. . . .said the TSA agent to me yesterday at Tulsa International Airport.
Nov. 14, 2010
That’s funny. Travelers being subjected to the new security procedures at Tulsa International Airport are probably thinking the same thing about her.
This weekend I decided to take my ire and do something productive with it.
So, what am I irked about?
I am very unhappy that my best friend, her 8 year old daughter and my 16 year old girl were caught off guard a few months ago at the Tulsa International Airport where they were ushered through the naked body scanner without the benefit of knowing what was really happening until it was too late to object.
When my daughter told me what had happened it made me feel terrible and maybe not for the reasons you might think. Honestly, I doubt that the screener was a slobbering pervert who relished the idea of seeing hundreds of ghostly, bald, naked images of strangers all day. There are likely some like that but I imagine most are not. No. Slobbering perverts were not my chief concern.
(Although after reading this I am beginning to wonder)
It seems that rather than dealing squarely with their customers, the airlines prefers that you get your behind through the machine fast and with a minimum of fuss more than anything. To this end they make sure that travelers have very little information about the body scans and even less time for you to fairly consider your options. What made me really sad was that while I raised my daughter to expect others to treat her with respect and to respect others in return, the TSA put her in a situation where gaining her informed consent before subjecting her to a controversial screening procedure was treated as if it were optional. It is not optional and I think that it is up to us to change this mindset.
The two girls and my friend were unnecessarily disrespected by government policy makers and their drones who are implementing this personally invasive procedure in such an insulting manner.
Is this a fair price to pay for a flight?
These machines are now placed at every security gate in the Tulsa Int. Airport yet there is no indication as to what the innocuous looking machines are or what they do until you are upon them which puts the traveler in the position of having to make a near instantaneous decision about whether or not they want to submit to the virtual strip search.
I have talked to many people about these devices and their experiences with them and a common theme emerges;
Most of them did not know what was really happening at the time and they either figured it out too late or had no idea what other options might be available to them or what their rights were. Some people have indicated that they didn’t necessarily have an objection to the scan but all expressed that they were angered by the way that the TSA effectively removed their ability to make an informed, rational decision about the procedure.
(After doing some research, my personal opinion is that the scanners are unjustified as a primary screening method. You can see the notes I have gathered on the subject here if you want to know more about the safety and effectiveness as well as the deceit involved in our government’s choice of technology for airport security.)
I just happened to be near Tulsa over the weekend and decided to take some information to the passengers set to fly out of Tulsa’s airport so that they would know ahead of time what they would be subjected to and have some leisure to consider their options beforehand.
I did expect that airport management would take an interest in my activities and they did but most of them were polite and professional.
I was first approached by a police officer who wanted to know if I worked for the TSA or if I was presenting myself as if I were. No. I was not and no I did not.
The officer then tried to explain that I needed permission from the airport to distribute any literature that I needed to go through the marketing department. He delivered this information halfheartedly and when I politely explained what I was doing and why asking if it wasn’t a first amendment protected activity, he readily conceded that it was. He also confided “Hey, I’m on your side, I think this is bullcrap” At first he was suggesting that I go outside to pass out the information but then said I could stay advising me to be polite and ask people if they wanted the information before handing it to them. I had no trouble agreeing to that since that is what I was doing anyways.
I was also approached by an older lady in a TSA uniform which now looks like a police uniform complete with a shiny gold badge.
As an aside; The TSA are not law enforcement. The badges and new uniforms are part of an effort to elevate the standing of TSA agents in the mind of the public. Why they didn’t just use the money to provide better training to the agents is a mystery but suffice it to say the police style uniforms and badges are nothing more than the trapping of authority. ‘Authority theater’ might be a good descriptor to use and this theater probably does impress a portion of the public. Naturally some of the agents also fall prey to the authority illusion.
Ms. Shiny Gold Badge marched smartly up to me and asked if she could have a couple of my flyers for herself and her co-shiny badgers and muttered something about a “terrorist organization” I didn’t quite catch the rest of it.
“Excuse me”, I said. “Did you say something about a terrorist organization?” She started to walk away breaking eye contact and then said rudely “I thought maybe you might be representing a terrorist organization.”
I could only laugh a little and shrug that one off because if seemed pretty overblown to suggest that a law abiding person politely offering information in a public area bears any resemblance to any sort of terrorist organization.
In retrospect, it is less funny. Over the last few years I have personally witnessed more and more instances of entirely peaceful dissent being conflated with terrorism. As a single instance, her words are laughably ridiculous but taken as part of a noticeable trend, they are ominous.
Soon others showed up to help pass out information and we had a great day. People were by and large appreciative of the information and our efforts. A few that I spoke with knew nothing about the body scanners and actually stopped to read the whole back and front flyer and then confer with each other about how they wanted to handle it. That was the grand prize for me.
Because we were there, some people got to avoid feeling powerless and violated by the “surprise” that the TSA had waiting for them up ahead.
One young lady, a TSA agent too, spoke at length with me giving counterpoints to all of the common objections to the body scanners. I listened and offered just a couple of facts that I hoped would pique her interest enough to look a little deeper. On the issue of why passengers were not provided with more information about the devices and their options a little earlier in the process of preparing for the security line, she offered that the trouble was that they had not had enough time or resources to get the proper materials together. I don’t think she even bought her own excuse. I mean, here we are looking at three machines that cost over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars each and I am to believe that a few posters or fact sheets for passengers could not have been taken care of? The airlines and TSA deserve a full scale revolt based on their arrogance alone!
Aside from Ms. Terrorist Deterrent who stood in one spot and unblinkingly watched myself and my 3 friends the entire time we were there, we had a successful day putting our outrage to good use and giving our rusty First Amendment a little oil.
“It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error”
– United States Supreme Court decision in American Communications Association v. Douds
I hope that you will be encourage to take action on something you care about too!
Here is the Flyer I used