new tsa airport screening assault regulations, or, security theatre goes x-rated

By now I hope everyone has heard about the new regulations on airport screening from the US's Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Full-body scanning equipment ("naked scanners") have been installed in 68 US airports, with more on the way. If you object to increasing your daily dose of radiation, you can opt for a full-body "pat down" by guards, i.e., being sexually assaulted by strangers.

As the ACLU puts it, "Giving people a choice between being virtually strip-searched in an x-ray machine or enduring an aggressive groping is really no choice at all." But don't worry, the person sticking their hands down your pants will be a trained professional. Or not.

You've seen the video of the man refusing the scan at the San Diego airport and the children's book cover parody that made the rounds. (Amazingly, more than one Canadian blogger was fooled!) But the implications for freedom to travel, civil liberties, privacy, and the encroaching police state are deadly serious and very frightening.

Dr. Dawg noted a different kind of climate change because Ezra Levant appears to agree with us. That caused me to click, and here I am quoting that blowhard! Strange bedfellows indeed.
Surprise! Canadian travellers to the United States are now subject to having high school dropouts touch their breasts, penises and vaginas as part of “airline security.”

Sorry, do the words penis and vagina make you uncomfortable?

They certainly make the U.S. Transportation Security Administration uncomfortable.

The TSA can’t even bring themselves to use those words when describing their new “enhanced pat-down” procedure.

You will find them nowhere on their website, including their section on advice for travellers.

They have pages about how to pack your toothpaste.

But they don’t tell you that you will stand in line while a stranger touches you in places that, if done by anyone else, would lead to sexual assault charges.

Oh, by the way: Their touching of penises and vaginas isn’t limited to adults.

They grope children, too. In the past two weeks, the Internet has been flooded by videos taken by passengers on their cellphone cameras, filming their own screaming children being fondled by uniformed officials.

So what’s the new rule for parents to teach our children?

Don’t let strangers touch your privates—unless they say they’re allowed to?

Unless they are in a position of authority? Unless Barack Obama says it’s OK?

Levant goes on to show his true colours when he asks, "Where is the American Civil Liberties Union?" He claims that august organization is "too busy defending the rights of terrorists," and throws in a little Islamophobia into the bargain. Obviously, Levant is either a liar or a fool who didn't do his homework (my money's on liar), since the ACLU has been campaigning against these regulations from the moment they were announced. That's how I first heard about this: through the ACLU mailing list.

Despite Levant's gratuitous bigotry, it's good to see people from all points of the political spectrum decrying this very serious invasion of privacy and unwarranted expansion of government power.

Radiation and naked body images or physical assault, which will it be? I don't love the idea of full-body scans, but I could not endure a pat-down by a stranger. If I literally had to to submit, to save my life, I guess I could force myself to live through it, by reminding myself that I've lived through worse. But I think I would throw up, or pass out - or probably disassociate, which seems to be what my mind does - and I'd very likely have nightmares and flashbacks about it.

And there are millions of people - men and women - who would feel the same way. My friend James sent me this, from Skepchick.
The full-body scanners also involve unspecified amounts of radiation, which several scientific and medical groups, not just the tin-foil hat types, have expressed concerns about. So, opting out of the full body scan seems like it might be a good idea. I’ve had a LOT of x-rays, CAT scans, and MRIs. I’m not Evil Knievel, but I have managed to break a lot of bones, particularly in my head. (Hey! Let’s not extrapolate!)

Anyway, on the advice of my doctor, I’m supposed to limit my exposure to radiation and microwave sources. Ok, simple enough. I opt out of the scan.

Except. When you give the technology a pass, you are now subject to a fairly intimate groin grope and feeling up. A lot of folks have said that if you don’t want to have the scan and fly safely, or accept that some strangers will have to touch you, then you should just not fly. The reality is, though, that for many of us we must fly semi-regularly as part of our jobs. It’s not entirely my choice to fly; I can’t take a week of work off to drive to California and back for a business trip. So, bring on the grope.

Except. I am a rape survivor. And I know that if I am forced to have the kind of circle jerk that I’ve seen on video–where a bunch of TSA screeners surround me and one of them touches me in very private places–there is a real chance I’m going to freak out. Traveling is always very stressful, in part because I have visual processing issues and epilepsy (see above; i.e, fractured head). Add onto that reliving a painful part of my past–someone touching me and I have no ability to say "I don't consent"–I am not a happy traveler.

Don't listen to Ezra Levant. The ACLU is leading the charge against this and you can join them. DHS has been forced to retreat before and we can make them do it again. Sign a petition to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and share it with everyone you know.

