Lately, the main travel news in the States has been about the TSA’s new Advanced Imaging Technology (X-ray machines) and the overzealous pat downs that accompany them. I’ve used the X-ray machines twice in Boston: once in September when they’d just started rolling them out and once last month. I’ve seen them in a lot of airports since then, but I’ve either gotten to use the regular line or the X-ray machines weren’t being used. Now that they’re being rolled out everywhere and used more, people are finally taking notice and complaining about them.
I find that ironic, since nearly everyone loved the TSA after the failed Christmas bombing almost a year ago. But leave it to the TSA to screw something up. They can’t do anything right. In principle, I’m for the new machines. In fact, I would love more airport security akin to something like they have in Israel. But every time I see the new machines, I will be opting out. It’s not the delays I mind, it’s the fact that the TSA is doing it.
For starters, there’s the issue of safety. Every time I get my teeth X-rayed, my dentist puts a lead blanket over me and walks out of the room. Given that and what we know about X-rays in general, I have no desire to expose myself to any type of X-ray, even if the TSA says it’s safe. It’s especially worrying to me because I fly a lot and don’t want to get an X-ray every other week. If it was a once in a blue moon experience, I would be less concerned about the health effects. But I’m a frequent flier, and the long-term effects of constant X-rays haven’t been studied enough for me to say, “OK, this is safe. I’ll do it.”
But what concerns me more is that it’s the TSA doing this. I have no faith in the TSA. None. They always seem to be having security lapses and missing stuff. Years ago, a kid hid knives on Southwest planes to make a point about lax security. I know friends who have accidentally walked through with sharp objects. I’ve gotten scissors through. If they miss the little stuff, how will they catch the big stuff? I don’t trust them to stop the terrorists. When you pay people $10 an hour, they aren’t really going to risk their lives for a stranger, nor are they going to be experts or professionals. There are always reports of overzealous workers and bad experiences. Who ever really has a good interaction with them? Let’s get some real security experts and professionals in there.
Moreover, as pointed out on Gizmodo, X-ray images that were supposed to be erased were actually saved by US Marshals. How do we know the TSA won’t do this too? Who’s to say that someone isn’t putting away a nice private collection of people to look at later? Given the TSA’s poor track record and how bad TSA agents are in general, I don’t trust them with these images and my privacy. I think people have genuine privacy concerns that are in part related to the fact that no one likes or trusts the TSA. Doing an X-ray requires giving up a lot of your privacy and that requires a lot of trust. Americans simply don’t have that kind of trust in the TSA anymore. Even Hillary Clinton would opt out.
But opt out of this advanced screening process, and you get an intense and intrusive pat down. The controversy over the X-ray machines really centers around this. People who have opted out have complained about insensitive searches and rude staff. Getting searched is even more intrusive than an X-ray, and without it being done right, many issues will arise. There are already videos circulating over this (including this recent one involving a kid). In response to the complaints and videos circulating, the TSA issued this video:
Videos like this only make the TSA more hated. They’re basically saying, “We hear your concerns, and we don’t care. Deal with our intrusive ways!” By doubling down and not trying to accommodate travelers, there will be even more backlash. Already there are calls in Congress to have a hearing on this issue. It’s simply too big of a problem now.
Once again, the TSA has screwed up by being overzealous, uncaring, and unclear with their rules. Things are probably going to get worse especially as the TSA has dug in its heels. It’s amazing that they haven’t learned lessons from the past and continue to be so bad. They need better employees, better policies, and more training on how to interact with travelers. Everyone wants airport security. I believe there is a way to strike a good balance between security and professionalism.
Yet, since I am more worried about health and how images are being stored than I am about some guy copping a feel, I’m going to opt for the pat down. But I’m not happy about it, because I don’t think it’ll be done in a professional way, and the numerous reports and complaints already show that I’ll encounter problems. Police officers go through intensive classes on how to handle body searches with the utmost care. TSA employees don’t go through such rigorous training. I’d rather do the X-ray machine than an “intensive” pat down. But until health and privacy concerns are addressed, I’ll be passing up machines and hoping the TSA agent doesn’t get “too feely.”