TSA Opt Out and Film Week


Sunday I set foot in an airport for the first time since 2010. I was taking my son to the airport after Thanksgiving and decided to film the TSA in action. Armed with a printed page from the airport website that explained that it was legal to film, carrying my mini-camcorder, and wearing my protest “Flying While Handicapped – the new Driving While Black” T-shirt, I headed into the North Terminal at Detroit Metro. 

It was between 5:15 and 5:30 pm, and passenger traffic was light. The checkpoint had three MMW (millimeter wave) scanners, two metal detectors, and at least two grope arenas. I was having a hard time seeing what was going on in the grope arenas because they were behind all sorts of equipment and people, but every once in a while I saw someone’s head.

So what did I espy? The metal detector on the left was roped off with one of those retractable webbed fabric crowd-control devices; the metal detector on the right was being cordoned off by a blonde middle-aged woman who actually had her arms stretched across the entrance. No one was allowed into them except adults with pre-adolescent children. Everyone was directed towards the scanners.

I filmed for 9 minutes. If there was an opt-out, I didn’t catch it. Person after person meekly emptied their pockets, removing hats, belts, jackets, shoes, and everything else to stand arms up, legs akimbo. I saw one woman in the grope arena taking out her ponytail and running her fingers through her hair, apparently at the TSA’s direction. There also was a man, pony-tailed and bespectacled, apparently waiting for his turn in the barrel.

Sigh. Line up for Auschwitz, folks.

The middle-aged blonde woman guarding the metal detector called over another TSA employee and mentioned I was filming. So easy to read her lips. Another TSA woman called from behind the crowd-control snake line (I was filming maybe 15 feet behind the line) with a big fake smile on her face and asked if I needed anything. Beaming with the most radiant smile I could muster, I simply said, “No.”

She walked away. A few minutes later another TSA agent called again from behind the crowd-control webbing to ask me if I was filming. Well, duh. But instead of doing the typical “Is there anything wrong?” response, I looked him in the eye and said, “You know that filming is perfectly legal, don’t you? I have the paper right here in my pocket.” He asked why, to which I responded, “It’s Opt-Out and Film Week.” He said, “Opt-Out and Film Week?” I said “Yes! Go look it up on the web.” He wandered away.

I filmed for 9 minutes, 9 seconds, according to my camcorder. There were no other TSA goons called over. No confrontations, no police. The two TSA screeners who had approached me pretty much just walked away. Don’t know what it is about me that encourages that behavior.

So, ladies and gentlemen: I think I’m going to occasionally go to the airport unannounced and film for 10 minutes or so. Just show up and start filming. Very much akin to those random searches the TSA thinks are so effective. I’ll link any similar uploaded filming anyone else does to Freedom to Travel‘s Facebook page — just let me know. I think we should add guerilla filming to organized events such as this past week’s opt-out. Any takers?

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

  • Susan Richart

    Why does one have to log on to down vote a comment but not to up vote a comment?

  • You all seem to think you’re devilishly clever. It might seem to an outsider that you are more interested in the pleasure you feel when you think “ha, I got them this time” than in actually achieving some kind of modifications in aviation security (something for which you seem rather ill-equipped). It’s also kind of entertaining to see how you think that every security screener in every airport is out to make life as difficult as possible for you or invade your personal privacy for their benefit. I think you are giving yourselves a bit too much credit.

    There are about 4,500 screeners, and 90% of them are fully dedicated to the task of protecting your travel itinerary. You’d be lucky if 90% of your colleagues at work were as committed as they are, and willing to do it for a crap salary. TSA has problems – a lot of problems – at all levels, but you opting out and filming the proceedings just so you can feel like a privacy crusader isn’t going to change a thing – it just gives you an excuse to be patted down so you can go complain about that. Get over yourselves and let these people do their jobs.

