PixelFish (pixelfish) wrote,
PixelFish
pixelfish

The Patdown and Opting Out

I'm making a separate post from my Thanksgiving trip just to detail the patdown I got at the SLC airport.

I did not get searched or selected for any scans on the way to Utah. The Rapiscanners were not in evidence at the Sea-Tac airport. I didn't even see any at the checkpoint I was at, which is the one I usually go through. I'm told there are some there, but the Stranger had reported travellers saying they weren't being used at the time.

I DID get searched at the SLC airport, and this is my detailed account of that search.

At approximately 6.45 PM Saturday evening, November 27th, I approached the security gates in the Delta section of the SLC airport, Terminal 2. The lines were nearly non-existent at the time. I approached the TSA officer at the entrance to the security checkpoint and presented my identification and boarding pass. He examined them and waved me on.

I proceeded straight ahead, where I saw a Rapiscan machine and a metal detector standing side-by-side. I took off my shoes, coat, bag, and carry-on item (my pillow) and placed them in the little plastic trays and sent them down the x-ray conveyor belt. On the conveyor belt was a sign that said you can opt out of the scanner. I then began to approach the metal detector (which was to the left) and TSA officer tried to wave me to the right where the Rapiscanner was. I stopped and said, "I opt out."

The two TSA officers flanking the scanner and metal detector then shouted, "We have an opt-out." One of them got on a walkie-talkie and said, "We have an opt-out. I require a female officer for inspection." (Note, I'm trying to be as accurate as possible but the words may not be exactly the same.) They waved me through the metal detector, where I stood with my arms raised, waiting for the female TSA officer. The male TSA officers then proceeded to "lecture" me by telling me that if I didn't want to go through this whole shebang, I should have just headed for the other lines. This was the first time I became aware that the other lines didn't all have scanners on them, a fact I hadn't noticed because the line directly ahead of the entrance did. (I did have a sort of tunnel vision of "Get through security. Go to the nearest line," and I don't think it's coincidental that the line you are most likely to be funneled into has the scanner.)

At this point I was kind of annoyed, because they kept pointing out that I could have avoided this by picking another line, even though I was headed towards the metal detector when they first waved me back to the scanner. So NO, I didn't have a choice, they just wanted me to feel like I did. There was also a strong flavour of "If you'd just submit, this wouldn't be such a big deal, but now you've opted out, so we are going to search you even though it's obvious that we don't think you are a threat at all." This last is subtext, but feels evident to me by the way they kept reiterating "You should have chosen a different line."

It took about three minutes for the female TSA officer to show up. (I have her name, but I will not post it here.) I do want to note that she seemed well-trained and professional for the most part. She used fresh gloves as far as I can tell, getting rid of the ones she used on me when she was finished. She started by asking me if there were any sensitive or painful areas on my body. She explained the procedure before she began. (She did not ask me if I consented to the procedure nor at any time did I consent explicitly. I did let them do the procedure because I felt I had no choice, and because I did not want to be stuck in Utah indefinitely.) They did not offer a private search, to my recollection, although signs were posted that you could request one. (I myself wanted my search to be public. I do not like the idea of being herded somewhere for a private search.) She did ask if I had family or friends I was travelling with and if I needed to be in sight of them. She explained each section and which part of the hand she would use to perform the search just before searching that area. She started with my head and hat, then my scarf, then my back. Then I was required to lift my shirt so she could have access to the waistband of my pants. She pulled out the back of my pants and with the back of her hand checked the waist. She replaced the waistband and with the back of her hands went over my buttocks, and then performed a full leg check from the legs up until "we meet resistance near the groin". I mentioned at this point that if she was going to check my groin, she might feel the pad I was wearing since I was on my period. (ASIDE: Glad I mentioned this to her--apparently a few women were given extra going over because of their panty liners.) The legs were checked twice, felt up once from the back side, once from the front. My waistband was checked again. My breasts were checked. (I can't recall if this was before or after the legs.) The shirt was left on for the breasts--she ran the back of her hand under my armpit and bottom of the breast and the edge of her hand between the breasts.

