For the low price of $199 or more, you can check your rights with your baggage

By on November 17, 2010 in Blog, Rants

I love to travel to the US. That’s not quite true, I used to. Now, not so much. And after the latest TSA changes that came into effect on Oct. 29, perhaps not at all. Why? Because, quite frankly, I am no longer comfortable with my security options. When travelling in/to the US, one must now either consent to go through the “naked scanner,” which purportedly doesn’t store images (but tell that to the people whose bodies were found among the 35,000 images stored on that courthouse scanner in Florida). Or be subjected to an intrusive patdown, which includes the grasping and rubbing of one’s genitals. Or, potentially, both.

Okay, I’m willing to put up with a lot of things for the convenience of air travel. I nary thought about cancelling a trip during the seven-year period when my name/passport was flagged with something (for some completely baffling and unknown reason) that resulted in a private, little room search every single time I flew to the States (which was semi-frequently at the time since I was travelling for both business and pleasure). It was annoying, but I adjusted. Making sure my carry-on (this was before the time of liquids regulations) was packed in a manner that made it quick and easy to search, and arriving at the airport extra early.

In the post-9/11 War on Terrorism years, I’ve been happy to take off my coat, sweater, hat, belt and shoes, unpack laptops, walk through metal detectors and those machines that blow a gust of air on you, be wanded and patted down. I’ve smiled while the contents of my bags have been emptied and swabbed, and I even managed to keep my mouth shut that time the agents made me cut off my wallet chain (kinda defeats the purpose of having a wallet with a chain, but whatever) and that time they spent TEN minutes investigating my keychain (a dual circular loop with just keys hanging off it – no place to hide anything).

But I think this latest “for our safety” measure is where I have to draw the line – for many reasons. Let’s start with the scanners. Some say they are safe, some say they are not. There are different theories, but when pilots’ organizations are advising crews to avoid using them, I’m prone to err on the side of caution. It’s not like there haven’t been lots of things over the years that were said to be safe and later discovered to be not safe at all. But if that was the worst of it, fine, acceptable risk (I’m not that frequent of a flyer).

But then comes the naked part. I know those things are not supposed to store images, etc, but like any computer they come with USB and other ports, and how long before some opportunistic human exploits it? Okay, snowball’s chance in hell I’d get caught up in something like that, but still, the reality is that some stranger is looking at a pretty accurate picture of my naked body. And while I’ll certainly admit that I dressed provocatively in my early twenties, nudity has always been solely reserved for lovers and my doctor (by necessity only). The idea of some random stranger being allowed into this intimate circle is kinda – to be honest – gross. As hokey as it may sound, I consider my body a temple. And viewing it naked should be a privilege, not a right (and certainly not a right given to some lackey employed by a foreign government). Just stop and think about that for a second… creepy, no?

Now, take into account exchanges like this one I read in today’s Toronto Sun:

“A pilot from Skywest was going through security in Denver with his 18-year-old daughter and overheard a TSA officer saying into his headset, “heads up, got a cutie for you.'”

How about now? Creepy yet? Yeah, thought so.

Sadly, if this was the worst of it. I would probably accept the insult to my dignity in order to fly. But it isn’t. If you deny the scanner or something shows up blurry in your image or someone’s just in the right/wrong kind of mood. Well…

Meet the “enhanced pat-down.” This is like your hardcore, x-rated version of a normal security body check (and everyone over the age of 13 is eligible). We’re talking palms and fingers lifting and separating breasts, feeling on and around them. It means someone’s going to grope your ass, run their hand and fingers over your crotch and maybe even slide their hands into waistband of your pants or skirt. (Guys, simply put, your junk is going to get handled.) According to regulations this pat-down is supposed to be performed by a member of the same sex, but with this policy in effect for less than a month there are already plenty of reports to the contrary online (and you don’t have to look too hard to find them either. Actually, just type TSA into Google’s news search, and you’ll get stories galore of airport security groping high jinks. People are rightly up in arms.).

I don’t know about you but if anyone other than my husband did any of those things to me, charges would be filed. Immediately. Regardless of the gender of the perp. In every other facet of daily life these actions would be considered an illegal, sexual violation – except it seems in air travel, where it is government sanctioned. Give me a fucking break. I will not have a side of sexual assault with my $700 plane ticket. That is too much to ask. It’s no longer worth it.

Sorry guys, the terrorists have won.

(Especially since there’s no evidence that this crazy-ass security theatre business actually catches bad guys, all the recent terrorists have been caught in other ways, by other departments.)

Now, here’s the thing. The scary, scary thing. And the reason I decided to blog about this and spread the word and remind people that sometimes we have to put our collective foot down and say, “No, you have gone too far.”  I still have to travel for work. There will come a time where I can’t opt-out of a trip. There will come a time where I might have to make the choice above, or maybe I’ll be one of those folks who doesn’t get to make one. Whatever the case, it is not a day I look forward to, nor one I should have to face.

If we don’t have ownership and dominion over our bodies. We have nothing.

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