    • I disagree. In fact, nearly all of the incidents that have done the most to put pressure on the TSA for their demeaning and disgusting treatment of innocent people have been videotaped patdowns, starting from the Don’t Touch my Junk guy all the way to the six-year-old girl sexually assaulted in New Orleans. Remember, the six-year-old victim’s assault was presented in an enormous color printed version by a Congressman who publicly excoriated John Pistole, “This makes me think you’re clueless.” Bluehen95, you completely misunderstand the purpose of filming. The purpose of filming is to document these filthy, disgusting attacks on an innocent person’s sexual areas, and to make sure everyone can see these ugly actions and realize that such abuse deserves no place in our society.

    • With that attitude, bluehen95, Rosa Parks should’ve just gone to the back of the bus. After all, she could still get where she was going. No one was preventing her. She should’ve “gotten over herself” and let the bus driver do his job.

    • There are 4500 screeners? So, does that mean that out of a workforce of 65,000,over 93% is overhead? Either your facts are wrong, BlueHen, or this is the most catastrophically inefficient agency in the history of the universe.

      Let’s get something straight: no one is against airport security. No one wants terrorists on planes. And that is precisely why we oppose the TSA.

      There have been several documented incidents this year of guns smuggled into prisons by concealing them in body cavities. Those are incidents in which prison guards — whose own lives are at risk if they fail to detect weapons — failed to find the weapon even in a strip-search..

      The TSA’s body scanners won’t detect anything in a body cavity, but John Pistole is trying to replace all the old metal detectors with these new, more expensive, machines. That’s why we call it security theater, and that’s why we want this loony enterprise drastically reformed.

      You might want to learn the facts before you fire off your next critique.

      • My fault, Mr. Weber. I omitted a “0”. It’s 45,000 screeners.

        That said, your use of the term “overhead” screams that you do not know TSA. The remaining 20,000 includes Federal Air Marshals, Watch Officers, and a range of other programs like VIPR and FFDO/CMSDT, covers freight rail, air cargo, general aviation, HAZMATs, etc., and responsibility for TWIC, which is an essential transportation security measure. Not to mention those dedicated to security capabilities, whose job it is to find ways to address the very issues you raise in a dynamic threat environment. No one is claiming TSA is perfect, there are enough stories to prove that it’s not. Part of it is security theater, what do you expect from a ten-year-old organization stood up from scratch with no precedent? As it evolves, and it is forced to live within fiscal restraints, it is embracing concepts like risk-based security that are more cost-effective and allow resources to be focused where the threats are greatest. I am with you on reforming TSA – but recognize that it is in the process of reforming itself. Too slowly, and not always in the right direction, but let it learn from its mistakes.

        You might want to look at the bigger picture instead of focusing in on certain hand-picked facts before you fire off your next critique.

        • Oh, yeah, TWIC, “an essential transportation security measure.” The program has been plagued with problems and incompetencies from the get-go. And VIPR?? You’re actually touting VIPR as anything other than what it is, a free-range assault on the 4th Amendment? And all the jargon about “dynamic threat environment” and the laughable “risk-based security”? Yeah, those BDOs are really doing the trick, aren’t they?

          You may think that Mr. Weber’s comment “screams” that he knows nothing about the TSA, but your comments — and your IP address — scream that you’re in the belly of the beast.

          • Drontil

            Is bluehen95 an employee of the TSA posting from work?

          • Drontil, no. But his/her IP address is close to Dulles.

          • That’s because he lives close to Dulles. That doesn’t influence my opinions about TSA one way or another.

          • bluehen95, my apologies for making assumptions. We’ve just had a lot of TSA/DHS workers posting comments since this blog began, and Amy Alkon has had one dogging her on her personal blog from a DHS computer.

          • Bluehen95 is a citizen posting from his home. Is there a spot on the form for that? Isn’t that (not to mention tracking IP addresses) invasion of privacy, which you all seem so vehemently against?

          • bluehen95, as an admin of this blog, along with Chris Elliott, I can see people’s IP addresses. This is normal for anybody running a blog. We’re not revealing anyone’s IP address (as long as they don’t get abusive — and even then we’d just ban them, which happens rarely). We’re not data-mining, we’re not collecting info on anybody, and we have no way of finding out your real name, address, or even email address. Maybe somebody else schooled in the ways of the cyber world could, but I’m lucky I can turn on my computer. Your identity — still unknown — is safe with us.

