Backscatter X-ray scanners, security theatre, and marginalised bodies

backscatter x-ray scan in which the body surface of a person is clearly visibleI’ve just been reading about backscatter X-rays and airport security in my local paper: UK brings in full body scanners. The UK is looking to push these into routine use, using the attempted attack at Christmas as an excuse. In this attack, the perpetrator had an incendiary device strapped to his leg, and managed to set his own pants on fire.

There has been controversy over the scanners since their existence hit the media several years ago. The full body scans show the body quite clearly – a bit like the images purported to be revealed by those “X-ray Glasses!!” advertised in old comic books.

Concern has largely centred around how the scanners might affect able-bodied cis people: that they will feel exposed, that the security people might be hur-hurring over their fat rolls or breasts, that the images might be saved. Security “experts” have scrambled to refute the claims, saying that only “same-sex” people will read the scans (as if this is supposed to be reassuring to non binary gendered people), that the scan reader will be in a separate room from the scannee, that the images will not be able to be saved with the technology. They assure us that there will be “privacy algorithms” in place.

If anyone believes airline security operators for a second when it comes to future commitments to respect the privacy of airline travellers? I’ve a harbour bridge I’d like to sell you.

The same security experts have assured the media that the scans will be optional, provided as a purely voluntary alternative to a full body pat-down. I’m going to go out on a limb right now and guess that the images are not, for example, an option for wheelchair users who can’t stand up out of the chair. Reassurance of options and choices are not particularly useful for the large swathes of the population who can’t access them.

Things that will likely show up in a full body scanner:

Urinary catheters.

Incontinence pads.

Colostomy and ileostomy bags.

PEG feeding tubes.

Mastectomy prostheses.

Certain medication pumps and implanted ports, such as insulin pumps.

TENS machines.


The bodies, including genitalia, of transgender and intersex and genderqueer people.

All of these are the signs of bodies already marginalised. Some of these signs may be clear on current security screenings – some may not.

People with marginalised bodies already have major issues with air travel – with the uncertainty of the security process, with the practicalities of dealing with aids and needs while travelling, with the spoon-sapping of travel, with no option but unfamiliar foods that may affect the body unpredictably, with the difficulty of maintaining personal privacy in prolonged periods in close quarters with others, with unpredictable delays that affect health, with security threats when bodies don’t ‘match’ identification documents.

Soon there may be one more element in the mix: the sure knowledge that one’s personal business will be laid bare in front of security-theatre goons who will almost certainly be poorly trained in disability awareness and gender tolerance.

I give it 24 hours before clandestine mobile phone images of travellers with marginalised bodies show up on the Internet.

Is this worth it?

71 thoughts on “Backscatter X-ray scanners, security theatre, and marginalised bodies

  1. Thank you so, so much for making this post. These are precisely the worries I had when the matter was discussed on my local BBC radio station this morning. One caller expressed concern about women’s sanitary protection being visible, and about incontinence pads, but it wasn’t really explored as a concern and I doubt we can expect much better from the mainstream media at large.

    The one interesting thing that was mentioned was that doctors might have some concerns about x-ray exposure. Some of us have already had a lot of exposure just because of our medical issues, and if you’re a frequent flyer I can imagine it adding up… it’d be good to get a medical line on the subject…

  2. I’ve been thinking about the backscatter X-rays since I first read about them, relatively recently. I think they could be enormously helpful in avoiding pat-downs, but I’m also saying this as a cis, able-bodied person who also happens to loathe the idea of being touched. However, if marginalized groups are uncomfortable with them being implemented for more pressing reasons than my own, abnormally large bubble of personal space, I’ll take the cue from those they could harm and deal with the possibility of a pat-down ’cause that risk is greater than my own.

    Another thing I’ve been thinking about recently, which your comment about security officers not being well versed in disability and awareness and gender tolerance reminded me of, was what a nice world it would be if companies would hire social justice specialists. I find myself randomly emailing companies to tell them that their language is transphobic, or their anti-bot program is ableist, and it’s usually stuff that anyone who’s spent any time in social justice communities would catch onto in a second. It’d be a good job for those who had it, and it would be a great help. (I don’t think it will happen, but it’s a nice thought.)

  3. I think it’s worth it. I’m not at all concerned about someone’s privacy at an airport in comparison to maintaining safety.

