, and you're good to go. Moreover: The guy who tried to hide the bomb in his underwear never actually went through US security, so the new screening procedures would have done nothing to prevent him from flying into the United States in the first place.

As you might guess, there's a gender issue for me here too. As many others have noted, women have been targeted for "enhanced" treatment---AKA groping---at airports for years. (If you don't click on anything else, click that second link). Since underwire bras (worn by 70 percent of women) frequently set off metal detectors, women are routinely subjected to breast patdowns by TSA agents. It took a man outraged that a TSA agent wanted to touch his "junk" for the issue to go viral and then national. As blogger Lindsey Beyerstein noted, "A man's junk is his castle. What did our ancestors fight and die for if not the right of the penis to be left alone?" Welcome aboard, guys.

Andpeaking of disproportionately targeting women: Although pilots (95 percent men) are allowed to opt out of the scanner/patdown, flight attendants (75 percent women) are not. Think flight attendants are screened less stringently for their jobs? Not the case: Pilots and flight attendants go through the same fingerprinting and 10-year FBI background checks as pilots. The unions representing flight attendants have protested this transparently sexist policy, but to no avail.

And there are some other less obvious ways the TSA feelups finger woman: As Melissa McEwan has eloquently pointed out in her post, "No Thanks. I Guess I'll Just Never Go Anywhere," both the nude X-rays and the "enhanced patdowns" are likely to be traumatic for survivors of sexual abuse and assault, of whom there are thousands in the US.

"Of course," McEwan writes, "I have the privilege of not having to fly anywhere to keep my job. Lots of people don't have that option. And, as sexual violence disproportionately affects women, this becomesyet another potential employment obstacle for the gender who is already disadvantaged in the workplace." (See also this story of a sexual assault by a TSA agent who did not inform the assaulted woman that she would be touching her labia, butt, and breasts).

Should you decide you'd rather have your naked body perused in public than be groped, there's legitimate concern about the radiation emitted by the machines. Yes, the doses are minute---about the amount you're exposed to during 15 minutes of flying---but radiation exposure is cumulative, and repeated exposure---particularly if you're a flight attendant, a job that requires passing through security several times a day---adds up, particularly for children, for whom lower doses have greater impact.

• The limited evidence so far already includes numerous instances where TSA screeners have abused their power. In addition to the original "don't touch my junk" guy, who's being investigated by the TSA, there are:

- The ABC news producer who says a TSA agent "reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around";

- The young boy who was aggressively patted down by TSA agents;

- The bladder cancer survivor who was "absolutely humiliated" when agents punctured his urostomy bag, spilling urine all over him;

- The man who was handcuffed in his underwear and paraded through the San Diego airport; and

- The breast cancer survivor (a flight attendant, btw) who was forced to remove her prosthetic breast in full view of other passengers.

... To name just a few.

• All that said, most TSA agents are just trying to do their jobs, and they don't like grabbing your crotch and boobs any more than you like being grabbed. In a recent unscientific survey, 17 of 17 TSA agents said they were uncomfortable with the new procedures, and that many passengers have subjected them to verbal abuse, calling them, among other things, Nazis, perverts, molesters, and creeps. "I am a professional doing my job, whether I agree with this current policy or not," one wrote. "I do not want to be here all day touching penises."
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