Responding to the TSA
Amidst the discussions about the new TSA “security” procedures (the scare quotes are both deliberate and, in my opinion, appropriate), I’ve seen some responses that made me uncomfortable. I’ve been working on putting into words exactly why they bother me.
1. Let’s make the politicians watch while we put their kids through the grope-downs and naked scanners. I understand the thinking here — that we need to force the people in power to recognize exactly what they’re signing off on. However, I just the other week wrote about how these new “security” procedures are far too close to sexual assault for my comfort. If you’re so opposed to these procedures, how can you advocate inflicting them on children while their parents watch?
2. I’m going to groan in pleasure/fake an orgasm while getting patted down. The point being, I presume, to try to make TSA staff as uncomfortable as they’re making others. I get that people are feeling sexually harassed/violated/assaulted by this process … but I don’t see how turning the tables and sexually harassing the screeners is going to help.
3. Every TSA employee should refuse to have anything to do with this. Because it’s so easy to quit your job, particularly in a recession? I’m also seeing a number of folks talking about how, if they were working for the TSA, they’d never do this. Which, to me, suggests that they’ve never heard of the Milgram experiment.
4. TSA screeners are a bunch of Nazi thugs. It’s easy to imagine evil TSA screeners hidden away, masturbating to our backscatter scans (that particular story is apparently false, by the way). There have certainly been many horrific stories of poor treatment at security checkpoints. But while there will always be evil individuals, my sense is that the larger problem is not malice, but ridiculous policies combined with lack of training. I’m not saying it’s okay for TSA screeners to grope the groin of a menstrating Army vet and rape survivor. But rather than villainizing all TSA employees, it seems like some of our anger could be better directed at the people who a) thought these policies were a good idea and b) implemented them without making sure people were properly trained. (Though the more I read, the more I wonder where the TSA is finding some of these people. School janitors in Michigan get better background checks than TSA employees do.)
5. We should just adopt Israel’s techniques! Consider that “surveys of Palestinian Arab citizens, who comprise one-fifth of Israel’s population, show that most have suffered degrading treatment when flying with Israeli carriers.” Is racial profiling a “solution” we really want to try? Another article points out issues of scale and training. While I believe there are good lessons we could learn from Israel, and from other nations with more experience dealing with terrorist threats, I don’t think simply adopting Israel’s processes is a good or feasible solution. (Thanks to Saladin Ahmed for the links.)
On that note, here are some responses I’ve seen suggested here and elsewhere:
- Write to your airline, letting them know how you feel. (And if you will not be flying as a result of these policies, tell them.)
- Let the TSA know what you think of their new policies at email@example.com. (Apparently, they claim to have received very few complaints. Thanks to Lynn Flewelling for this one.)
- Contact your elected officials.
- Talk about this. Many newspapers are taking the “Shut up and be groped” viewpoint, quoting studies that claim the majority of Americans don’t mind these new processes. I wonder how many of those people simply don’t fly, and/or don’t know the new procedures. After all, look at the response on Capital Hill when folks there actually saw a demonstration of the new TSA patdowns. (To quote one staffer, the TSA “shot themselves in the foot” with their demonstration.)
- pixelfish linked to an ACLU petition to the DHS and Janet Napolitano. (If you sign, a copy is also sent to your senate and house representatives.)
November 29, 2010 @ 10:41 am
Thanks for the ACLU link. I have been wanting something to express my displeasure at this new security measure. It is so easy to get lulled into following whatever new procedure is thought up in the name of protecting the American public when sometimes what we need protection from are these very same procedures. A lot of very bad things seem to be transpiring and people have so many fearful things thrown at them that it can be hard to see clearly. I cannot see how “shut up and be groped” is anything that should be accepted passively. It just makes me want to scream!
November 29, 2010 @ 10:43 am
How can we contact our airlines in a way that will be seen?
Jim C. Hines
November 29, 2010 @ 10:47 am
I don’t have a good answer for this one. My guess is that most airlines have contact information on their web sites, but that’s the best I’ve got…
Jim C. Hines
November 29, 2010 @ 10:48 am
“It just makes me want to scream!”
You’re not alone. My sense, and my hope, is that enough people are starting to do just that, and that folks in the airlines and in DC are beginning to notice.
November 29, 2010 @ 10:50 am
Whilst I respect the need to protect one’s country and citizens, I think there’s a point where in the “war against terrorists” and ne’er-do-wells where you turn it around so *you* become the “terrorist(s)” – And that’s exactly what the TSA seem to have done. If the stories are true, and I’ve little reason to doubt them, then the TSA are “terrorising” passengers.
How many potential situations have they avoided with the new system?
How many people, both male and female, have been disturbed or upset by this new system?
How many people were included in the “studies” were ordinary people?
I think it’s an offence to the people of the US (And I assume those coming in/leaving the US) and is so easily open to abuse it’s unbelievable that it was passed.