  4. Combined with the new attempt to prevent people from using the toilet or having things in their lap during the last hour of flight, I am absolutely *terrified* at where airline “security” measures are going. It’s not worth it.

  5. Quote:

    “security-theatre goons who will almost certainly be poorly trained in disability awareness”

    I had an experience with this “poor training” recently. I was flying for the first time ever, and it was out of JFK airport in New York City. Unfortunately, it was the week after the Christmas “terrorism” incident on the international flight from Europe (I think) to Detroit, so security was most likely tighter than usual.

    When the time came for me to put my luggage and other stuff through the scanners, I took off my shoes like the policy said to, but I left my leg brace on figuring I’d be excused and I wouldn’t have to take my brace off. Well, I had to walk through another scanning device and I tried to tell the security people that my brace has no metal on it — it’s only made of plastic and velcro — but they had me take off the brace anyway. On top of that, they made me wait for at least five minutes in an isolated booth while they scanned the brace to make sure it wasn’t “suspicious.” In short, I felt kind of like a criminal.

  6. Thank you for explaining why this is such a bad idea from this perspective. As a cis person without physical impairments I didn’t fully get it until reading this post. It also occurs to me that PWD might end up being MORE likely to be subjected to this machine, just as they are now subjected to more pat-downs because of assistive devices that show up in the metal detectors.

    As someone with a sensory processing impairment, I hate the pat-downs for reasons similar to Fangirl. Having an unfamiliar person just start to touch me all over my body provokes a lot of anxiety, especially because the process of going through security is already the very definition of sensory hell and other autism-related confusions for me. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to experience the pat-downs very frequently, unlike PWD who use devices which set off metal detectors. Some of my worst flying experiences ever came when I wore a walking cast due to a temporary injury. So I’m somewhat attracted to the idea of a security system which would allow people the choice of forgoing the pat-downs. But this is clearly not the way to do it.

    I personally would love a simple return to a less invasive security system all around, though unfortunately I don’t see that happening any time soon. In the meantime it would be nice if TSA would consider disability issues as something more than an afterthought. Why is it that virtually every new regulation proposal I hear ends up targeting PWD disproportionately? This, the no-going-to-the-bathroom-during-the-last-hour proposal, and one proposal I heard about using Wii Fit boards to screen for “terrorists” (people with anxiety, people with poor balance).

  7. Este: Yeah, security was pretty tight right after that happened. We flew on the 27th, and got the whole workup–pat-downs, looked at everything in our carry-ons (which was everything we were flying with…), even had to turn on all electronics for them. Fortunately the worst part for us was having to repack, but I wouldn’t be surprised if your experience was more personnelle being extremely cautious after that idiot in Detroit than anything else.

    I feel bad for parents right now. How do you keep a young child occupied for a whole hour after you have to put their toys away?

  8. I hate the idea of these scanners, and will go out of my way to avoid going through any airport which implements them. I think they’re a horrendous invasion of privacy and quite agree with the original post, which suggested that the images will end up on the internet within 24hrs.

  9. An alternative, just from a pure accessibility perspective:

    Actually, for me, being a PWD probably makes me more comfortable with the backscatter X-rays than I would be if I had a “normate” body. So many people have seen me naked and/ or seen my insides, in medical procedures, that the idea of a virtual strip-search doesn’t really bother me. I have been through one of those machines, in Philadelphia I think it was, and it was kind of nice because it went quickly…. It is hard for me to stand for long periods of time, and this is faster than wanding– so it was more comfortable for me– and it would make standing in line shorter too, if it were more widely adopted.

    I can’t remember the exact dimensions of the booth I was in, but I think there would have been enough space for a wheelchair to go into it and to turn from side to side. As far as medical equipment, devices with metal on them tend to get exposed by wanding and pat-downs even without the backscatter X-rays.

  10. Security “experts” have scrambled to refute the claims, saying that only “same-sex” people will read the scans (as if this is supposed to be reassuring to non binary gendered people)

    This part made me laugh. What if such a person had nullification surgery and is thus considered to have no anatomical sex? I imagine the security “experts” would have a difficult time finding another security “expert” having undergone this procedure to read the scans. 😉

    Overall good post that highlights many of my fears regarding security these days. Gives me all the more reason not to fly.

