Virtual Voices

Saying 'no' to airport body scans

Technology

Nov. 24 has been designated as "National Opt Out Day" by WeWontFly.com, a website dedicated to protesting new airport body-scanning security measures. Nearly 70 airports across the country are using full-body backscatter X-ray technology at security checkpoints. This technology essentially projects a nearly nude image of your entire body for Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) agents to see.

But passengers who choose to "opt out" of the full-body scan will receive an extremely detailed "enhanced pat-down" by TSA agents of the same sex. Be aware that during these enhanced pat-downs both men and women will have their genitals and breasts touched by TSA agents. When I recently flew out of Charlotte, N.C., I opted out and found myself being touched in ways that had me wondering if I had somehow accidentally wandered into my doctor's office for a complete physical exam.

TSA attempts to reassure passengers with the following regarding the public touching:

  • "Pat-downs are conducted by same gender officers."
  • "All passengers have the right to request private screening at any point during the screening process."
  • "Anyone has the right to have a traveling companion present during screening in the private screening area."

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In addition to the privacy issues, the X-rays are exposing passengers to regular doses of radiation. Wewontfly.com explains:

"Backscatter X-ray uses ionizing radiation, a known cumulative health hazard, to produce images of passengers' bodies. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with defective DNA repair mechanisms are considered to be especially susceptible to the type of DNA damage caused by ionizing radiation. Also at high risk are those who have had, or currently have, skin cancer. Ionizing radiation's effects are cumulative, meaning that each time you are exposed you are adding to your risk of developing cancer."

For people like me who fly often the radiation is a real concern.

There are other risks, such as the images going public. TSA claims the scanned images will not be stored. But early Tuesday, 100 images of full body scans taken in a Florida courthouse by U.S. Marshals were leaked online and many wonder if the government might be just as careless.

To make matters worse, these new measures have no proven success in increasing airport security, according to Rafi Sela, an Israeli security expert. Sela recently testified before the Canadian government that these full-body X-rays are "useless." "I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747," he said. As such, the Israeli government does not use body scans in the Tel Aviv airport. Maybe our government could learn a lesson from the Israelis?

If the U.S. government was remotely interested in not harming its own citizens, these scanners would be removed from airports immediately. Meanwhile, I'm choosing to be touched by a stranger instead of exposing myself to repeated radiation or risk having my nakedness show up on some weirdo's website.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of Liberating Black Theology. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.

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