Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why I will opt out every time

Disclaimer: Parts of this post may get more personal than you care to read. Come back tomorrow for fluffy cat posts if that’s the case.

I fly a fair amount for my job; the travel is a requirement and the locations I have to go to mean I must fly in order to do my job. It’s just not practical for me to drive from Boston to San Luis Obispo, CA—never mind Hilo, HI. I knew that before I accepted the job. Along with the travel, that means I accepted the screening processes put in place by the TSA and I accepted all risks associated with air travel.

You’ve probably heard about the new backscatter machines being used in a lot of the major airports and if you watch TV, you may have seen the pat downs now being used for people who either won’t go through the backscatter machines or who trigger some sort of alarm.

As things stand, travelers who are picked to go through the backscatter machine can choose to opt out and receive a hands-on inspection. I will be one of those who opts out every single time. I’m well aware that I’ll receive the new pat down, which is from all accounts a lot more hands on and personal. For me, that’s the lesser of two evils.

I have a couple of reasons for this decision.

First, I haven’t seen peer-reviewed research on the long-term effects of this machine to determine that the risk is worth the results. In fact, what I’ve found so far was published by the company who makes the machines and the TSA. That’s a little too self-interested in my opinion to count as objective research. So for my health, I’ll opt out. Yes I know I receive radiation every time I fly—that’s just another reason for me to avoid additional exposure when I can.

Second, I am intensely uncomfortable with the images that are displayed using this machine. If you have not yet seen what those images look like, I urge you to take a look. Pretty much nothing is left to the imagination. Here’s the personal part for me: I was sexually molested as a little girl and part of that molestation involved voyeurism. Now that I am an adult, I have the ability to say no and enforce that boundary. So forget the backscatter machine.

There’s a lot of chatter about Fourth Amendment rights and charges of abuse at the hands of the TSA. I’m not much of a political animal—I vote, read up on the issues and so on but I’m not the ranty type when it comes to issues. I think there may be some merit in the Fourth Amendment rights talk but honestly even if this screening process is found to be OK in those terms, it will still not be OK for me.

I really feel for the folks who would choose to go through the backscatter machines but can’t because they cannot hold the proper position. That means they must get manually searched—I, at least, am choosing that option.

Let me say that I do believe that we need a screening process; I just don’t think this is the right way to go about the screenings. Other options include metal detectors, the millimeter wave machines (although given my personal history, I would still not go through them), and the apparently-no-longer-in-use puffer machines.

Those who fly once or twice a year or who have a different personal history than I do may reach a different decision, and I can respect that. I ask that my decision also be respected.

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