  11. I hadn’t heard about the Wii Fit security idea. I’d probably come up as a suspected terrorist. I have and use a Wii Fit at home, but my Wii Fit age is about 25 years older than my real one because my disability affects my balance. I also have panic disorder with agoraphobia, and claustrophobia. So I’ll be amped up from going away from home for whatever period and from the knowledge that I’m about to be in an enclosed space for hours, and then have to be tested on it? Lovely. Despite the anxiety, I used to travel for work. Medication and meditation kept it in check. I’m almost glad that my physical disability is currently making me unable to work in that job so that I don’t have to fly any more.

    How is there not a bigger outcry about this? I’m sure the backscatter x-rays are contraindicated for pregnant women. So women who are not visibly pregnant have to disclose pregnancy to TSA agents in order to escape it, I suppose, and then get the pat-down. I wouldn’t want my child either patted down or x-rayed in such a manner. I know pedophiles are a smaller percentage of the population than the media would let us believe, but all you need is one pedophile taking that job to get his jollies. And women (& some trans men) wearing menstrual products? That applies to around 50% of the population at some point in their lives. I’m not hesitant to talk about women’s cycles, but that’s different than being comfortable with someone being able to see whether or not I’m wearing something at that exact moment.

  12. I hope I don’t come across as a dummy, but I’m somewhat confused as to what exactly is the issue (and what would be a better solution). First of all, I’m able-bodied, and I don’t particularly mind if I get a scan or a pat-down (and I’m the kind of traveller who always seems to get the pat-down… I’ve gotten it almost every time I’ve flown in the past few years). So I have no personal preference, and no perspective on being a (bodily) disabled traveller, but I’m happy to listen to others and to be enlightened here.

    It seems to me (and the comments already indicate), that there’s no absolute reason to believe that every disabled person would prefer a pat-down to a scan. I would guess some would be more confortable with one option, some with the other. So, the solution where a traveller could choose which one to go for, does not seem terribly flawed to me. If a person must stand up for a pat-down, then it’s true that those not able to stand will not have the option. It means everyone is in fact not able to choose, and that is unfortunate. But what is the preferred solution, then? Is it better then to have just the one system (pat-down only) that is also uncomfortable for some disabled folks (and some able-bodied folks, too, come to that)?

    As for airport security staff posting nude photos in the internet: is it really OK to make a blank assumption that a group of people are insensitive goons? Or that they contain insensitive goons to the proportion that there will surely be trouble? Call me naive, but personally I’m not making that assumption just yet. I am willing to believe, at least tentatively, that airport security staff may be professional about this. The scanners have already been in use, and I haven’t heard of any photos posted online. Has it in fact happened? Does anyone know?

    One more point was that with the scanners, even if everything is handled professionally, lots of personal assistive devices will be very clearly visible. And as lauredhel pointed out, some of them are already evident in the current check-up system. I am not sure where to draw the line of propriety here. Our bodies are already being searched, and for disabled people, this search may reveal some assistive devices that able-bodied travellers don’t have. With the scanners, it seems to me that this state of affairs stays pretty much the same, but more is revealed (from both the disabled and the abled point of view). So, are the disabled people being marginalized more by this system than the old one?

    Please note that I’m not arguing that the scanners have “just the same effect on able-bodied passengers as disabled ones”, because that is clearly not the case. And I’m not even arguing that the scanners are necessarily good, and that we should have them. It’s just that, well, they are being implemented for security reasons, and their ability to reveal more of the passenger’s body is just the point. One may well argue that we don’t need such thorough security checks, and that concern for the privacy of the passengers should prevent them from being used. That might lead to some more terrorist incidents, but even in that case, aviation will most likely to be significantly safer than e.g. riding in a car. So, it’s a very valid point to argue that we just shouldn’t use the new scanning technology, period. Is that the conclusion here?

    (Personally, I’d rather be scanned / patted down and to have others checked in some way, too, but that’s just my opinion.)

  13. Just as a clarification for people, that while as a trans person, I am extremely concerned about the privacy issues and discrimination issues surrounding this technology, as a physicist, I am completely unconcerned about the radiation dosage. The Health Physics Society and American Science and Engineering Inc. report the dosage as 0.005-0.009 millirem. To put that in perspective, getting on an airplane and flying at 30,000 feet for an hour is a dosage of about 0.2-0.4 millirem. So your danger from radiation from X-ray backscatter is about 50-100 times SMALLER than merely flying on the airplane you intend to board on the other side of the Orwellian mess called airport security.

