Invasion of the Body Scanners: More Tales of Terror From the Unfriendly Skies

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The outrageous invasion of our privacy rights that is the whole-body scanner (and its equally outrageous counterpart, the full-body pat down) was hurriedly put in place by the government, before Americans could really comprehend what it would mean and whether they were willing to tolerate it. Yet where did the impetus for installing these scanners in our nation’s airports come from? And who’s responsible for this unfolding nightmare being unleashed on the American people?

As Reuters reported on Dec. 30, 2009, “The path toward rolling out wider use of whole-body security scanners in U.S. airports runs through the White House…. U.S. President Barack Obama could expedite such a deployment because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) don’t need legislation from Congress to start using the devices at any of the 560 U.S. airports with scheduled airline service.”

In fact, legislation has been proposed to mandate full-body scanners and make them the primary screening method in all U.S. airports by 2013, but Congress has yet to act on it. So we can thank President Obama for this frontal assault on our Fourth Amendment rights. Mind you, this is the same man who insisted that “we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans.” Yet in the wake of the bumbling underwear bomber’s botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane, Obama directed the Homeland Security Department “to acquire $1 billion in advanced-technology equipment, including body scanners, for screening passengers at airports.” In fact, Obama’s Stimulus Bill, which committed more than $3 billion for homeland security projects, is funding the installation of the devices in airports across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration have been quick to do the president’s bidding, aided and abetted by corporate lobbyists eager to make a profit at taxpayer expense. The TSA plans to roll out a total of 450 full-body scanners by year’s end, with an additional $88 million included in the 2011 national fiscal budget for 500 more machines. And Congress, which has the power to halt this thing (or at least provide oversight), has done nothing.

All the while, the American people are being subjected to all manner of egregious searches by government agents. Since my commentary about the airline pilot who refused to go through the scanner or be subjected to a pat down (“Michael Roberts: One Man Against the Surveillance State”), I have been bombarded by emails from individuals — particularly women — who have shared their own horrific encounters with TSA agents. The following are some of the most egregious.

This first account is from a woman who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome:

I was subjected to a TSA rub down in Pittsburgh in September. There is no patting happening. The officer ran her hands over every square inch of my body, firmly pressing into my flesh in every area when I declined to have myself irradiated. Being a recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome, I am extremely aware that my body needs protection from anything that is unnatural or unnecessary, and excess radiation is on my list of things to avoid. Unfortunately, the rub down elicited some trauma issues, and when I got upset and started crying, they started the “pat down” all over again. After I received my belongings, I attempted a photo of the TSA station and officers, at which point I was apprehended, my ID was taken, I had to delete my photos at their demand and eventually when they realized I had no record, they told me to go get on the plane before I got into trouble. Why am I, a 49-year-old woman, employed for 28 years by IBM, mother of two teenagers, married for 27 years, being viewed as a terrorist? The trauma of the “pat down” has reactivated an autoimmune condition and I have spent the last 4 weeks working to bring my immune system back into balance. I can’t imagine getting on an airplane with the possibility of this happening again. I would like to protest this invasion of privacy, but how?

The second is from a ticketing agent who was suspended after objecting to TSA’s search of her wallet:

I just had my second run-in with TSA while attempting to go to work. I was refused the right to go to work because after I willingly handed TSA my lunch bag (which only contained my pocketbook, 2 restaurant paper napkins, and a piece of a news page crossword puzzle), they proceeded to empty my pocketbook, piece by piece, and go through my wallet, credit card by credit card, checking every nook and cranny in both my purse and my wallet. When they began going thru my wallet, I objected. I may have lost my job because of these arrogant and ignorant individuals.

The last is from a flight attendant who commutes to work each week:

This Sunday, I unknowingly went through the full body scanner. I had heard a little about the full body scanners but just never paid attention because I just thought that it wouldn’t really happen. The TSA people said that the other machine was “broken” so me and one other female flight attendant would have to go through the new one.

They didn’t tell me it was a Full Body Scanner. I was not made aware that I even had an option to be patted down instead. After the scan, I was still patted down on my breast area because I was wearing my flight attendant wings. I truly felt molested. As a female traveler, I already have to deal with personal safety issues. In the past, when I have gone through the security line, I have experienced two of the TSA men standing staring at me, and I could overhear them deciding whether they thought I was attractive.

I realize the fact that the security people are not really highly trained professionals is a separate issue from the fact that I am literally being stripped of my Liberties and Rights. That just makes it all the more unjust. It is humiliating to be strip searched. I haven’t committed a crime, so I have not given up my rights! I have not broken any laws. I am a Citizen of the United States, and I thought that I lived in a free country where people fought to protect our Liberties. Why couldn’t they have spent the money to implement security measures that involve using high levels of training that are proven to protect? The Israelis have a 40-year proven track record and they do not use full body scanners.

What are my rights? Do I even have any? I don’t choose to fly. I do it because I need the money to survive. It’s my job. I don’t want to be strip scanned because it is an invasion of my privacy rights as a human being. If I give in to this and act like I’m fine with it, just to fit in at work and not be singled out, then what next? Will I be subjected to cavity checks? I feel sickened by this, literally. It’s like the frog that gets boiled slowly or how Germany became Nazi Germany. It all is very subtle. People just go along and when we realize that we have no Rights left it is too late. I am not ashamed of my body but the reality is I am having to basically be naked in front of a group of my “peers” who I don’t trust and who have no right to search my being.

I fly for a living every week. No one is more concerned about airport/airline safety than I am. One truly infuriating aspect of this whole body scan debacle is that it has been shown to fail. Far more insidiously, it eases some people’s minds into a false sense of security.

I literally got ill from stress after educating myself on Full Body Scanners and that I was clueless enough to walk through one giving my rights away. In the future, I may be forced to do it several times a week just to keep my job. My rights are just being taken away, and I am now at the mercy of being stripped and it isn’t making me any safer! I could deal with a few TSA agents being abusive when I had the protection and dignity of my clothing layer protecting my private areas. Now that those same people have the power to virtual strip search me and pat down my crotch and breasts, I just feel abused.

This whole procedure is as arbitrary as making me pull down my pants before I can receive my coffee from the girl at Starbucks in the airport. I am going to choose to be patted down from this point forward, but this could put me at risk of delaying a flight and mistreated by the TSA to prove a point to me. I am a very compliant, shy person by nature. Full body scanners just made my personal world all the more dangerous and unsafe for me to live in. There are other proven “Effective means” to do this without taking my personal dignity and my feelings of personal well being away from me.

Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send him mail] is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He is the author of The Change Manifesto (Sourcebooks).

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