          • Daisiemae

            I’m wondering if this blue hen is the same person as so be sparky on the other blog. It’s the same kind of relentless pontificating that so be sparky displays.

          • My GOD! TWO people with a different perspective! Stop wondering, I’m not sparky. I’m just encouraging you to ease up on your desire to throw the baby out with the bathwater (even if the baby gets strip-searched). Calm down.

          • But why can’t the answer legitimately be: we do not need any searches at the airport beyond the old standby of walkthrough metal detector and x-ray for baggage? It’s obvious that more elaborate passenger searches are just a Maginot line that is easily circumvented by means of bribes, infiltrating the airport workforce, or attacks at airports before the checkpoint and even outside the airports. In Europe it’s been buses and trains that were attacked. What’s really needed is intelligence and police work, the same kind that uncovered the British liquids plot *before* anyone walked into an airport with a bomb. Terrorists are criminals, and apprehending them is a job for police. Funny thing though: police have rules about when they’re allowed to invasively search people, and one other funny thing: buying an airline ticket does not qualify as articulable suspicion nor probable cause. We need to return crime prevention to this basic standard of justice.

          • Daisiemae

            I’m not talking about opinions. I’m talking about pontificating. According to Dictionary.com, to pontificate means to speak in a pompous or dogmatic manner. You’ve been pontificating at excessive length for quite some time now in exactly the same manner that was used by So Be Sparky. So it’s no wonder that I was curious if you were the same person.

            Also, it’s interesting that you accuse everyone of not being calm. I asked a simple question expressing curiosity about your identity. Nothing uncalm about that.

            But your post contains exclamation points and capitols. And you immediately launch into rhetoric about babies and bath water.

            Perhaps you should take a page from your own book and take a deep breath. And hold off on the next 5000 word pontification.

          • It is clear that you have become so entrenched in your opinion(s) that offering a different perspective is not worthwhile. Perhaps I could have used a different tone from the outset, and for that I apologize. But this needs serious discussion and a willingness to understand and consider multiple factors, it is not a black-and-white issue. I’d guess that’s a good part of the reason why your version of pontificating (and admit it, you all are doing it too) “falls on deaf ears”.

          • Daisiemae

            Again with the insults and assumptions about my opinions. While you’re attacking everyone on this site with your generic shotgun style assumptions, why don’t you read what I said before going postal.

            I don’t care what your opinions are…express away! Once or twice in a moderate length and in a civil tone…fine. It’s a free country (or it used to be) so go for it!

            But your twelve (count’em twelve) dogmatic essays have become quite boring and obnoxious. You’ve succeeded in making the conversation all about you rather than the TSA. You’re just not that interesting.

          • Thank you, I am aware of Bruce Schneier, Stephen Lord, Richard Roth, Rafi Sela, etc. and their well-considered perspectives. They all have interesting things to say that should be taken seriously, so how come they aren’t in positions to significantly influence national transportation security strategy? There are a number of reasons, but it’s worth recognizing that there are constructive ways to insert one’s opinions into the discussion, rather than universally tearing down everything that an agency that’s not going away (admit it) is doing. It’s very easy to sit outside and throw stones. It’s much harder to accept certain parameters will not change and offer a rational case for adopting different ways of thinking within them.

          • bluehen95, we have offered rational alternatives umpteen times at this blog. Robert Hollis Weber just did likewise in his most recent comment in this thread.

            These suggestions fall on deaf ears. People who want to cling to their fear will continue to do so — and we all know there are millions of them — just look at the recent poll that found that 1/3 of them said they’re fine with cavity searches. We can’t get through to them. We know that. We also know that there are other millions who do get it — or who could but just need more information — just as we know that there are tens of thousands who are determined to pretend they don’t get it, because they’re making money off this state of affairs. They’re making money off people’s fear. So they will never admit that we’re right. Never. They have to be forced to change; they won’t do it willingly.