  14. I get tested for explosives about once in every three flights these days (Australian airports, domestic flights; normally one gets ones carry-on x-rayed, walk through a metal detector, demonstrate to the lovely people that any aerosols have lids on (except at Adelaide airport who don’t care (yet)), pick up ones carry-on off the conveyor belt and walk to the gate. No liquids rationing, no separate checking except of laptops, no taking off of shoes. A random selection of people going through airport security get swabbed for explosives residues).

    ANYWAY I get checked about one flight in three. I’ve not quite figured out whether that’s because I look harmless and unlikely to be a nuisance, or if it’s because I tend to fly on early flights (which tend to not get delayed) and so there’s fewer people going through for them to test, or if it’s because I ping their terrorist sensitivities with how anxious I am (anxiety issues, running late, mild phobia of plane travel, hypoglycaemia and no breakfast yet)…

    We’re lucky so far, here, Australia appears to have decided that these ‘security’ measures are more trouble than they’re worth. It is Wrong that ‘security’ measures mean that it is faster to take a train than it is to be flown (coast-to-coast it becomes faster to fly, but the more time you have to allow for airport ‘security’ measures, the closer it becomes to feasible – Los Angeles to New York (random example) is ~12 hours by train, ~5 hours plus airport allowances by plane).

  15. Brilla, you need to read a whole lot more about how people with disabilities are treated while travelling before assuming that staff are going to be professional and respectful, or anything other than completely fucking dehumanising and outright abusive. A whole lot more. Like, more than the obvious absolute nothing you’ve read so far.

    We’ve got a search system, and a blogroll. And there’s google. Give it a go.

  16. The scanners have already been in use, and I haven’t heard of any photos posted online.

    I think there’s a certain amount of strawperson in this comment, Brilla. The issue is not just “photos posted online”. It’s the fact that an image is taken at all, is seen by an unknown, unseen person, is open to comment, much less recording. It does not take a huge stretch of the imagination to think of airport security personnel trading hilarious stories of the “weirdest” things they’ve ever seen in people’s images – in fact it’s ridiculous to even try to imagine that they don’t already do so *now* about the funniest/strangest/grossest things they’ve ever found in people’s luggage.

    One could even argue it’s a method of dealing with an otherwise boring/low-paid/bad-hours/potentially dangerous job – the way front desk staff (speaking as one) can happily regale you with their Worst Phone Call or Scariest Visitor.

    Can I also say it rubs me the wrong way when a non-marginalized person enters a marginalized-group’s conversation with a “well I’m totes normal so this doesn’t affect me AT ALL, lalalala …” disclaimer?

  17. and I haven’t heard of any photos posted online

    Well, that proves it then, doesn’t it? If you’ve never heard of it, then it must not be a Pink Unicorn, right?

    Also, like others have already said, being posted online isn’t the worst thing. Just people being allowed to see these private details about other people are bad enough (and I hadn’t read that about the child porn law before! Yikes!).

    There are very personal things that people should have the right to disclose if they deem it appropriate. Some disabilities can remain between a doctor and patient and should remain so unless a patient decides to disclose it. Some personal details about a person should not be public fodder, and even one person seeing it is public if it is not someone of my choosing. Not when some goober in a booth decides to chuckle about it with hir friends. And it will happen.

    Shit, I got shit for having a copper IUD once…held up at a traditional scanner for having not a single bit of metal on my external person as revealed by numerous pat downs, but all the detectors showed metal on my abdominal area, and everyone was flipping out. Those guys (because they were all guys) were having a good chuckle about it amongst themselves once we cleared that one up. Do you think it will be different when there are boobies and va-jay-jays involved?

    I am so glad you have faith in every government employee ever, but I spent too much time on Uncle Sam’s payroll to be that reassured.

  18. As a transperson, I am not comfortable with anyone looking at what I’m keeping under my clothes. My chestbinder and prosthetic don’t contain metal, and they don’t really need to know about them. Furthermore, my piercings (despite being metal) don’t set off the metal detector’s either, but I don’t think some anonymous guy needs to see my nipple piercings. I’m not crazy about pat-downs, either, but at least they let me keep some stuff personal.

