How much more will we put up with to fly?

How much more will we put up with to fly?

November 17, 2010

With Thanksgiving approaching, an estimated 27 million passengers will encounter new airport security procedures. Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) or “full-body scanners” use X-ray technologies to see through clothing and identify potential dangers secreted by passengers.

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Such controversial units are deployed in 68 U.S. airports. TSA website information appears to conflict with available resources. For example, TSA scans appear as faceless, chalk renderings whereas significantly more revealing images are displayed elsewhere.
Privacy concerns aside, medical issues remain regarding the use of radiation. Though stated emissions are less than a cell phone, medical professionals suggest that, ultimately, no safe level of radiation exists in the aggregate. Airline pilot and frequent flyer associations appear to agree considering the numerous boycotts and protests forming.

Curiously, TSA established an “opt-out” procedure consisting of an “enhanced body pat-down.” This more intrusive, same-gender frisk includes both breast and genital areas performed publicly or privately upon request. Concerns regarding TSA comments during procedures and personnel hiring protocol are being scrutinized, particularly since a Boston TSA worker is currently charged with multiple child sex crimes.
No further options avoid this invasive screening – including leaving the security area. A ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals states, “requiring that a potential passenger be allowed to revoke consent to an ongoing airport security search makes little sense in a post-9/11 world. Such a rule would afford terrorists multiple opportunities to attempt to penetrate airport security by ‘electing not to fly’ on the cusp of detection until a vulnerable portal is found.” A no-fly decision must be made prior to entering the security area despite limited forewarning of screening procedures or potential effects.

While protests from American grass-roots organizations to professional unions mount, the most ironic demand for personal rights comes from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, issuing a fatwa against full-body scans and urging pat-down procedures instead. However, CAIR instructs Muslim women wearing a traditional hijab to insist TSA officers search their head and neck areas only.
This new technology is helpless to detect devices hidden in body cavities, so the next level of security will likely resemble prison receptions. At what point do privacy concerns outweigh security fears? When do citizens refuse to allow instinctual rights and freedoms to be usurped in efforts against threats that can only be mitigated and never eliminated?
I’ll ponder those questions on my next Amtrak trip …

Mark G. Thieme lives in Springfield.


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