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My First Experience with Body Scanners Gets Me in Trouble with the TSA

ou can see a woman being scanned. The TSA agent who yelled at me is stating in the metal detector.

You can see a woman being scanned. The TSA agent who yelled at me is standing in the metal detector.

I have made my opinion on body scanners quite clear. If you have missed it, bottom line is I don’t like them. They violate our privacy and passengers are able to avoid them and request a pat-down, making them pointless.

On Sunday I flew from Tampa to Seattle via Denver and got my first view of the body scanners in action at Tampa International Airport. The scanner is not too imposing, but it is obviously something different. There are a few body images by the scanner that show you what it does, but they are small and people are rushed by them.

The whole time I was waiting in the security line, the body scanner wasn’t being used. By the time I was taking off my shoes, they had started pushing passengers into the scanner versus the metal detector.

I started to get excited. Not to try it out, but to respectfully decline going through the body scanner and get a pat-down instead. Well maybe excited is not the right word. The thought of having some stranger feel around my body isn’t  great, but I wanted to take a little stand against the privacy invading machines.

I was flying with my girlfriend, Amy, and even though she knew about the scanners (or had heard me rant about them from time to time), she really didn’t understand my true dislike of them. The two people before us were told to go in the scanners. Then I was next, but I started going to the metal detector instead. I was waiting to be told I had to do the scanner or pulled aside to get a pat-down, but I was not. I just walked through the metal detector while the people in front of me and behind me were all forced into the body scanner. Now that is a big hole in security.

From what I have read, a passenger who does not do the body scanner, must be patted down. However it seemed unorganized and I don’t think the TSA agent at the metal detector realized people were being pushed into the body scanner.

Amy wasn’t so lucky. She felt rushed and not really sure what was going on and didn’t decline being scanned. They made sure she had no foreign items on her, she had to raise her hands and the scanner went around her and then she had to stand outside of the scanner with a TSA agent holding her  in a roped off area (everyone had to do this). He was waiting for someone in another area to view her body images and confirm she was clean. He was talking to them via radio, but they didn’t seem to be working. It took about a minute for him to get a response that the two females could go (Amy was one of them). I trust it was a radio error and those images weren’t on the screen any longer than they needed to be.

After I was done and Amy was waiting to hear she was clear to go, I was taking some photos of her and the scanner. This is when the TSA sprung into action. From the metal detector I heard, “sir, you cannot do that.” I confirmed he was talking to me and that I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the body scanner. I am not exactly sure if there are rules against taking photos. I guess someone might  take photos and learn how to beat the system? Well I don’t need to take photos to see how the system doesn’t really work, you just had to ask for a pat-down or in my case, just go through the metal detector. They never came over to take my photos or talk to me, so obviously it couldn’t have been that big of a deal to them.

What doesn’t make sense is they took action against me for taking photos, but no one noticed I didn’t go through the body scanner nor get a pat-down. It is so inconsistent. By no means was I trying to do this on purpose, but I imagine similar experiences are happening like this all around the world.

I know I talk negatively about these scanners, but I feel there is some hope in the near future. There are body scanners with Automated Target Recognition that have the ability where no human actually sees your image. The computer looks at your body scan and if there are any foreign items, it will flag you and the TSA will inspect you. There is a display of a stick figure only. If they had this version, which didn’t violate privacy, and it was required, not optional, I could get behind the body scanners. But until then, I will continue to voice my strong opinion against them and about the inconsistencies of their usage. However, the TSA says there is no system they feel meets their security needs yet.

45 comments to My First Experience with Body Scanners Gets Me in Trouble with the TSA

  • Wimpie

    Let me see if I have this right.

    2 million passengers per day (in the US only) for the past 9 years (since 9/11) equals about 6.5 BILLION passengers.

    One nut tries to blow up a plane with explosives in his underwear which failed. (BTW: You can’t put enough explosives in your underwear to down a plane) and now OUR GOVERNMENT wants to strip search or physically pat down all AMERICAN travelers at a cost of billions of dollars.

    Nobody has been killed by terrorists on an American aircraft since 9/11!

    Odds: 1 in 6.5 billion ? or less? the bombs didn’t work!
    Powerball 1 in 40 million?
    State lottery 1 in 14 million.

    I’m 465 times more likely to win the state lottery, than to be killed by terrorists on a plane!

    WHAT ARE OUR LEGISLATORS SMOKING?

    Billions to strip search Air Travellers? Teachers all over the country out of work?
    Cities & Towns going bankrupt?

    What about the 300,000 killed in car crashes in the same period?