Jim C. Hines
November 29, 2010 @ 11:03 am
I’ve asked folks for examples of how the new processes have made us safer. Any instances where they’ve actually thwarted a potential attack. Every time, I get told “Oh, we can’t name any, because those things are all secret.”
I don’t see how saying “Hey look, we caught one!” endangers our security and safety, but then, I seem to have a very different idea of what it means to feel secure than some people.
November 29, 2010 @ 11:04 am
an abundance of good links and good advice. TSA contacted, personalized petition letter sent.
As for contacting airlines or any other corporation, I always write the head of the company at the corporate headquarters, which information you can always find on the investor relations area of the website. That being said most airlines will at least categorize what comes in to their “write us” PO Box address, and of course even letters you write to the head of the company will end up being forwarded to the corporate pr people for actual responses.
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November 29, 2010 @ 11:49 am
Thanks for the excellent post (and I’d not heard of some of these responses–good grief! faking orgasm at patdown–I wouldn’t want to be on an airplane with anyone who thought that was a good idea), and even more for the links and ways of making concerns heard. Have signal boosted!
November 29, 2010 @ 12:12 pm
One thing that keeps bugging me is – just how actually effective are these new procedures over the old ones? Sure, I want some airport security, but just what can these new procedures find that old ones couldn’t? I am uneducated and naive on this point, so maybe there are things that traditional metal detectors, x-raying luggage, and searches for bomb/drug residue can’t find that someone feeling you all over can. But it kinda escapes me just what that could be. Heck, some simple prosthetics could probably pass most any pat down but not the other checks. Get someone in a high quality fat suit and they can bring all the bombs, guns, and drugs they want.
I’m ok with the new scanners (well, I’ll be better once they a) implement a software update they are working on to completely blur out the person’s form, it’s noise to security anyway, and b) figure out what the actual dosage is considering old formulas don’t apply since the radiation is focused on your skin, not spread throughout your body). But when those two niggly details are handled, then sure, I can handle the better scanners.
The pat downs just seem to be a bad idea all around and, like I said, I can’t see how they could actually be *more effective* over previous security.
November 29, 2010 @ 7:36 pm
or you can just plan and drive everywhere. I agree they are intrusive, but what did people expect? if another attack happened and these pat downs were not in effect people would whine that the TSA is not doing enough, the TSA starts doing stuff like this and people complain also. In my opinion if the pat downs stop one would-be-evil-doer it is most likely worth it. you think the majority of the TSA pat down people like going to work and touching other people? what is the point at harassing the TSA worker, they didn’t make the rules and just working to make a living. flying is a choice, you can drive or take a train or ship…
yeah they should have different rules for the kids, or what they really need is the scanners from total recall, u know where you see the skeleton and the gun…..
November 30, 2010 @ 5:11 am
Indeed. I don’t think it’s really going to make a difference, truth be told. They need to seriously take a step back and look at what they’re doing because it’s just beyond ridiculous.
Jim C. Hines
November 30, 2010 @ 8:48 am
The Total Recall (or True Lies) scanners could be cool.
Have you seen any evidence, anywhere, that these new processes have stopped even one attack?
Jim C. Hines
November 30, 2010 @ 8:53 am
Thanks, Joshua. (And thanks for the blog shoutout, too!)
Jim C. Hines
November 30, 2010 @ 8:54 am
Thank you! I’m glad the links are helpful. Every time I thought I was done writing this post, I’d come across another link or story I wanted to add 🙂
December 1, 2010 @ 3:16 pm
They’ve been effective at finding contraband, but no direct evidence of terrorist materials, mostly drugs and small weapons.
December 1, 2010 @ 3:26 pm
On a larger note, I really don’t think the problem is with the scanners and the patdowns per se. Both of them -when used properly- are effective tools.
And that’s where the problem lies, the underlying policies.
1> TSA agents are not properly trained for a process like this. They have (by design) minimal training in customer service, some of the pat-down training was conducted ON-LINE!, and they do not go through the same training as law enforcement officers do.
2> There is no consistency, very little accountability, and poor communications from the highest level of the TSA on down. Procedures vary from airport to airport and screener to screener, and when someone complains they are branded a troublemaker.
3> While a certain amount of random selection for secondary screening, there is limited sense in how people are selected for any kind of secondary screening because there are nowhere near enough behavioral detection officers. Also, as soon as you start exempting any group (pilots, flight attendants, children) you have now poked a very visible hole in the system.
4> Airport facilities need to be redesigned with security procedures in mind. That means a private screening area for pat downs, where two properly trained officers of the same gender perform a correct and professional pat down. That means the scanners are placed away from the main lines, where exposure is less.
So you are right, right now this is security theater. But if a realistic selection system was put in place, the scans and pat downs conducted professional when warranted, and the process clearly communicated. they might actually become an effective tool.
One more point about the TSA in general. In a lot of ways, this is not their fault. They were born out of 9/11 and started as a reactionary agency, i.e. one that is basically designed to react to threats and make sure they don’t repeat, not prevent new ones. They had to ramp up so fast there is no way they could be otherwise.