  19. I wish our airports would take a leaf out of Israel’s book. This link is for everyone going “well what’s the better alternative?!?!?!”:—israelification-high-security-little-bother

    And, yknow, none of my disabilities are very visible and I’m cis, but I am very very VERY not comfortable with random strangers seeing me naked and/or touching me all over without me having any choice in the matter. Ugh. You people who are fine with it and don’t see a problem? That’s lovely, but could you try using a little empathy and consider how that might feel really violating to somebody else?
    .-= Shiyiya´s last blog ..Letter from my Senator =-.

  20. Shiyiya: I wonder – are you aware of any personal experiences related by people with anxiety disorders, autism, blindness in dealing with the Israeli “behavioural profiling” system? Or by people whose cultural ideas about eye contact are very different (for example some Indigenous people from Australia)?

  21. I’m not even sure where I got that link from, actually. (I tend to click on links from random twitter things or blog posts and not get to them until quite a while later and completely forget how I got there) And that certainly is a good point and I didn’t mean to imply that the Isreali system is perfect! It certainly sounds like it functions better than the current ridiculous American security theatre, though. I doubt anywhere has it perfect!

  22. Brilla, you’re white aren’t you.

    I’m not saying this accusingly, I’m just saying that your belief in the professionalism of airport personnel seems to come from a huge place of privilege. From a place of never having items you brought from another country stolen under guise of’it’s not allowed’ and eaten in front of you, or slipped into the personnel’s bags.

    I’m also guessing you appear heteronormative and relatively thin/fit and have never had airport personnel make a disparaging remark about your size, the quality of your clothing, your body shape, look accusingly at some symbol of your faith, suspect you of being a drug runner because of your hair and get offended when you stated a preference for a wand vs a physical pat down; “Are you accusing me of sexually harassing you?!” said in the same tone as “Are you calling me a racist? I can’t believe this?!”

    I’m guessing you’ve never worried about getting past customs and emerging safely to be with your loved ones. You’ve never had to worry about sounding too uppity or too ruffan, knowing your well being was in the hands of individuals who might be hungry, tired, sore, cramping, irritated, have a headache, not like your face, not like you being assertive, or somehow power tripping over their position.

    It’s like when white people go ‘The police are our friends. They want to protect us’ with this belief that it’s universal for -everyone-.

    Personally I have no problem at all imagining airport security going “Do you really need that cane/ wheelchair / thing connected to your stomach / thing in your chest/ etc…” In a really loud voice as if entering their domain was an instant signing away of personal autonomy and privacy and they had the right to discuss things that doctors can’t even discuss with anyone outside the examining room without a judge’s order.

    If they’re taking shampoo out of people’s bags, really, how soon before they decide someone can hide gasoline or who knows what in an intestinal medical device. After all, there are able bodied smugglers who down bags of smack and coke.

    Reasonable search for the safety of all is NOT giving up on one’s sense of self as an individual worth respect, discretion and privacy.

    The OP mentioned breast implants in a medical sense, but again, it is far too easy to see personnel discussing who’s going to show up real and who’s going to show up fake. Who’s going to be revealed as a ‘fatty’ with a lapband and who isn’t.

    I haven’t heard of these individuals getting some kind of basic medical training to recognize devices or going through some kind of ethics course and having strident clauses placed on them not just for their ongoing employment but gag orders for life.

    Opportunities for misogyny, ablism, transphobia, queerphobia, fatphobia, racism (Saartjie Baartman now as a broad spectrum syndrome for all travel) and more and you’re going to trust that airports will take the time to both hire and train people to behave beyond the basics of ‘Please Ma’am, Sir, Thank You’?

    One last thought: Given that the observers in the screening rooms have to be able to communicate with the personnel out with the travelers should something show up – really, how will privacy be protected via conversations on walkie talkies etc, when the one in the room goes “No worries, they’re only walking funny because of [ insert privacy violation here] probably a [ insert slur here], they can pass.”

  23. quoting myself

    are you aware of any personal experiences related by people with anxiety disorders, autism, blindness in dealing with the Israeli “behavioural profiling” system?