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    Speaking of pictures – look here for actual picture from Rapiscan 1000 (Not TSA dumbed down version)
    http://www.rupture.co.uk/Terminal%204.html

  • kpaske

    There are still huge, gaping holes in airplane security. Several years ago, but after 9/11/2001, I accidentally left a small folding pocketknife in one of my carry on bags on a domestic flight. When I arrived at my destination, I realized the mistake and decided to “purposely” make the same mistake coming back, just to see what would happen. I’m obviously not a terrorist and have no criminal record, so I figured the worst that could happen is I would get harrassed by security for a little while, but more than likely they would find it and just confiscate it. Nope. Nada. Ziltch. Went right through security with a deadly weapon in my carry on bag. Again. Since that time I’ve travelled several times, both domestic and international, and nearly always have something on the “banned” list in my carry on luggage, whether it’s a pocket knife, a cigarette lighter, a set of nail clippers, a bottle that’s over 3 oz., etc. The only time I was ever stopped was when I unknowingly tried to bring a 32 oz Nalgene bottle full of water on the plane and was forced to consume it all before walking through the gate, or be forced to dump it and wait through the very long security line again. Needless to say, I don’t have any faith whatsoever in TSA’s security checks, and your experience with this new technology just confirms that it’s a huge waste of taxpayer money if anyone can easily circumvent the system. Get your act together, TSA!!!

  • David M

    Photography of the security checkpoint has been restricted for several years.

  • That whole operation is a bad joke. I love George Carlin’s take on the whole thing.

  • Kensan Okole

    They violate our privacy??Then don’t fly. I don’t remember airline pax privacy in the US Constitution. Flying is not a right.

    • So you think the TSA should be able to do whatever they want and if a passenger doesn’t like it, they just shouldn’t fly? What if what they are doing doesn’t even work?

      Flying is not a right, nor is being able to drive or walk down the street. But our society now needs air travel to be successful. One of the benefits of living in America is we do have a right to a certain level of privacy. I am ok with giving up a little privacy for the greater good, but I am not ok with giving up any privacy if it does nothing to benefit the greater good.

      David

      • Kensan Okole

        David wrote……So you think the TSA should be able to do whatever they want.
        Did I say that? Or do you just like to misquote someone as an attempted defense of your position?

        David wrote……but I am not ok with giving up any privacy if it does nothing to benefit the greater good.
        At this point the US Gov,and many other counties,has determined Body Scanners don’t violate you’re privacy and are for the greater good.

        Perhaps SCOTUS will make the final decision.Have ANY court cases ruled yet?

        Perhaps,As a 30 year crew member for one of the airlines involved on 9/11 I have a greater concern than some.

        • Doctor Smith

          The SCOTUS has ruled that using scanners such as heat scanners and X-ray devices without particularized cause indeed violate search protections, Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001). The operative term her is Particularized Cause. That one wishes to utilize a certain form of transportation does not establish adequate cause to search that person’s domain. Of course there are exceptions for luggage and devices brought with a person; but, the SCOTUS requires particularized suspicion to search a person (clothing, whether it be by touch or by scanner as in Kyllo). Read Kyllo; it is very analogous to the situation we face with body scanners.

          Search of a person required a warrant unless there is an exception (we’re talking a person’s clothing at minimum). Exceptions include exigency, particularized threat to an officer’s safety, or a custodial arrest. None of these exceptions apply to an uneventful TSA clearance to fly.

          And, the SCOTUS does not consider heart throb stories like a 9/11 victim, James Brady’s hardships, or any one singular event in its sculpting of the US’s legal landscape. To do so would be irresponsible knee-jerkism resulting in erroneous law. If you’re worried for your life, a change in career is a healthier alternative to the stripping of the American public of provisions crucial to avoiding a police state.

          • Kensan Okole

            Is was thinking of my pax safety.Thanks for your support.Have a great Independence day!!!!If you can.

            • Doctor Smith

              Yes – I can see some are more concerned with safety than anything else, including freedom or rights. Please refer to the sentiment of pretty much every great leader in history on the topic. Those primarily concerned with safety live no life, deserve no right, and usually end up without any security whatsoever.

              • Kensan Okole

                What about Lincoln,FDR,Obama and civil liberties? Maybe Wilson.Nations greatest heros.

                …..All are among 150 body scanner machines bought with money from the federal stimulus package signed by President Barack Obama last year. They join 40 machines already in use at 19 airports nationwide.The Obama administration announced in February 2009 that it would provide $1 billion for airport screening as part of its $787 billion federal stimulus package.

