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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Body Scanners

Passengers who wish to fly from the UK have no choice as to whether to allow the government to peek at their genitals. However, in the US, you can opt to allow an agent to feel them (through clothes) instead. Speaking as somebody with an unusual genital configuration, I would rather allow myself to be groped than photographed, for a few reasons. One is that nobody can keep a copy of a grope to look at later. Another is that it's highly possible I would be groped anyway and I don't want to be singled out for special attention based on an unusual scan. Finally, I don't wish to increase my risk factors for skin cancer by stepping into a beam of ionising radiation, if I can at all avoid it. For those who are fertile, there are also issues with exposing germ cells to radiation, especially those with testicles, as these would normally be shielded during an X-Ray.

There is a movement afoot to try to get people to ask for a grope instead of a scan, especially on the Wednesday before thanksgiving, when many people in the US will be flying. The TSA is making ridiculous statements about this helping terrorists, however, I'd like to posit that when getting on an airplane necessitates security agents looking at or feeling my genitals, the terrorists have already won. It is your right to ask for a "pat down" instead of a scan. This may be inconvenient for TSA agents, but this is a normal tactic of protesting. It would hardly do any good to launch a protest that nobody noticed.

Today, I read an article in the New York Times, which stated, "Do the imagers, for example, detect sanitary napkins? Yes. Does that then necessitate a pat-down? The T.S.A. couldn’t say." So some security worker at the airport knows whether or not you're menstruating. Charming. And they may or may not decide to grope you as a result of that. "Screeners, the T.S.A. has said, are expected to exercise some discretion." They have little training, no union, low pay and no job protections, but a lot of discretion, I'm sure.

This is just too much. I wrote a letter to my senators:

Dear Senator --,

I am wiring to oppose the new body scanning devices that have been installed at airports. Today, I read in the New York Times that the devices are able to detect menstrual pads and the TSA "couldn’t say" whether this detection would necessitate a pat down. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/business/16road.html?_r=1) This level of grossly indecent privacy invasion is unAmerican. It is an outrage.

As I'm sure you're aware, the pat down one receives if they opt out (or potentially, if they're menstruating) involves a TSA agent feeling the passenger's genitals. All aspects of this policy are horrifying and I hope you take action to change it.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Charles Hutchins

Ok, yes, I did actually call something unAmerican. I know this is problematic. But Americans are, by and large, a prudish people and this is really not prudish at all and hence violates the national character. Also, I am exceedingly annoyed.

I wrote a different letter to my Representative, Barbara Lee, who is a proper leftist and involved with the Progressive Caucus in the House:

Dear Representative Lee,

I am wiring to oppose the new body scanning devices that have been installed at airports. As a transgender person, I am concerned about how these machines peer unnecessarily and invasively at my genitals. I am also highly concerned that once a security screener becomes aware that I'm transgender, I may be subject to discrimination or be publicly humiliated.

I intend to opt to be patted down instead, but as this involves an agent feeling my genitals, it's hardly better. There is little evidence that any of this makes us safer while flying but it certainly causes me and many others quite a lot of distress. I'm faced with a terrible choice between not seeing my family over the holidays or having my genitals looked at and/or touched by a TSA agent.

I hope you can do something to improve this situation.

Sincerely,
Charles Hutchins

4 comments:

PamelaTrounstine said...

I concur. Nice letters. If the medical industry is concerned with radiation in the course of treatment for a medical problem, and the average person flies more often than they have a medical problem requiring a radiation-producing treatment, as a society we have a right to be concerned about the health implications of this. The fact that we know their claims that the pictures can't be saved, etc. etc. are lies gives us zero confidence in what happens to those scans.

But I think we all gave up plenty when trading our "bulkiest" or heaviest shoes to wear for the easiest-to-get-on-again-quickly shoes in the security line, in order to be able to get the rest of our stuff (read, be able to take a camera and a laptop on a trip and not have either stolen while you struggle with your shoes standing up). And I'm not at all pleased with "titty-twisting" hand searches any more than a scan. And while I'm a very accepting person, I was one time subjected to the random extra scan at a gate, in which the TSA agents spoke in another language I cannot understand the whole time, and not knowing what they were saying that I didn't get made me more uncomfortable than them tearing apart my bag just when my boarding group was going on. And the news that it was done to a kid today...

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

I always wear my steel toed boots. I also arrive exceedingly early, given that, until i got my new passport, my documentation was always considered suspect, and I was subject to additional scrutiny.

So annoyed that I finally get passing privilege and they start peering at my bits! There was 5 minutes there, where I didn't stick out as weird.

Charles Céleste Hutchins said...

The cops-speaking-another-language thing is an everyday occurrence for many immigrants. It is, as you have noted, unnerving.

PamelaTrounstine said...

Good point. Maybe "silence," awkward as it might be for the groper, is what's appropriate as the standard. Everywhere.