    And the vast numbers of people with neurological conditions of various sorts, meaning they get accused of “public drunkenness” already all over the place? People with Tourette’s? Grah. The list goes on (and on, and on.)

  24. Lauredhel:

    I only just read/learned of the Israeli system, but I would think a large part of it would be trained personnel over equipment. People trained to consider culture and medical problems.

    The article seemed to stress that attention is paid to the individual. Training and ongoing experience would indicate some percentage (even if small) of encounters with those who are shy, culturally different, ill, etc. So that a pattern of body language is established; what mannerism go with someone who’s legally blind, with a nervous flier, with a pregnant woman, with a passenger in need of the bathroom and more.

    I’m not doubting there’s racial profiling – I live on Earth. But paying attention to the individual instead of trying to remove any and every possible thing that -might- be something else, seems a better way to handle things.

    There’s an air of attentiveness described however, that almost hints at customer service (long dead and bloated a corpse in North America).

  25. I don’t like any of the options right now.
    And I know I’d be singled out: I’m always anxious to begin with, and flying is something that I’m specifically very afraid of. I also don’t look/behave ‘normal’ in several other ways, and I don’t dress conventionally either. My balance is absolutely horrible, and most other motor-function related stuff is as well to varying degrees. I also do not expect to be treated very professionally, let alone kindly, though more so than other people still, because that’s usually how it works out.
    While I’m not a very private person, I don’t want to have to explain why I carry some of the stuff I do to just any random person when it’s not my choice to do so. Neither do I know if I even will be able to explain anything at all in such a situation.

    I’d take the scanner over the pat-down because of not dealing well with touching, but that by no means makes the scanners ok.

    All in all this makes me want to never fly again, ever, but you never know if one day I won’t be able to avoid it.

    As far as people being professional and not talking behind your back to each other about you and about people and stuff they think is weird or gross: they will do that. They do that everywhere. Doctors do that to each other and their contacts within the industry, and they’re supposed to be the most professional of all in that area (stuff that’s ‘wrong’ with people, wrong written like that because not all stuff that doctors consider to be wrong is considered something wrong by the people that have/are it). I know they do this because I have more than one family member working (or used to work) ‘behind the scenes’ in various places in the medical and pharmaceutical industry, who relay all kinds of info that makes me never want to be in hospital. I have no more faith in security people than in anyone else, especially people as a group.

    Usually in general if you’re different in any way you’ll get it right more often if you assume people will talk about you to eachother in not-positive ways and do all kinds of other stuff too, than if you assume people are decent enough not to do this.

  26. The concerns that are being raised here are valid, but the image shown is that of a first-generation test machine, which may give a false idea of where these things are heading. The more recent iterations of the machine display only a cartoonish outline of the person’s body (without the humps and hollows), but still showing the location of devices. Here’s an image showing the new system that’s going in at Amsterdam’s airport:

    This of course does nothing to mitigate the possible confusion of security officers who don’t know what a colostomy bag is for (no, it’s not a device for transporting a liquid bomb), nor any potential embarrassment that people might feel about their medical aids. However, the first issue is one that people already need to deal with if they are subjected to a pat-down (or they have a metal device that gets detected by current metal scanners), and the second may be somewhat mitigated if the body that those aids are attached to is more “abstracted”.

    Of course the whole security theatre in this sense is bollocks – ok, metal and explosives detectors make some sense – so I’m afraid that invasions of privacy without much in the way of supporting justification (how -many- liquid explosives have been found since the new policy? None, I believe) are just going to be a continuing trend.

  27. Trix, I linked to information about the so-called “privacy algorithms” in the post. I don’t believe for a second that they will somehow protect privacy, that they will be used all over the world, that they will be in use for the foreseeable future. And I don’t believe that the PR released to the public is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Not when it comes to security theatre.

    A scanner that can spot a strapped-on pouch of liquid can spot ostomy appliances, catheters, prostheses, and so forth.

  28. Brilla: Pictures of people undergoing medical procedures are online without the person’s consent; even autopsy photos have been published. If medical staff can put such material online, do I really think that all airline security staff everywhere are going to be uniformly more ‘professional’?

    I don’t think so.

  29. I have not been feeling very commenty lately, but I wanted to weigh in here to expand upon the issue of security theatre. Bruce Schneier, a security expert, has written a lot about the issue, including this CNN article, “Is aviation security mostly for show?