                Civil liberties.Try traveling to a country that takes your Passport when you enter.Or where they walk around armed with SMG.

                BTW,What happened to David Brown? My original reply was to him? Answered by you? I’m haven’t used this forum style before.

                • I am still here, just got a little too intense for me :) I am enjoying both points of view though!

                  David

                  • Kensan Okole

                    DPB…Too intense for me.Because I asked you why you misquoted me? Why you put words in my mouth? You claim to be a reporter? Correct? Only good on the attack? Sure glad Woodward didn’t need a designated hitter. Good luck with that. Airline industry is VERY tight nit!! Especially ALPA.

                • Doctor Smith

                  I’m afraid I didn’t get the last response. Can you clarify your point?

        • You and Dr Nick were having an interesting conversation and I was enjoying reading it. I apologize if you feel I was off on your opinion. It was sounding like if someone doesn’t like what the TSA does, then don’t fly because no one has a constitutional right to fly. But where is the line drawn? Should we be giving up privacy just so we can all feel a bit safer? Even if it doesn’t make us safer?

          Just because governments and agencies say it doesn’t violate privacy, but does that make it true? I say no. Of course people being able to see if you have fake breasts or a catheter, it totally violates one privacy. I do not think they are for the greater good. If someone can opt out and get a patdown or even in my person experience I opted out and got no patdown, that isn’t good for anyone.

          David

    • SSS for some reason

      You are correct, Flying is not a Right, it is a Privilege. My Rights are, as presented in the Bill of Rights, to move freely about my country free from Government obstruction without probable cause. If you are for any reason unclear on this concept may I suggest you start with the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, then try the First and Fifth Amendments.

      That answers the Rights part of your comments, now for the Privilege that is Flying: Flying is a Privilege granted to me by virtue of commerce. I have money, the airlines have planes, an agreement is reached and commerce happens. Government is not granting me the privilege of flying, technology and commerce are. Government inserting itself in between me and lawful commerce *is* a violation of my Rights as a US Citizen.

      I don’t like the TSA. I can’t do anything about them because they are a Government Agency that is, for the most part, appointed. That leave me the only recourse of choosing not to fly. When the airlines are financially hurting they can speak where I can not and this farce of a system may actually change.

    • Tink

      The TSA is a government agency who violates your fourth amendment rights. If YOU can’t fly unless you know you and everyone around you has been needlessly violated then YOU can stay off the plane. As for me, stats see I have more chance to win the lotto then get blown by a terrorist. With those odds, why do away with constitutional rights?

  • Doctor Smith

    woah, Woah WOah there – flying is not a right, true —

    Interstate travel IS a Right (re the 14th amendment to the US constitution). Coupled with the 4th amendment guarding against searches without particular cause, and the 5th amendment guarding against abuse of government authority in due process, we have a constitutional right to privacy in our travels (including air travel).

    Yes, according to the US Constitution, we do have a right to privacy while traveling.

    “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” – Benjamin Franklin, co-framer of one of the most powerfully people based, stable, consistent, and widely copied government frameworks in history (the US Constitution)

    • Kensan Okole

      Hi Doctor,Plz tell me where in the 14th Amendment….Interstate travel IS a Right.Only right of travel I’m aware of is for congress.Thanks

      • Doctor Smith

        I should have been more clear. The right to interstate travel was formally established in Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969), interpreting the privileges and immunities Clause (Article IV) and applying it via the Fourteenth Amendment.

  • Daniel

    Photography of a security checkpoint does not violate federal law.
    http://boardingarea.com/blogs/flyingwithfish/2009/04/07/photography-tsa-airport-security-checkpointsits-ok/

    My first experience with the body scanners was at IND. I went through and I felt a weird sensation go through my body. I was then held at the checkpoint for about 3 or 4 minutes before they cleared me. It was wierd that while I waited to be cleared several passengers passed me by the metal detector next door. The only reason I feel safe is that I’m not on the big planes very often. I can tell you that TSA has missed several objects such as scissors, pocket knifes, screwdrivers. Of course, there is no way to protect against using their own hands as a weapon, maybe that’s the next thing to be banned by TSA.

  • Kensan Okole

    The US Constitution is not a suicide pact.

    • Doctor Smith

      No, you are correct. The US Constitution is not a suicide pact. As written, it guarantees certain individual rights, prioritizing them over absolute security and safety. I’m glad we agree; no suicide there…

      No, we ought not to be searched without probable cause. Not by TSA agents, not by random stops by law enforcement, not by data mining in our email, not by any government actor.