            There are many ways to argue, and not all of them are successful with all kinds of people. Some people — few — respond to logic and reason. Some respond to humor. Some respond to sarcasm. Some respond to being metaphorically hit between the eyes. We use all forms of rhetoric here. You never know who’s reading. You never know who will be swayed by which argument. So we just have to keep plugging along. And again, offering rational alternatives, which we’ve done till the cows come home, just doesn’t cut it for loads of people.

          • Fair enough, Lisa. Keep in mind that TSA is to a significant degree affected by pressure – existing or potential – from those people you can’t reach.

          • Incidentally, “plagued with problems and incompetencies from the get-go” is not equivalent to “bad concept”. The agency was started from scratch with zero precedent for its mission. It recognizes there are problems. Not all of them, but some. Nobody – no agency, no company, gets it right – for immediate purposes or for the long term – the day it’s stood up. That’s why smart businesses embrace a concept called “continuous improvement”, and it’s one you shouldn’t assume that TSA does not understand. Change is slow, especially in the Federal government, with all of its leadership changes, politics, regulations, public pressures, and disincentives.

        • This just makes me smile! I’m reminded again that the only people in the entire country who would ever defend the catastrophic failure and tyrannical nightmare that is TSA are the lowlifes who work there. Bluehen95, you are a sexual assault enabler, a child pornographer, an apologist for truly heinous crimes against human decency. You disgust those of us who still have a conscience. It’s amazing what a little cash in the wallet does to a person’s sense of right and wrong.

          • This is a shining example of why interesting alternatives fail to get consideration. Your assumptions and blanket characterizations (of me and of the TSOs) are part of the problem, and they do nothing to move toward a solution. As I said below, you’ll never seriously influence anything by trying to abolish something that is never going away. I’m sure it’s fun to bash it and inconvenient to recognize that it does have some benefits. Approach people with respect and maybe they’ll listen to you.

          • I have no respect for anyone who would work for the TSA, nor do they deserve any. Funny thing, I don’t respect those who sexually abuse innocent people and call it “security”. The entire enterprise of laying hands on the genitalia of minor children and calling that “security” is loathsome, and definitely, definitely not deserving of anything but contempt.

          • Guest

            Ah, respect. Like the respect that made this woman say she “felt violated and raped” by the TSA? I was also raped by the TSA, as were many others, and we are determined to stamp out airport rape. http://www.theday.com/article/20121202/OP05/312029959/1044

          • Guest, thanks; I added this account to the Master List of TSA Crimes and Abuses (click tab at top of page). I also tried commenting at the original site to defend Karen Kaplan against the ignoramuses and know-nothings in the comment thread. Unfortunately, even though I’m registered and logged in at The Day, I can’t find a comment box. If anyone else can, please do. She needs support.

          • I tried also. You have to be a subscriber to the print edition to comment.

          • Susan Richart

            Lisa, unfortunately one has to be a member to comment at The Day and “membership” will cost you over $90 for a year.

          • How many passengers go through screening every day? How many articles are written about the uneventful cases? Like I said, there are problems, but the majority of these people are decent, committed folks who take their jobs very seriously (sometimes too seriously, yes). I also think you should be very careful about loosely throwing around terms like “rape”. I don’t know what you experienced and how it made you feel, obviously it was quite uncomfortable, but please let’s reserve that term for the serious and tragic cases where women (or men) are forced into sexual acts against their will. Perhaps “assaulted” would be a better term.

          • bluehen95, click on the tab at the top of this page called Master List and then tell me what’s going on.

            As for rape, the FBI defines it as forcible penetration of any bodily orifice by any object — in other words, not just penis into vagina. Under the FBI’s definition, many people, including Sommer Gentry, have been raped by the TSA.

          • Susan Richart

            I would add that the definition says “penetration, no matter how slight…..”

