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  (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.)