      I’ve heard the same justification rationale (suicide!) behind certain aspects of the Patriot Act, which violated individual data privacy rights (aspects ruled to run afoul of the US Constitution, Doe v. Ashcroft, 2004). We can give up rights for fear of pain or suffering, but then we’d live in a society ruled by fear and government surveillance. What would be the point?

  • Dave

    David Parker Brown states that if the TSA started using Automated Target Recognition (ATR) then privacy would not be violated. This would not apply to everybody. The advocates of ATR simply forget or ignore that there are millions of travellers with disabilities, many very private and personal, that they would prefer not to be made public, – prosthetic body parts ( internal and external ), and colostomy bag wearers. The scanners do penetrate well inside the body ( bones are clearly visible in published scan images )and DO clearly identify foreign body parts such as mastectomy breast implants ( as well as external prostheses). This would alarm the ATR and the person would be identified and subject to humiliating searches. ATR is not the panacea that many would suggest, that is unless it is deemed socially ok to say that people with disabilities should have NO right to any privacy, that privacy should only be for able bodied people. The TSA are already saying this and it stinks.

    • Hey Dave,

      You bring up a very good point, but with ATR, no one would see what people had inside their bodies. From what I have read, a computer will determine if there is anything of interest and alert TSA that the person should be looked at more closely. If the ATR couldn’t distinguish between a viable disability and someone with contraband, I will still not be supporting the ATR.

      David

  • Dave

    Hi David,
    Thanks for your comment. With the technology available at the moment ( x-ray backscatter, millimetre wave ) ATR simply IDENTIFIES ‘anomalies’, it is incapable of discerning the NATURE of that anomaly. It CANNOT distinguish between, say a silicone breast implant, or a breast implant of an explosive substance. For that reason ATR could prove to be highly embarrasing for some travellers. The only truly reliable body scanner would be one that can accurately identify the NATURE of ‘anomalies’ – ie their chemical and physical ‘signatures’. Until that technology is routinely available then body scanners ( including ATR) should only be used as an option alternative to metal detector/full body pat-down, because the totality of privacy issues have not been fully addressed or overcome. The UK of course refuses to allow this essential privacy option.

    Dave

  • [...] avoided. All you have to do is say, “no,” and you can get a pat-down. Not even trying, I avoided the body scanner and a pat-down. * I hate the, “what about the children,” argument, but do you want your child’s [...]

  • [...] the scanner without her parents concent at Tampa International Airport (the same location where I avoided the scanners). As the girl describes, going into the body scanner happened quickly and she was not aware what [...]

  • [...] the scanner without her parents consent at Tampa International Airport (the same location where I avoided the scanners). As the girl describes, going into the body scanner happened quickly and she was not aware what [...]

  • Gary

    I have already decided that I will not go through a scanner for any reason. There is nothing to debate about that. I do travel frequently, but for me air travel may come to an end. So far, I have not seen the scanners used for primary screening, so, I’m OK with that. If you set off the metal detector, then I suppose they have probable cause for a more thorough search. I will opt for the pat down every time. But, if scanners become a primary screening tool, and your only option is to be patted down, I object – it violates the Fourth Amendment.

    Thank you for your information. Tampa is now one place I will not fly. Parts of O’Hare also have scanners as primary screening and I will not fly there. I recently flew out of Boston, Providence, and Bush Houston. No problems there. Anyone else have any information about where they are using the scanners?

  • Wimpie

    In the 21st century, if you want to terrorize a society, you just have to make improbable threats, press the anxiety buttons and watch them protect themselves to death.

    Your adversary will spend billions to your hundreds – The best ROI ever!

    Do it several times and the billions will amount to more than the GNP of many countries – How’s that for effective?

    Why does our government buy into this, when what they REALLY need is good old-fashion police work to find these bad actors before they get to the Plane or Bus or Subway or Public Building. They can’t protect them all.

    Why the PARANOID security at the airports? It hasn’t worked in the past. Nobody has ever been caught before an event, and we’ve had a few slip by. What makes people think we will be able to catch serious bad actors now? Besides, chances are bad actors will just go somewhere else, equally dramatic.

    It’s impossible to discover a one in a several billion event by screening people!

    What’s it cost for all this nonsense in REAL TERMS?

    My guess (last 9 years)

    $50 Billion for the 55,000 gov’t workers that keep unemployment under 15%
    $200 Billion or more in lost productivity for millions of Americans.
    This is real money even by government standards, but it has resulted in NOTHING!

    We could colonize Mars for this kind of money, but TSA would probably put some of the Astronauts on the NFL.

    TSA Needs a complete overhaul, starting first by lopping off the bottom. Privatization would be even better. This would restore our 4th amendment.