          • I’d be happy to give you a detailed account of how the TSA raped me. A screener at BWI inserted a metal-detecting wand into my body after shoving it under my skirt and up between my legs. A part of my underwear was left lodged inside my vagina. Yes, I call that rape. As Lisa Simeone points out, so does the FBI. Rape, rape, rape. When I was raped by this woman, I reported it to my congressional representatives, the TSA, and the police. The TSA defended their actions in a letter to me, calling my screening “proper”. So there you have it: the TSA officially thinks inserting things into women’s bodies is a proper screening technique, even though the FBI thinks it’s rape. So now let’s hear you defend what they’ve done to me and thousands of other women. Amy Alkon is another woman who has publicly shared details of being raped by the TSA.

        • Thanks for the clarification. I appreciate your willingness to admit that there are problems with the agency, and I’ll meet you part way on this. I do, in fact, look at “the bigger picture.” I was a huge supporter of the creation of the TSA after 9/11 and I still believe that this should be a federal agency.

          The staff were never well trained, but that could be fixed. My big-picture issue is that the model is fundamentally flawed. From the start, TSA agents have been on an Easter-egg hunt for tweezers and Swiss Army knives, proceeding from the assumption that anyone could be a threat. We need to turn that on its head and assume that nearly every person should be waved through security with little or no screening, concentrating on only the credible threats. Pistole talks a lot about a threat-based approach, but there has been little action.

          The American people need to start understanding that it’s not the government’s role to child-proof their entire world. A flight attendant at yesterday’s Congressional hearing protested the proposal from Consumer Travel Alliance’s Charlie Leocha that small knives, tools and box cutters be allowed on planes. “I don’t want to sit next to someone with a knife!” she said. There are enough cutting tools in the average Home Depot to maim a small city, but I bet she takes her kids there without a second thought. Even if there weren’t, a determined terrorist could strangle her with his shoelaces. Let’s stop pretending that planes need to be safer than the average bathtub.

          The mantra of TSA apologists (“if you don’t like the screening, take the bus”) needs to become “if you feel that the screening is not rigorous enough, take the bus.”

          You seem like you’re trying to be reasonable. Here’s a reasonable proposal: we’re never going to get to threat-based assessment while we’re preoccupied with snow-globes and breast milk. Let’s (1) agree that because of hardened cockpit doors and the tendency of passengers to fight back another 9/11 is virtually impossible. Therefore (2) immediately return to metal detectors for primary screening and only for firearms. Yes, someone could take a flight attendant hostage with a hunting knife and try to blackmail the pilot into opening the cockpit door, but they could do that by holding the pilot’s family hostage back on the ground too. Except that only happens in the movies. (3) Do secondary screening (for explosives–the only real threat) via swabs on rare occasions such as when indicated by a vapor-wake detection dog. You can’t put enough C-4 in a steampunk wristwatch to blow up a plane and if you stuff grandma’s bra with it, you’re going to trigger a dog, (3) stop the patdowns except where there is probable cause as determined by a real LEO.

          In doing so we could slash TSA staff and budget and use the money to actually hunt for terrorists.

          Can we agree?

          • I agree in principle that we are never going to stop everything, everywhere, and I agree that it’s too costly and invasive to try. There are sensible, cost-effective ways to approach the problem, and that includes FAMs, FFDOs, and flight attendant self-defense programs. Airport security screening is overkill and the cost/benefit is not favorable. I don’t think I can rationally argue that point and keep a straight face.

            However, it only takes one bomb on an airplane to get people screaming that it should have been caught by security screeners, when we know that no matter how many TSOs there are and how many methods they use, they will not stop everything. A good percentage of the public will demand more “security theater”, not less. So how do you combat public perception when less visible, risk-based approaches miss the guy with the explosive in his small intestines? I don’t know the answer to this, I’m interested in our thoughts.

