Monday, November 22, 2010

Thoughts on the TSA

I'll admit, typing that header alone has me wonder if I'll now be flagged for searching when I travel next.  But I, like others, have concerns that I want to process through on the new TSA screenings. And honestly, it's one of those jumbled-thoughts-where-to-start sort of processing so stick with me here.

When LK first told me about these scanners and pat downs I told him the article was wrong.  I live in America, I told him- they won't let those things happen.  There's no way that's legal.  No way that is really happening. But it is.  And that alone has me a bit turned around.

I'm all for profiling those who need to be profiled.  When I worked inside the a brick and mortar agency, I once called the FBI because a family came in wanting to buy their daughter a one-way ticket from Memphis to Tehran on a specific day, specific flights, routing specifically through Amsterdam and wanted to pay cash.  When I gave them an extremely high rate for that day, they didn't want me to look into other options and they didn't want to give me any contact information.  To me, that was enough to raise a flag or two and I reported it.

And I'm all for airport security.  I enjoy traveling and would prefer to not die mid flight, so checking for weapons is okay by me.

What I'm not okay with, like many travelers (though surprisingly not as many as I thought), is the backscatter machines and the amazingly up-close and personal body checks.  So bare with me as I try to explain why.

Where do these pictures go?  I googled TSA images and was able to find several pics online- though most of them appeared to be given to the media from the TSA.  What I found wasn't as graphic as this website suggested back in January that they would be, but on the two sites I found I was able to copy the picture like the January website said, Crtl + i and was able to, how shall I put this, see more of these people than I wanted to.  With today's information age, how can be sure these pictures will never get out?

Honestly, if you want to backscatter me, fine.  If you want to put my picture up online, fine (after all, it would provide interesting results the next time I google my name), but stick my child in one of those machines and have the possibility that his picture could be out on some website and watch this mama bear roar.

Plus, tell me how you can be so sure some closet pedophile isn't on the other side of that machine.  How can I be sure my child isn't the victim of someone's sick obsession simply because we wanted to board a plane.

Pat Downs-
For the last three years I've worked with women who are the survivors of abuse.  In our group we don't even hug the other person without asking first because you can never know what will set off the other. People of past abuse don't normally like close physical contact and unwanted physical contact can be a trigger for very bad things. Tell me how these experiences aren't asking for a survivor to go into a panic attack just because they wanted to travel.

Tell me how in the name of security things like this are necessary. Tell me how in the name of security I either get to give you an all but naked picture of myself or I have to let you grope me in order to go through security.  And that really?!?!?!?  once I've started the process my only 3rd option is the threat of a huge fine?  How does that work?!  Especially when the TSA website isn't even all updated on which airports have these systems and which don't on the off chance that I wanted to pick the option of driving further to fly from an airport that currently won't subject me to this mess.

So basically what I'm wondering is this- and, if someone can help me understand this I'd be more than happy to oblige with these security measures when needed- how is that in the last nine years security has gotten more and more out of hand and yet their measures have all been a matter a whiplash reaction to what they didn't catch the first go round.  As one report today noted:
Since 9/11, the only two terrorist threats to U.S. airlines were the shoe bomber (December 2001) and the underwear bomber (December 2009). Both of these individuals rang every bell there was to say, “Look, I am a terrorist!” Both of came from foreign airports and passed through security checks that should have stopped them long before they walked onto airliners.
Isn't it worth thinking about for just a minute- just to stop and think before sending out some new and invasive rule- that these people got through security and that
It should be noted that the new full-body scanners would not have singled out either of these two individuals, who checked in for international flights with one-way tickets purchased with cash and no luggage. Furthermore, it was the passengers and flight attendants who stopped these would-be bombers, not the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
This people all but wore a shirt that said I'M A TERRORIST! And yet the TSA thinks all these new measures is what is going to keep us safer?  Ignoring all the one-way tickets, paid in cash, no luggage, flags and rely on groping them as the fail-proof measure?

This same report pointed out that:
Wouldn’t our skies be safer if we used the security procedures employed by some foreign countries and had layers of well-trained experts, who by asking simple questions can recognize those who appear suspicious? Israel's El Al Airlines, for example, has developed one of the most successful security programs in the world. Its security starts before anyone approaches the airport screening lines and incorporates layers of verification using well-trained security professionals.
And in Israel people don't get felt up just for wanting to get Grandma.

And another thought.  As of November 1 the TSA now requires me, as a travel agent, or you if you book a flight online for yourself, to enter in vast amounts of information.  What is the purpose of that whole mess if they're just going to backscatter me anyway?

To me, there are too many "unanswereds" out there for me to be okay with this.

That's why I agree with what National Opt Out Day is doing.  They're not asking for you to stage a sit in and protest the whole messy thing, or asking you to make a scene.  They're very clear that
There is no intent or desire to delay passengers en route to friends and family over Thanksgiving.  People also need to remember to stay within the confines of the law and the regulations of TSA when exercising their right to a pat down.
But that the reason they want everyone to opt out so that people will be able to
sit around the dinner table, eating turkey, [and talk] about their experience - what constitutes an unreasonable search, how forceful of a pat down will we allow on certain areas of our body, and that of our children, and how much privacy are we will to give up for flying?
But don't let it stop there.  The next step, as they say, is to tell the government about your experience.  On their website they list several places to submit your TSA experience.  But one that don't have listed is the US Travel Association.  Who wants to know people's experiences because they believe by hearing about them, they can address Congress and ask can we do better.

And as I end these can-this-really-be-processing-thoughts the travel agent in me feels the need to tell anyone who will be traveling on Wednesday, opting out or not, please please please arrive earlier than you normally would.  My guess is places with backscatters will be more of a zoo than normal holiday traffic would cause and places without them will still have TSA agents on pretty high alert.

This will, above all, not be a good day to tell them you have a live chicken in your bag- believe you me. But then, that would be another story for another day.


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