TSA wants you to feel safer – even if you’re not

I don’t like to write about the TSA controversy two weeks in a row, but the furor isn’t dying down. If anything, it’s only gotten greater as there have been stories of breast cancer survivors being asked to show their breast prosthetics, scans being leaked, and the TSA’s refusal to modify their screening procedures.

I have already come to terms with the fact that when I fly next, the agents will have to grope me. As a man, I guess it doesn’t have the same stigma. I have never been sexually assaulted; I don’t know the feeling of being leered at; I don’t have a disfiguring disease that makes me self-conscious – so I will give away the right that bars unreasonable search and seizure, not because I want to, but because it’s the best of two evils.

But let’s be clear – what the TSA is attempting to do is substitute technology for a lack of intelligence (in all senses of the word). Their agents are overworked, underpaid, and trained to follow written rules to find terrorists (as opposed to teaching them how to spot a terrorist). How about spending some of the hundreds of millions that we are spending on these machines, towards better pay and better training?

But all of this will make some people feel better about travelling, and I think that’s the real point, because the appearance of doing something is often better than doing something.

  • Cyn

    Spencer, you are right in that appearances matter more than solutions, pretty much across the board nowadays. But I really don't know if there *is* training that can teach someone to spot a terrorist as reliably as technology (presumably) can spot contraband/terrorist fixin's on a person. Because I think the beast has evolved to the point where terrorists will be trying to recruit the people you'd suspect least. Plus, these screeners can't be counted on to have the intuitive skills that might be necessary to pick up on subtle cues when they are dealing with an endless stream of passengers.

    As a normal…hmmm…let me say "non-physically challenged" person (no metal parts, protheses, etc.) and only an occasional flyer, I don't have a problem getting a full-body scan. To me, the resulting image is way less embarrassing then having to wear a bathing suit on a crowded beach.

  • Cyn

    (But it's really embarrassing when your comment is so long you have to split it in two parts to get it to post.)

    Not to trivialize the issue, but it has occurred to me that men may be more squeamish about the scans, since their day-to-day clothing leaves more to the imagination than a woman's generally does. The sample scans I've seen do a pretty nice job of defining a guy's package. For decades, women have found themselves catagorized by their cup size…and fashion accentuates a woman's body, whereas men's clothing is generally much less revealing/form-fitting. Unless you're the guy in the Speedo.

    Anyway, I really can't abide the idea of a National Opt-Out day, which I think just borders on criminal mischief when you're talking about the busiest travel day of the year and holding up other passengers…and giving a hard time to a lot of people who most likely really don't *want* to be feeling anybody up, just want to do their job, and would like to keep some nut-job with a bomb from ruining your Thanksgiving.

    • speener

      Really – do you want guys wearing more form fitting clothing? I for one am thankful every day that women's clothing leaves little to the imagination – and the guys have to cover up.

      Just to be clear, I'm not opting out as an act of civil disobedience – I'm opting out because I don't trust the government that these machines are safe or that they will not save the images, and I don't believe in treating people as guilty until proven innocent. I understand where you're coming from on it being criminal mischief, but honestly this is TSA's choice – and if they can not handle everyone opting out, they either need to not allow opting out, or need to hold off until they have a better system.

      I really could care less about being patted down, other than the idea of being treated like a criminal even though I've done nothing criminal. People knowing what size my package is doesn't bother me so much – and honestly, those are things you need to get over. I worry for the person who has been sexually assaulted, or the person with an embarrassing medical condition, children.

      This feels the first step into one of those dystopian societies that until now only existed in the movies.