By Ben Mason
Elm Alumni Columnist
By now I’m sure many of you, dear readers, have heard about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) controversial use of full-body image scanners in airports all across the country. If you haven’t been reading or watching the drama unfold, you should be. But before I begin a discussion of what I think the TSA should look like and operate in the future, let me first clear up some of the myths and underline some of the facts about the new body scanners.
First and foremost, let me make it perfectly clear that the new body image scanners at airports in the U.S. allow TSA officers to see you naked. Unlike normal X-ray machines, which allow people like doctors to see your bones and any metal on or inside your body, these new scanners allow the person viewing the image to see your flesh. When you walk through the scanner at the airport everyone who can see the screen will no longer have to wonder what you look like without your clothes.
Second, yes, these new scanners do give off X-rays. Don’t let an ignorant Transportation Security Officer (TSO) tell you otherwise. Many pilots and flight crews are becomingly increasingly worried for their health as they pass through these scanners multiple times a day. Sure, you have to get your teeth X-rayed or your swollen arm looked at every so often, but do the doctors stay in the room with you when it happens? Of course not, because they would be potentially exposed to the rays several times each day.
Third, yes, there is a reason these scanners were invented. They will see anything you’re trying to hide on your body. Pistol strapped to your penis? Caught. Bullets beneath your breasts? Caught. A conventional X-Ray would still be needed to see inside the body, but even an ordinary metal detecting wand would suffice. In fact, one of the main complaints about the current doctrine that the TSA is working under is that none of this is really necessary. I’d rather have someone pass a wand over me a dozen times instead of putting a finger into my rectum and asking me to cough. Is any of this really making us safer?
In case you were wondering, you must submit to the scan or you will be physically violated by a TSO. If you refuse to be seen naked by every employee who feels like taking a peek at you, an employee of the same gender as you (because homosexuality in the work place doesn’t exist, and no one would ever feel uncomfortable while being groped by a member of the same sex, presumably) will pat you down and feel your entire body. Ladies, your labia, individually, will be touched, and the undersides of your breasts will be searched. Men, your penis and testicles will be felt, just to make sure you aren’t hiding anything crazy in your jock strap. And this isn’t an exaggeration: it’s happened to countless children and even the elderly.
So what’s my problem with the full body scanners? For one, the scans literally violate U.S. child pornography laws. Why is that you ask? Because the machines come from the factory set up to save each image as it is taken and store it. The TSA has announced that they only use the machines in the image storing “off” mode, but recently 35,000 images were stored by U.S. Marshals in Orlando, Fla. After some court rulings, the machine that took the photos was sent back to the factory with the images stored inside of it.
Technically, these images are supposed to simply be erased after being reviewed by an off-site professional, but anyone who knows anything about working in a government office can tell you: that won’t always happen. How easy would it be for a TSO to save the nude images of a high school cheerleading team on their way to the championship? Pretty easy. The machines are already programmed and ready to store as many nude photos as the TSO’s want. It’s just plain naïve to think that someone with a high school degree who lacks the decorum to become anything other than an airport rent-a-cop will go ahead and erase what amounts to an incredible cache of legal-aged and under-aged pornography.
The controversy has sparked a lot of counter measures, especially because of its widespread appeal on the internet. Many groups of angry civilians are beginning to paint messages such as “Like what you see, pervert?” on their bodies with metallic paint before they go through the scanners. After hearing stories of mothers with infants being groped in front of their children, I think you’d agree that things are getting a little out of hand. Other protestors are simply walking out of airports, or filing complaint cards each time they board an airplane.
Now I don’t know about you, but somewhere inside my idea of marriage is a statement like “With these rings on our fingers, we’re agreeing not to get naked for anybody else.” So what’s it like to have your significant other be seen naked by some TSA employees?
What’s it like to have your children scanned naked into a computer on their way to Disney World? Does your religion require you to wear a head scarf or perhaps thermal underwear to cover your private parts? Well get ready to be exposed (but it’s okay because “millimeter wave technology” will blur out your face. Some freak could easily still save images of your children’s genitalia for later enjoyment, though).
If any of this seems alarming, you’re reading it correctly. In a recent news story, TSA employees had to walk through the scanners themselves to be seen by each other in a training event. One man got tired of hearing about how small his compatriots thought his penis was, and beat one of them senseless in the parking lot with a baton.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not walking through some full body image scanner with my hands behind my head like an enemy of the state. I’m not going to subject my significant other, or my children, to the same treatment. If I go through the machine it’ll be with a beret on my head, a cigar in my mouth, with one hand in the air and the other one gripping my crotch. This isn’t the America I want to live in.
**Before you decide to get all riled up about this issue, please remember that I am just an opinion columnist. See examples of the bodyscans on the TSA homepage or just use a Google.com image search. Searches for “Don’t Touch My Junk” and other slogans will bring you up to speed on the resistance movement.