* * * *

Update. Apparently I wrote this whole post without ever mentioning the stupidest thing about this. Luckily redsock put it in comments: None of this will make us any safer. Alternate post title: "security theatre turns x-rated".


laura k said...

I just noticed at Skepchick's blog that someone (in comments) is accusing those opposed to these regulations of prudery! So consent is meaningless. Either you allow anyone to see and touch your body or you are a prude.

And I suppose it's also prudish to object to unwarranted government invasion of personal liberty and privacy. Let's all be treated like criminals and love it.


allan said...

someone (in comments) is accusing those opposed to these regulations of prudery

Can we send someone over to that person's house -- whatever type of person he or she finds most disgusting -- to fondle them?

Q: Would this person still be waving the flag while a TSA employee is squeezing his little kid's penis?

hhw said...


This story was posted on Boing Boing; apparently the Tampa airport, which does not have the backscatter machines yet, does not give people a choice -- if you "qualify" for extra screening, you get the grope:

'Erin, a prominent "Mommyblogger," had her vagina and breasts fondled without notice or warning by a TSA screener in Tampa. In her view -- and her lawyer's (and mine) -- this is a sexual assault, and she is proceeding accordingly: "I will not be a silent victim of sexual assault by a TSA agent. Total Sexual Assault." '


Scott M. said...

I flew out of Ottawa yesterday and was randomly selected for "enhanced screening". And when I say random, I mean random... when you walk on to the carpet, a computer points an arrow in one of two directions -- the vast majority of people get pointed towards the "normal" lines, I got pointed towards the "enhanced" line.

So what's involved in enhanced screening in Ottawa?

Well, per normal you start by going through a metal detector (I didn't set it off at all). Whether or not you have set off the metal detector, you are presented with an option: you can go through the machine, where someone in another room looks at your private bits and sends back a note on the screen that you're good to go, or you need to be searched further.

The other option?

Well, right there, in front of everyone in line, you get a pat-down by someone of the same sex as you. Their pat down? Everywhere. Yes, that everywhere. And yes, in full view of the rest of the line.

After watching the 5 people before me getting fondled for 4 minutes a piece, I took the option of going through the machine.

I still felt creeped out, but not nearly as (difficulty finding word here...). The best word I have for it is actually french, "violer", which in it's harshest sense can mean rape, where as in it's lightest sense is a nasty invasion of privacy. It's somewhere in between there, obviously not nearly as traumatic as rape, but way more a problem then someone posting my phone number online.

Sorry for not having the right words... "Creeped out" doesn't do it justice.

Scott M. said...

I don't think I said that well - I really don't want to make the equivalence from the search to rape. Feel free to delete it (and this) if you think what I said doesn't sound like something sane I would say.

It would be one thing if they actually had intelligence or reason to search me -- even if it was just a gut feel. For some reason, for me at least, random selection actually makes me feel *worse* than if someone made a judgement call to have me searched.

And this coming from a Customs Officer who still recalls with horror the time he had to witness a full strip search. And yes, I did pat downs (for guns) on occasion too.

Amy said...

We are scheduled to fly next month, and I am already worrying about this. Given the already high levels of anxiety I experience when flying, this truly sucks. When I flew to FL in September, I went through one of those scanners without realizing what it was until I read about them afterwards. I resent being exposed to more radiation, but I know I will opt for that over being fondled by some person in a uniform.

allan said...

None of this is for safety reasons, and none of this will prevent anything bad from happening. What it will do is reinforce the total power of the state over you. (And give undocumented sex offenders a great job opportunity.)

Unknown said...

Given the epidemic, hidden sexual abuse of children and sexual assault in general of women and others, I'm surprised it's not getting more traction from the general public. I heard a woman phone into CBC yesterday about this issue and rant about people who don't want to submit to this as being "babies" and "princesses". I couldn't help but wonder after if this wasn't transference of some dark fantasy for her. Yes, I'm scared of people defending this as much as I am of the people who submit to it, sadly.

impudent strumpet said...

I think I feel most sorry for any minor children of the people who think it's perfectly reasonable to be searched this way.

johngoldfine said...


A pilot tussles with TSA....

laura k said...

@Scott, thanks for sharing that. It's good to get that perspective from a man. I think the word you're looking for is "violated," which may be very close to the French. I totally know what you mean and don't think there was anything inappropriate in your comment.

@Steve, you're right, and the even more hidden epidemic of male sexual abuse/assault survivors. I guess this "prude" trope includes "babies" and "princesses". On one hand, I respond, "how fucking dare you!" - but a more generous, compassionate side of me thinks, "Stand up for yourself! Have more pride! Is there nothing you won't submit to? This is YOUR BODY! Don't let strangers abuse it just because the government said so."

