One student’s experience with full-body scanners

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“So can I see it?”

That was my one question after going through one of the new “full-body scanners” before getting on a flight to Los Angeles. Admittedly, it was a weird question, but I really wanted to see what the images looked like. How much of me could these security people really see? Did the pictures really look like me at all? They say curiosity killed the cat, but in this cat’s case, I was just curious what people could actually see.

“There’s nothing but a wall over there; you can’t see anything,” the security agent replied.

So the answer, as it turned out, was no. After asking around for a bit, since I was in no real hurry — I was pretty early for my flight — I discovered the crew actually looking at the images of travelers is in a location where they can’t see the people in question to avoid any kind of awkwardness in the airport. If they do see something odd on the scanner, they can communicate via radio to one of the agents at the gate, who then takes the person aside for further examination. No one sees both the image and the person.

The Transportation Security Administration has come under fire recently for implementing the new scanner in airports across the country. These scanners essentially allow security agents to view people naked to see if they’re carrying anything onto planes that they shouldn’t.

If you don’t want to go through one of the full-body scanners, you can opt instead for a “pat-down,” where a security agent feels around your body for anything you shouldn’t be taking on a plane. From my understanding, the pat-downs are actually more invasive than the body scanners are, because someone actually feels your entire body.

I’ve never been subjected to a pat-down. In fact, I actually got out of one on a recent flight in a series of strange circumstances.

I had on a hoodie while going through the metal detector and an agent asked if I had anything on underneath my hoodie. I jokingly replied, “A shirt,” and proceeded to walk through the metal detector. I’m guessing the agent misunderstood me because they said they would need to do a “pat-down” since I had something underneath my hoodie. I explained I really just had a shirt on, and they told me I could send the hoodie through the X-ray machine and walk through the metal detector again without it. So I did, avoiding the pat-down. Kind of anticlimactic, but I guess I can’t complain.

One website, optoutday.com, is encouraging everyone to “opt out” of the scanners and go through the “pat-downs” on Wednesday, Nov. 24 — the day before Thanksgiving — in order to raise awareness about how invasive the new process is. The website reported, “Be sure to have your pat-down by TSA in full public — do not go to the back room when asked. Every citizen must see for themselves how the TSA treats law-abiding citizens.”

My favorite quote from the website is this one: “You should never have to explain to your children, ‘Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK.'”

I would like to hear someone from the TSA give an eloquent reply to that.

According to the website, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has introduced H.R. 6416, The American Traveler Dignity Act, in Congress.

“My legislation is simple,” Paul said, according to the website. “It establishes that airport security screeners are not immune from any U.S. law regarding physical contact with another person, making images of another person, or causing physical harm through the use of radiation-emitting machinery on another person. It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us.”

Pat-downs have long been a part of airport security measures; however, they were not always as integrally involved in the security screening process. It is the fact that passengers must either have a “naked picture” taken or receive a full-body pat-down that has people up in arms.

I personally don’t have a major problem with the scanners or pat-downs, but, as anyone who has ever met me can attest to, I’m pretty much an open book and don’t care too much about my privacy. I can see why those who do might have a problem with these new techniques.

I think the major question that needs to be answered by the TSA and other homeland security personnel is this: Why, exactly, are these techniques being implemented now? Not only is it during a busy holiday season, but it’s been several years since a successful terrorist attack related to air travel. Was this always a gap in security that technology is just now able to fill?

If the TSA is going to ask to see me pseudo-naked, they can at least explain why they’re pseudo-asking.

Josh Madden is a senior in political science and history.

Please send comments to edge@spub.ksu.edu.

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