And then she was done and she thanked me and I, reflexively, said, "You're welcome." Words that made me wince internally as soon as I had said them. Words I definitely didn't mean.

Then I collected my belongings from the TSA agent who was hovering with them, and put my shoes back on and once again wished I had bought that metal bill of rights from Penn and Teller, despite the fact that I'm not sure I'd have the cojones to wear it to the airport.

Why didn't I just submit to the Rapiscanner? Well, for one, even if the doses are low, I'm still concerned about the long-term health effects of the scanner. I'm not convinced that the trials and data we have so far are enough, and I think that these scanners were rushed in as part of security theatre that stems from reactions to FAILED terrorist plots (which were thwarted without this technology). Since there is a history of skin and breast cancer in my family, I don't think it's unreasonable for me to avoid these devices at this time.

I also think that the monetary interests behind these scanners don't care much about our civil liberties or health issues--and having the money and power behind them that they do, they themselves will never be subjected to the scanners, or at a rate much less than that of the general flying public. I am VERY disappointed in Obama's recent stance that the TSA is taking reasonable precautions--I do not feel that way. I also note that multiple sources have reported that the CEO of Rapiscanner recently was included on Obama's trip to India, so it's possible that the corporate interests behind these scanners have recently filled our president's ear with how vital and necessary they are.

On top of all this, I'm not happy with the way our civil liberties have been eroded in the past ten years. I HAD hoped that President Obama would not maintain the status quo pushed on us by the Bush administration, but perhaps I was a tad optimistic there. I feel that this is unreasonable search that violates the fourth amendment.

Furthermore, while this was a mild inconvenience and embarrassment (in addition to being a violation of my fourth amendment rights) for me, this is only because I am a white, able-bodied, mostly healthy, youngish female with cis privilege. I am not disabled, with my prosthetics subject to increased inspection and viewing by the public. I am not transsexual, to be put in danger as soon as people realise that my birth-assigned gender doesn't match the gender I might identify with. I don't have medical supplies (aside from my CPAP machine, which I haven't yet nerved myself up to bring on a flight) to worry about. I don't have children (yet) that will be patted down if I refuse to expose them to the Rapiscanners. I am not a survivor of sexual assault, who will be forced to make a choice between having pictures of their body disseminated for government agents or being frisked bodily in a process which could trigger PTSD. The current TSA policy puts all these folks in an untenable position.

As for the folks who inevitably say, "If you don't like it, don't fly," I politely stick my middle finger up in your direction. I live three states away from my family. When my sole remaining grandmother dies, I will have to fly to get to her funeral. I have to fly to visit my family at Thanksgiving or Christmas or for other family occasions. I can not afford to take the time to drive, or even take a train. (And in any case, do you think that once we've proven to calmly accept these indignities and violations of our rights, do you think they'd limit it to just air travel? Coming soon to a train station near you, if this goes on.) The weather also makes driving extremely dangerous. Plus my job won't factor in Time To Drive Somewhere into my time-off. A number of folks have more pressing reasons to fly than just family connections: Their job requires it. They have shared custody of children with ex-spouses in other states. They may be military. In any case, just because YOU think something's fine and dandy and no big deal for you, doesn't mean it's not wrong or an invasion of rights.

My pat-down didn't make me feel safer. It made me feel less secure. I felt paranoid for a good half hour or so after--worried that I would be put on some kind of list or subjected to further monitoring as a punitive measure. It made me feel like my government can interfere with my life beyond what it should. It made me feel like the power to screw with my life has been given to folks who can make my day really bad unless I submit to their indignities. I was not physically harmed, but I do trust my government less and less, as it gives this power to this agency. I trust my government less as they farm my civil liberties out in order to help a corporation make beaucoup bucks as these scanners become mandated.

So I'll be sharing this account with the ACLU, as one more person who thinks that this is a violation of our civil liberties.

Here's a petition to the DHS and Janet Napolitano regarding the TSA's invasive searches and scanners: https://secure.aclu.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=2673&s_src=UNW100001ACT&s_subsrc=101117_tsa_bb
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