  • jcaffey

    Would you describe where in the process one needs to request alternative measures (pat down, wand, whatever) to avoid the scanner — is it before entering the rope line? And what is the best way to request it, such as “I would like an alternative to the scanner” — ? Just not sure what to say, and want to tell my family what they should say also. Thanks.

    • Great question.

      My plan is to say, “With all due respect, I decline to be scanned by the body scanner,” and see what happens from there. I would be curious if they are all trained well enough in knowing they aren’t required. If they say it is required, hold your ground, because they aren’t. Ask to speak with a supervisor.

      If you encounter it, let me know how it goes!

      David

  • [...] Every time I fly I am constantly taking photos. I used to use an HD camcorder, but decided to stop and use a standard digital camera. There have been multiple times I have received odd looks for taking photos using the camcorder and I even had a run-in with the TSA. [...]

  • Richard Weil

    Was in MSP going to France and ask for the entrance without the Chamber of Horrors. Agent was glad to point me to one, said efficiency was down 80 percent since they began scanners,. I saw lines with them were huge and hopefully the system will collapse over Thanksgiving. Chertoff, ex head of DHS has a company whose client makes them, I asked my Congresspeople to investigate why it got stimulus money and hopefully other readers will follow suit too. Incidentally a few years ago Time magazine had a big photo spread on Denver airport checkpoints, no secrets there.

  • dan

    Wow i went through the scanners at the Tampa airport a year ago and didn’t even realize it was a scanner until now. I remember going through that big contraption and had no idea what it was, they never told me it was a body scanner!

  • Transienttorque

    Even more absurd, the TSA expects flight crews to pass throught these scanners as well. The crews are going to the cockpit anyway, so why waste their time?

  • DEAnn

    It’s interesting how many men say they will opt out of the scanner but aren’t particularly concerned about the ‘pat down’ and only just recently have people started complaining about the pat down part.

    So, I’m just wondering how is opting out of the scan in lieu of an advanced patdown any better? They are feeling your bod, invasive groping and touching intimate areas in full view of public. At times, male TSA agents have patted down female passengers. I’m a female and these scanners to me are invasive and dangerous exposing us to radiation we dont need – but a pat down is absolutely offensive and as a woman I’m besides myself about having to be touched and dehumanized because of a bully system designed to punish me for not stepping into their scanners.

    If they were really concerned about terrorists, then they’d use bomb sniffing dogs, scan every piece of checked baggage that goes into the cargo space and they’d PAT DOWN and SCAN every passenger. They don’t. They do the scan and patdowns randomly. Then they use those passengers who opt out as an example to the public of what will happen if you refuse to be scanned.

    • Hey Deann,

      I think people weren’t so concerned about pat-downs since they weren’t as invasive. Now there is no winning. No matter what you choose, your privacy is being violated and that is angering a lot of people.

      David

  • [...] * Photography of TSA security area IS LEGAL at most airports: Again from Frischling’s blog (he does a lot with the TSA), he talks about how he was recently detained at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport (BDL) by the TSA and a state trooper for committing a federal offense. Luckily Frischling had some TSA folks on speed dial and he was released, but what about those that do not have those sort of connections to the TSA? If you take photographs of the TSA security process, make sure you know your local rules and be polite and professional if you are questioned. However,  definitely stand up for your rights, I wish I would have during my TSA encounter. [...]

  • Kensan Okole

    As I understand it.Presently only pax that get scan/pat-down are those that alert the metal detector or require additional screening. Infrequent travelers probably alert the metal detector more often. As crew I know what not to wear,in uniform or civies,through the metal detector.

    Does anyone know what % of pax are actually getting scan/pat-down? A fact conspicuously absent in the media. Maybe someone can post the info?

    Folks against the new system be sure to contact President Obama & his SECHLS Janet Napolitano!!!! Haven’t noticed many opponents suggesting that.

  • Kensan Okole

    BTW, I’d bet the only thing that will change the current program is when some stars scan image is sold online. You just know that’s coming. I hope it’s a star that’s in good shape!!

  • Bradley

    You know, I was told I had to do both the body scanner and the pat down when I went from Vancouver to Los Angelas. I thought we had a choice to do one or the other, not both.

  • Well it’s kind of hard not to run into any problem with the TSA when you go through there, as trouble is what they are looking for, so they find it obviously. I think that the amount of screening is a bit over the top in my opinion. I think that they should try to do things more “randomly” rather then try to find pins on just anyone. Just my 2 cents about it. It almost scares people away from travelling.

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