    The point of security theatre is not to increase safety. It is, like other theatre, a staged performance. Alas, security theatre is not for entertainment. I am very troubled to see people debating whether or not things like this are “worth it” at all when they don’t increase security; their primary benefit is in the eyes of the government, which wants to teach citizens to unquestioningly submit to authority. And to continue pushing the envelope, bit by bit, so that rights erode slowly and people consent to it without fully realizing the implications. The thing about rights, as a popular bumper sticker ’round these parts says, is that if you don’t use them, they go away, and that is very much the point here. Legal challenges are harder to make when something is an accepted practice (even though it’s a false choice for people giving up their rights who must either submit, or be unable to travel).

    The Israeli example touted as a solution above works because it has been implemented in a country where people have been forced to trade civil liberties for safety; terrorism has been and still is a very serious issue in Israel, and draconian measures are being used to combat it. Statistically, Israelis are far more at risk of experiencing an act of terrorism than Americans. Israel (and its airports) are also much smaller than the United States, making this type of high intensity security feasible. And, yes, racial profiling is a major part of Israel’s security architecture and this is openly admitted and in fact cited as a reason for its effectiveness.

    Is this what we want? I’ve been submitted to “enhanced” screening since 2000. I hope that people touting extreme security have felt safer knowing that I had to arrive at the airport four hours early for domestic flights, that I was strip searched before every flight, that my luggage was routinely searched (and bomb-scanned), that after 2001 this only got worse; I am forced to submit at security, and usually again at the gate, and I was in fact illegally detained by the TSA at one point. I can’t even leave the United States because I’ve been told that I might not be allowed back in. Now, maybe the government knows something I do not, but as far as I know, I do not pose a security threat; the idea of getting up to hinky business on an aircraft is of pretty much zero interest to me.

    Unlike most of you, I’ve actually been a passenger on a flight that was hijacked. I’ve experienced that extreme statistical unlikelihood. One might think that since I’ve experienced what we’re supposed to be protected from first hand, I would be all gung ho about security theatre, but I’m not. I’m not because security theatre is reactive, not proactive, and because there are no demonstrated security benefits. Look to Israel for an example; with each reactive measure, terrorists come up with creative solutions and workarounds to kill and terrorize more innocent civilians. Make it impossible to put bombs in trash cans? Then stick bombs in cars. Make it impossible to use cars as bombs? Then make people into living bombs. And so forth. The fact of the matter is that most nations are too large, too busy, and too crowded to provide effective security, and that if people really hate you, they are going to find a way to accomplish what they want to accomplish.

    I see the general acceptance of security theatre as “necessary for safety” or “an acceptable tradeoff” as deeply troubling, and the very fact that people think it’s a legitimate security matter is extremely disturbing.
    .-= meloukhia´s last blog ..Yes, Actually, I Can Make An Informed Choice =-.

  30. Los Angeles to New York (random example) is ~12 hours by train, ~5 hours plus airport allowances by plane).

    Minor clarification – Los Angeles to New York is several days by train. I tested the plane/train hypothesis once with a trip from Boston to D.C., which is about 8 hours by train and 2 hrs + security by plane. I loved the train ride and it still came out significantly quicker to fly. I think it’s worth noting because flying is still the only practical choice for many journeys in the U.S.. We simply don’t have a high speed train system. (It’s also usually significantly cheaper than taking the train, alas.)

  31. QoT, if you’re referring to my comment with your “totes normal” remark, may I ask what would be an acceptable alternative? (“This is not a space for you to share your opinions, just listen” is okay with me, if that’s the most productive thing I can be doing.) I don’t want to sound confrontational or like I’m trying to question what you’re saying or expect you to do all of the research for me, etc., etc., I’d just like to know if I’m bothering anyone and, if so, how I can stop being a bother and start being productive.

  32. I’d like to take a moment to remind people of our comments policy:

    “This is also a space which centers the first person voices of women with disabilities at all times.”

    Back to the topic at hand, please.

  33. Statistically, Israelis are far more at risk of experiencing an act of terrorism than Americans. Israel (and its airports) are also much smaller than the United States, making this type of high intensity security feasible. And, yes, racial profiling is a major part of Israel’s security architecture and this is openly admitted and in fact cited as a reason for its effectiveness.

