How to kill the TSA’s full-body scanners — once and for all

It started like it always does, just a few moments before I checked in for my flight.

The sweating. The heart thumping uncontrollably inside my chest. The weak knees.

But one look at the blue paramilitary TSA uniforms in the airport terminal, and I thought this would be worse.

Much worse.

It wasn’t only because I had to see my entire family — which includes a five-year-old girl and two boys, ages seven and ten — through a TSA screening area. It was also because for the first time, I found our path to the terminal obstructed by one of the poorly-tested scanners.

The TSA has forced air travelers to make a preposterous choice between a full-body scan, which potentially exposes you to harmful radiation, and an “enhanced” pat-down, for the last two years. For me, it was always an easy call to make: pat me down if you have to, but don’t microwave me.

But now I was making a decision for my kids, and I didn’t know if it was the right one.

I approached a TSA agent.

“I need a male and female assist, please,” I said. “We’re opting out.”

A Morton’s Fork

Every day across the country, other air travelers make the same difficult choice. They either walk through the scanners, hoping for the best, or they take their chances with a pat-down that may or may not violate their dignity.

For those of us who believe we shouldn’t have to make that kind of decision — indeed, that in the Land of the Free, we shouldn’t be treated like potential terrorists whenever we travel — we received some good news last week when it appeared the TSA was backing down from using what are believed to be the most dangerous of the full-body scanners.

As it turns out, the story was not quite all that the agency’s critics had hoped for. The TSA was just reshuffling some of its scanners, an event that had already been reported this summer.

Will we ever get rid of the Morton’s Fork presented by the TSA?

Yes, we will. And the time may be now.

Let’s opt out

It all came into focus just a day before I asked a TSA agent to pat down my entire family. It came by way of reader Jack Bowman, a technology consultant from Dallas who told me he objected to the TSA’s ineffective screening practices, but that at the end of the day, he chooses to opt out of the scanner for what he calls “contentious reasons.”

He’s trying to slow down the line.

“The TSA is a waste of my money and unconstitutional,” he says. “Personally, I think we would all be a lot safer if the TSA went away.”

With just one or two dissidents like him out there, the TSA can have its way with us. But what if everyone decided to opt out?

That was the idea behind National Opt-Out Day in 2010, the product of a loose coalition of activists that was called a “bust” by mainstream media. (Indeed, the movement seems to be history. An online search for its website takes you to a company selling discount prescription drugs.)

But now, the momentum is building for a second, more sustained opt-out protest which would take place during an entire week, from Nov. 19 to 26. The idea, first suggested by the activist site InfoWars, is now being seriously discussed among activists, and is gaining traction among passengers.

The reasoning behind a National Opt-Out Week is this: If the TSA decides to shut down its scanners in response to the protest, as it allegedly did in 2010, activists would have ample opportunity to document the action over a period of a week. TSA critics would then have more than enough evidence to prove that these scans and pat-downs are a false choice and do practically nothing to improve our safety.

No one wants to fly with the fear of a terrorist blowing up a plane. But do we have to trade that fear for the anxiety that comes every time we fly? Do we have to be treated like a suspect by the TSA, to be forced through a metal detector, scanned, and maybe frisked like dangerous prisoners?

I think you have the right to travel without experiencing that kind of fear.

I consider myself lucky. When I asked the TSA agent to frisk my family, he laughed and waved us through the magnetometer.

“You don’t have to go through the scanner,” he said.

As we made our way through the screening area, I felt myself relaxing.

Then I turned to take one last look at the dreaded scanner. I saw a young woman standing inside, her legs slightly spread, her hands high in the air as if she were being held at gunpoint.

She looked about six months pregnant.

  • I quit flying all together. That way the airlines don’t get rewarded with my $$$ for enabling this atrocity and I don’t give a reason to keep a TSA agent employed.

  • Daisiemae

    There needs to be a way to count all of us who have already opted out of TSA’s terror machine by refusing to participate at all. Is there some way to include us in this poll?

  • Kitten

    I’d participate. If I were going to be flying. But I’m not. I can’t. TSA has made it too much hassle: they take my cane away from me. They refuse to change gloves before checking my medically required foods. I won’t go through their scanners — my oncologist has forbidden it. I have a huge scar from cancer surgery, and between that and other medical issues, it just isn’t worth it. Which means I’m going to have to postpone my “cancer free” trip until I retire and we have the time to drive instead of fly. Thanks a heap, TSA.

    PS: I’ll lay odds the relatives who ARE flying then won’t opt-out, [email protected] them.

  • Daisiemae

    I didn’t vote because I have already opted out by choosing not to fly. I won’t be scanned and I won’t be groped. I have opted out of both “choices”

  • kfred

    I’m a frequent flyer for work.
    Pre-Check is no choice as it doesn’t protect the millions of innocent travelers. I ALWAYS opt out. Every single time.
    So does my husband.
    We complain to the airlines regularly.Through email and the airline staff.I’ve cut my travel in half during the last two years.The airlines get it.We HAVE to keep up the pressure through any and all the means we have at our disposal.

  • Guest

    I ALWAYS opt out. Every single time.
    So does my husband.

  • I opt out.

  • txrus

    Seeing an obviously pregnant pax in one of these things is bad enough (& I’ve seen it myself) but what is truly mind-boggling is seeing obviously pregnant screeners around these things, including a BSK in MEM where I witnessed a pregnant screener walking back & forth thru it repeatedly. It speaks volumes about the caliber of those who work for the TSA & their inability to think for themselves.

  • There
    is a central problem to everyone choosing to Opt Out, it impacts the
    travelers, the airports and airlines, but not the TSA. This in no way
    impacts the agency.

    I
    have looked into this extensively over the past year or so, starting
    just before the failed “national opt out day.” I’ve spent time asking a
    number I people deep inside the agency who I regularly get
    on info from … a few who even oppose the AIT scanners . The agency
    has no reason to care, I can go into why but we’ll start with this …
    they answer to 108 House & Senate Committees and sub-Committees, all of whom have their own agenda, at times conflicting agendas. The TSA can play one committee off another, like kids caught between 108 divorced parents. The
    lack of centralized oversight from our legislatures and the free reign
    permitted by DHS gives them significant autonomy to ignore significant
    pressure and simply cite “security.”

    The agency needs accountability and oversight first because the TSA doesn’t answer to airlines about on-time performance, airports about passenger screening lines or any passengers regarding how long screening took … just that it met guidelines within an SSI policy outlining what those guidelines are.

    You want change, make your elected representatives care, make it a real issue and make it a real issue lead by facts and reasoned conversation, not simply saying “no” without anything to truly back up why you are saying ‘no.’

  • Fed-Up

    “I saw a young woman standing inside, her legs slightly spread, her hands high in the air as if she were being held at gunpoint….six months pregnant.” SICK!!!
    Believe me, no one “needs” a male or female “assist.”
    Let’s Opt-Out and Nov. 19 to 26 be at the –especially smaller– airports, where the backscatter blue cancer-boxes are being used, and spread the word to passengers approaching the checkpoints!