TSA Opt Out and Film Week

by Wendy Thomson on November 26, 2012


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)

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