@Amy, good luck, I'm so sorry this increases your flying anxiety. I don't think you fly often enough that the radiation would make a difference. Not that that excuses it, but realistically, nothing will happen from the x-ray, I think. (Hooray for xanax.)

laura k said...

I think I feel most sorry for any minor children of the people who think it's perfectly reasonable to be searched this way.


laura k said...

John, thanks for the link. Here is it clickable: airport security reaches new levels of absurdity.

Nitangae said...

I also always accept fondling over the X-ray machines, but I can understand how many people wouldn't want this - I would never call such people prudes (so if the comments below seem to be making light of such people, please believe me that you are misreading them).

I myself think that, if they are going to demand the right to see us naked, that we should have the right to control the process ourselves. So declare the airport a clothing-optional zone. Let me take off all my clothes and put them on the conveyer-belt myself. Then let me flash my own asshole and lift up my own penis for the TSA officers.

I find that recently I am always filled with anger when I go through airports. It is the complete lack of control, of autonomy, the fact that I cannot make any sort of a joke (I joked briefly to a TSA officer that I thought my passport looked quite like me, and was given a really hostile interview as a result). Even when the TSA official is being perfectly nice I have had to pinch myself at times to prevent myself from getting angry. So, please give me some control - let me take off my own clothes.

laura k said...

I understand what you're saying - and we're all really saying the same thing, only making different choices. Having no control is what makes the groping so awful.

As an aside, I encourage everyone to avoid the use of the word "fondling" in this context. It connotes something soft and cuddly, if perhaps unwanted.

allan said...

"Last week, John Tyner, a resident of Southern California, was subjected to a long series of harassing and vindictive actions by Homeland-Security/TSA functionaries after he refused to submit to the new body scanning and groping searches at the San Diego International Airport. He was randomly selected for the new procedures, and after he refused on privacy grounds, he repeatedly offered instead to go through the metal detectors which were being used on the vast majority of passengers. When told that he would not be permitted to fly unless he submitted to the new procedures, he agreed to leave the airport, but was then prevented from doing so and threatened with large fines and other punishments if he tried. The same day, he chronicled this abuse in a long blog post -- with detailed narratives and videotapes -- which quickly went viral and was widely-circulated."

Greenwald quotes Digby:
"Just read this story of Orwellian airport hell and then think about how many of our basic notions of freedom we've given up in the name of "Homeland Security" in the past few years. Then think about the fact that we are spending billions of dollars in this so-called era of austerity on bullshit like this, with layer upon layer of supervisors and officers and supervisory officers basically performing security theater for no good reason. These routine insults, humiliations and suspensions of human dignity are training us to submit to the police state. I noticed this morning that in all the blathering about tax cuts and deficits, not one person brought up Homeland Security. That bloated budget is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger and if you build it they will use it. And the results of that are obvious."

"Making this story so much worse: as John Cole notes today, the TSA called a news conference to announce that it was formally investigating Tyner to determine whether to impose $11,000 in fines on him. As Cole observes: "Don’t submit to the police state, and we’ll come after you. This isn’t a punishment for Tyner, it is a message to everyone else."

This is the sort of outrage that really merits a national uprising ...


Trishia said...

Hello! Can you please clarify a comment for me? The gentleman who flew out of Ottawa and describes the pat down --- is he saying that Canadian airports have the same "enhanced" sexual assault as the US does? Or is he saying this treatment happened once he landed in the US?
I live in Oregon. My husband and I were going to take a trip to Hawaii before year's end and now, I'm devastated -- I couldn't handle a possible pat down and yet, being 'grounded' is driving me nuts. Not feeling 'free' --- so I thought perhaps I could drive up to Vancouver and fly from there to Europe or some non-US destination. I found your blog while searching for info on Canadian screening techniques. I'd move to Canada in a minute if I could --- and if I could fly from there and be guaranteed no groping:)

Nitangae said...

Dear Trisha:

Security rules tend to migrate, of course. Also, it is worth remembering that most Canadian flights to the US pass through US customs in Canada. So, you are likely to get the same experience from Vancouver to Hawaii that you would get flying from the US to Hawaii, except that you will be passing through an international border, so I suspect that it will be slightly worse.

I hope you can work things out!

Trishia said...

