TSA vs. Everyone Else: Full-Body Scanners, Radiation, and Heated Pat Downs

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"Hello, my name is so-and-so, and I will be seeing you naked today."  While the TSA gives a slightly different diatribe prior to performing a full-body scan in airports that now span New York City, their aesthetic is the same: they will be managing a powerful X-ray machine and yes, they do have access to seeing your... everything.

With more than 300 machines now placed in over 65 airports across the nation, widespread controversy has ignited surrounding the TSA's latest practices. Calling for all persons traveling on November 24, 2010 (one of the busiest travel days of the year) to "opt out," rather-- refuse both full-body scans as well as "government-approved groping," the website for "National Opt Out Day" states:

"It's the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government's desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an "enhanced pat down" that touches people's breasts and genitals. You should never have to explain to your children, "Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it's a government employee, then it's OK."

Their vendetta against the Transportation Security Administration seems a bit exaggerated at times ("We want families to sit around the dinner table, eating turkey, talking about how a government employee molested them at the airport."), however they do find probable fault in the following:

1) Potential indecency of images provided by full-body scanning process.

2) Legitimacy of TSA operated "pat-downs."

3) Plausible risk due to radiation generated by the machines.

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Earlier in the year, the TSA attempted to answer the radiation question by citing recent studies by both John Hopkins University of Applied Physics and the American College of Radiology. A more recent study conducted by the FDA finds the same to be true, however the unions of American Airlines and US Airways disagree.


In recent weeks, the unions of both airlines have issued statements warning pilots from using the full-body scanners and have cited possible risk to those exposed to a prolonged amount of radiation found in the machine's backscatter technology. Urging pilots to submit to TSA operated pat-downs instead, this too has created an issue as many pilots have described the pat-down experience as "demeaning," some of them going so far as to comparing it to being "sexually molested."

The TSA commented in regards to all three of these notions on their own blog, stating:

"We are frequently reminded that our enemy is creative and willing to go to great lengths to evade detection. TSA utilizes the latest intelligence to inform the deployment of new technology and procedures in order to stay ahead of evolving threats."

Struggling to maintain ground on a continually escalating debate, the TSA remains in constant fire surrounding the implementation of full-body scanners in airports across the nation.

[atimm@villagevoice.com]


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