            So there are multiple problems. One is that the agency needs to continue to evolve its approach to transportation security, but change is slow and the agency’s culture is rather entrenched. The second is that public perceptions are fickle, and you can’t ignore that TSA needs to be responsive to them, whether it’s the over-screening talked about here or the backlash that’s inevitable when something does eventually happen. The third is that the wrong people are trying to influence the agency’s transformation, often for their own purposes. This includes some elements of the agency’s leadership, and also people like Rep. Mica, who have no business being involved in TSA.

            All that said, there are well-meaning people at TSA, and it isn’t helpful to broadly bash TSOs. These people are underpaid, overworked, and ill-equipped, but the vast majority of them are committed to trying to stop an attack from occurring.

  • Citizens Against Stupid People

    Seems to me all Wendy wanted to do is be one of those idiotic people by displaying (again) idiotic t-shirt to gain wanted attention to herself. Surely she looked stupid

    • 1amWendy

      LOL I love all this inanity. First of all, I had my purse slung over my chest, so you couldn’t really read the T. Second, that you assume I want attention is beyond the pale and totally indefensible. However do you think you know me enough to make that assumption? Third, the statement on that T is perfectly accurate, as anyone with a modicum of reason would concur… go read this before you leap to your crazy assumptions:

      http://tsanewsblog.com/6153/news/report-on-the-tsa-aviation-security-advisory-committee/

      Oh: and make sure that you keep that silly biased filter up and polished: it seems to be serving you so well. Not.

    • Daisiemae

      So apparently all the citizens are against you, right?

  • Crusso

    So let me get this straight; you’re annoyed because you wore a provocative T shirt, filmed for 10 minutes and no one from TSA hassled you? In fact they asked if they could assist you in some way and seemed interested in why you were doing what you were doing.

    • 1amWendy

      Why do you assume I was annoyed? Not in the least. Dude – stop reading into this what you want to believe… you’ve gotten it totally wrong.

  • cjr001

    Random filming probably would be more effective than TSA’s current “random” groping and irradiating.

  • kfred

    Wendy, I saw several people opting out. My husband and I opted out as did my father (he hasn’t flown in several years but my constant discussion about the TSA convinced him).
    Don’t give up. Never give up. I won’t be.

    • 1amWendy

      Give up…me? LOL that’ll never happen 🙂

  • It’s truly sad that no one was opting out, but we all knew this would happen. Unless they are protected, rights can slowly erode.

    I know that there is a difference of opinion on this blog about whether to fly at all until (unless) the TSA is reformed. My own perspective is that we must continue to fly and continue to protest every step of the way.

    I fly a lot, and I make it a point to opt out every time. Sometimes that’s a hassle, because the TSA makes a point of dragging out the pat down process. I’m often tempted to just grit my teeth and bear the eletro-depantsing machine. On those occasions, I think about the very first time I ever encountered the scanners and the gang of leering TSA agents who watched as an attractive woman in front of me assumed the position with her hands over her head for their inspection. It was a nauseating precursor to what we have become.

  • Susan Richart

    After opting out and being assaulted by a screener, here’s a suggestion:

    Complete and file the complaint form that may be found here:

    https://www.oig.dhs.gov/hotline/hotline.php

    There is a section titled “What?” under which you would enter “Transportation Security Administration” and then “Civil Rights/Civil Liberties” and finally “Coerced Sexual Assault” which is what the grope really is.

    The form asks for the name of the TSA employee who committed the assault. Hopefully, he/she doesn’t have his/her badge turned away so you don’t have to ask for identification.

    • Funnily enough – I just clicked that link and received an “untrusted connection” error. There’s symbolism there.

      • Pat Downe

        Intentional, to discourage it’s use. The government web site has an untrusted certificate. LOL.

    • anc1entmar1ner

      You can also complain to TSA here:

      https://apps.tsa.dhs.gov/tsacontact/DynaForm.aspx?FormID=10

      Yes, they will ignore you except for a computer-generated “screw you” reply. However, you should be sure to contact your congressman and senators – usually they have a web form you can fill out.

      Don’t forget the White House! Send your comments here:

      http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

    • kfred

      Thanks for the link! I’ll be using it every time I fly since I always get the groper’s name.