I finally found the Canadian Airport Security site and yes, I was quite disappointed. Just like the US:( I was hoping I could at least get to Europe via Canada. Have given up the idea of going to Hawaii. It's too dangerous to fly within my country....ha! I've got my fingers crossed that Americans will actually live up to being Americans on Thanksgiving Eve and all this nonsense will be reformed.

laura k said...

Redsock's links refer to the video linked to in this post, 3rd paragraph, "video of man refusing airport scan".

laura k said...

@Trishia, as of now, this is not policy in Canada. Scott M is describing the "random selection for enhanced screening" that's been going on for a long time everywhere.

Canada is no longer doing the shoe-removal thing. It's possible Canada won't go this route. There would be a much bigger outcry here than in the US.

However, as Nitangae suggests, you don't want to cross an international border if you don't have to. When you re-enter the US, you will have to explain why you were outside the US, and go through extra procedures to get back in. I can't imagine it would be worth the trouble.

I also couldn't tolerate a pat-down, and would absolutely choose the body scanner. Perhaps that is not an option for you.

laura k said...

However, as Nitangae suggests, you don't want to cross an international border if you don't have to.

To clarify, I meant if you were going to Hawaii, you don't want to go via Vancouver and have to come back into the US anyway. Obviously if you're going to Europe, you'll be crossing anyway, but if you can do that by land, it won't be so bad.

laura k said...

I checked the CATSA website. It's the same as it's always been, in the US and Canada:

If an alarm is activated while walking through the metal detector, you will have to undergo further screening to determine its source. This may include hand “wanding” and/or a physical search.

In addition, if you are selected for further screening you will undergo a physical search or full body scanning and may also be subject to additional screening requirements.

The additional screening possibility has been the case for a long time, only now it includes the full body scan.

To my knowledge, the difference is that the US is now using the full body scanners for everyone, in the airports where they've been installed.

Is this incorrect?

laura k said...

Link for above quote

allan said...

A Charlotte-area flight attendant and cancer survivor contacted WBTV after she says she was forced to show her prosthetic breast during a pat-down.

Cathy Bossi lives in south Charlotte and has been a flight attendant for the past 32 years, working the past 28 for U.S. Airways. ...

"The T.S.A. Agent told me to put my I.D. on my back," she said. "When I got out of there she said because my I.D. was on my back, I had to go to a personal screening area."


3-year-old girl crying and screaming as airport person "inspects" her.


Back in 2008: "A Texas woman who said she was forced to remove a nipple ring with pliers in order to board an airplane called Thursday for an apology by federal security agents and a civil rights investigation."


Also: From what I read, the scanners only detect what is next to the skin; they cannot detect items inside a body cavity. ... Guess what's coming?

I have no idea when we will be in a US airport next but I really feel like, when they tell me to remove my shoes, to just keep going ...

laura k said...

I can't even click on that link of a crying girl being molested.

I have no idea when we will be in a US airport next but I really feel like, when they tell me to remove my shoes, to just keep going ...

Hopefully we can avoid it for a long time. We'll drive down to NJ and we'll stop flying from Buffalo.

I'm not sure that getting arrested at the airport and possibly put on a no-fly list would solve anything. Good blog fodder though. ;)

laura k said...

From links above:

"After a thorough risk assessment and after hearing concerns from parents, we made the decision that a modified pat down would be used for children 12 years old and under who require extra screening."

12 and under - so teenagers will undergo the full grope.

This is nauseating.

impudent strumpet said...

My heart just broke because the 3-year-old was already upset because they took her teddy bear to put it through the x-ray machine. I know when I was 3, that was, quite literally, the worst thing I could possibly imagine. (Which is a GOOD thing! We want to live in a world where 3-year-olds can't imagine anything worse than losing their teddy bear!)

So the worst thing she can possibly imagine happens at the hand of government officials with the complicity of her parents. And then they go and do something worse than she could have imagined.

And they could have made the whole thing exponentially less traumatic by letting her watch her teddy bear go through the x-ray and handing him right back to her and (if we accept the premise that physical screening is necessary) letting her hold him during physical screening.

Also, yelling and screaming and fighting like that is exactly what you're supposed to do if you're 3 years old and someone is touching you in a way you don't like. Her parents would have taught her that at some point. And then she does just what she's supposed to, and they tell her to calm down. That kid's just lost any trust she might have had in parents and authority figures. Which, on one hand, means they're creating a generation that will grow up to rebel against government oppression. But on the other hand, it isn't even going to occur to that little girl to go tell a parent or authority figure if someone ever touches her in a way she doesn't like in another context.

laura k said...

Awful. Awful awful awful.

Once in a while something makes me wonder what my father would have done in a certain situation. I doubt my family could have flown anywhere under these conditions.

allan said...

A retired special education teacher on his way to a wedding in Orlando, Fla., said he was left humiliated, crying and covered with his own urine after an enhanced pat-down by TSA officers recently at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. ...

Sawyer is a bladder cancer survivor who now wears a urostomy bag, which collects his urine from a stoma, or opening in his stomach. ... Humiliated, upset and wet, Sawyer said he had to walk through the airport soaked in urine, board his plane and wait until after takeoff before he could clean up.


allan said...

A young child's pacifier clip makes the machine beep and ...:

The female agent then called an older gentleman, also a TSA agent over. The male TSA agent stood in front of me and said “I’m going to have to pat down your son.”

With Jackson still sitting in my lap (he was being so good despite all of this chaos) I said ok and continued to hold on to my son, expecting the male TSA agent to start touching Jackson.

He then told me, “I’m going to have to pick him up to inspect him.”

I rolled my eyes and sternly told him “It’s his pacifier clip that went off, can’t you just run that back through the belt and let us go. We are going to miss our flight.”

The female TSA agent, who had been standing there the entire time said to me, “You need to adjust your attitude and do as you are told.”

The male TSA agent repeated, “I’m going to have to pick him up to inspect him.”

I handed him my son.

I handed him my son and he walked away with my child.

My eyes welled up with tears, I stood up from my chair and I asked the female TSA agent, “Where is he going? Where is he taking my child? Why is he leaving?”

Jackson, while being whisked away looked at the male TSA agent awkwardly and repeated “no no no no.”

I started crying.

The female TSA agent did not answer me.

Panic set in. My hands began to shake. My body was sweating. My breath was short and my heart was racing.

They had taken my child and not told me.

Jackson was out of my eye sight.

I could not see my son.

Now sobbing, I repeated my questions to the female TSA agent.

She told me “Ma’am, we’re trying to be nice to you. We don’t know which one of you went off in the metal detector. Stay here so I can search you.”

“But my son ... where is my son?” I asked over and over again.

The female TSA agent called a second female TSA agent over as she began to search me. Apparently the second female TSA agent could hear me protesting and asking for my son.

“Ma’am you need to calm down or I’m going to have to involve the authorities,” she told me.

Now I was pissed.

Horrified. Terrified. Enraged.

“You fucking get the authorities,” I told the female TSA agent while the other continued to wand me and forced me to unbutton my jeans because the button beeped when she went over my abdomen with her wand.

“You get the goddamn authorities right the fuck now and tell them to GIVE ME MY SON,” I said.

I began to black out. I knew I was having a full on panic attack. I feared passing out.


laura k said...

OK, since this has become a repository for TSA horror stories, I'm going to ask that we limit them to a few sentences plus a link. Some of the stories themselves may be triggering, and readers should have the option to click or not. Not so much detail, please.

I took a quick peek around the MSM and I see these stories are big news as the big US Thanksgiving weekend rolls around. I see Obama "has asked security officials" if this can be done less intrusively. Fuck you very much.

Gunner said...

Yikes! Don't forget though, the terrorists hate us for our freedom, right?

Nitangae said...

Dear Trishia:

First apologies to all for returning to this subject, as I know that the conversation has moved on.

I would like to confirm cautiously what L-Girl said. For the most part, security theater reaches ridiculous heights when flying to or from the US. Thus, I flew from Canada to Korea via the US, and I had to go through security *twice* (once before the departure lounge, once before entering the plane) on the US bound-flight. This was also true at Heathrow airport, and seems to be generally the case, except from Canada, where, of course, one passes through the TSA and US customs early.

Generally, in Korea and expect elsewhere, you are put through more vigorous searches on US-bound flights because no country wants to suffer through the US response - justified or not - if anything goes wrong.

So, one the whole, if you are flying to a non-US destination then it makes sense to travel to Canada if you find the security theater in the US unbearable. Of course, as L-Girl mentions, Canadian officials like other officials can and do engage in invasive searches, but not for everybody who passes through, so you probably don't have to worry. Of course, none of this would help with a trip to Hawaii since it is an American destination. It is also surprising how quickly security theater migrates, but we can always hope for the best.

laura k said...

the terrorists hate us for our freedom, right?

That's sounding even crazier now, eh. It was wacky enough when Moron first said it, but now there are so many levels of irony, the mind boggles.

Nitangae, no need to apologize. The subject of this thread is very much alive.

laura k said...

Idiot Chuck Strahl says we don't do that in Canada. But all he's really saying is there are privacy screens and less radiation in the scanners.