    It should also be noted that by in large, Israeli airports are basically, PLANES, CHECK IN DESKS AND PASSENGERS. I think controlling the environment (not ignoring the problematic issues addressed in your comments) is a large part of enhancing “security”. When I went to Israel I was surprised at how bare bones (and not in a folksy “rural” way) their airports are. Not a bunch of distracting bullshit, just the stuffs you need to board a plane and like go somewhere else.

    And I am in total agreement with everything you stated.

  34. I don’t know, most of my Muslim friends (or people of descent that leads to them being assumed to be Muslim) who have attempted to enter Israel have experienced as a component of their security procedures their willingness to profile people of a particular religion and detain them for 8+ hours in a little room while periodically questioning and harassing them. Not that the U.S. doesn’t do the same thing, but I’m still reluctant to hold Israel up as any kind of model of inclusiveness on security procedures.

  35. I think the point that those who are poo-pooing this post are missing is that, not only is the body scanner an incredible invasion of privacy for those who use medical appliances or whose bodies do not match the popular conception of correct, but the ways that our bodies are variant from the norm means that we will not just have invasive pictures taken of us but will have to answer humiliating, tactless questions from people who know nothing about medicine and probably be forced to expose our bodies to a TSA employee. Do you really think they’re going to just believe someone who says “that’s my colostomy bag” or “that’s my insulin pump” without “investigating” further? No, they’re going to want to see it. What if they decide they want to reboot the insulin pump like they sometimes make people reboot their computers?

    And most importantly, what does any of this have to do with safety?

  36. There’s also a problem with invisible disabilities that I think no one has mentioned so far.

    Travelling, as I’m sure most people here can attest to, is extremely tiring, given that it involves dealing with standing for long periods of time, dealing with loud noises, dealing with large crowds, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, food intolerances, etc etc ad infinitum.

    When I’m very tired, my disability begins to show – my speech degenerates, I begin to stagger, and I can’t stand up for long periods of time, and many other things. A scan of my luggage will show security that I have a cane (even supposing they know what it is) but no scan will give them a cause for all the other symptoms of my disability.

    So what happens then? Do I become a security threat, because of ignorance on their part? Do they take action accordingly? Many people, including many in the medical profession, refuse to believe in the existence of my disability. How do I convince people that I am just tired, and am not acting strangely on purpose?

  37. From Avalon’s Willow:

    Personally I have no problem at all imagining airport security going “Do you really need that cane/ wheelchair / thing connected to your stomach / thing in your chest/ etc…” In a really loud voice as if entering their domain was an instant signing away of personal autonomy and privacy and they had the right to discuss things that doctors can’t even discuss with anyone outside the examining room without a judge’s order.

    This, this, this! It happens in a lot of places that utilize such security measures. I’ve been asked if I really needed my cane to walk through the metal detector. I’m fortunate in the fact that they shut up when I gave them a very confused and not happy-feeling glare, when I’m certain this isn’t the case for many PWD. The voices are patronizing and expose you to everyone around you as disabled when they otherwise may not have paid attention. And then an aspect of your medical history and privacy is exposed to everyone in the room.

    Government employees aren’t exempt from being assholes.

  38. Avalon’s Willow, I think many (probably most) PWD and PoC who have dealt with security people doubt that it will be implemented by “People trained to consider culture and medical problems” in the near future. I don’t have any personal experience with the Israeli system, but I think this perspective is incredibly naive.

    TSA currently claims to be sensitive to disability issues; it’s right there on their website. Yet my experiences and others indicate that disability awareness is seriously lacking amongst those who implement the system. My father has run into trouble many times for traveling with a sleep apnea machine, for instance. During a few times where I’ve had extreme difficulties going through security, I’ve tried to explain to the TSA people that I’m autistic. Did not improve my treatment in the least. I’m reluctant to disclose in these situations generally, in fact, because I suspect that security guards–like much of the rest of the population–have so many misconceptions about autism. Many people probably don’t even think that an adult could be autistic and traveling independently (or with another autistic adult, which I also do on occasion). When TSA has suboptimal awareness of disclosed disabilities, I doubt they will ever be capable of distinguishing an autistic person (or someone with another mental/neurological disability) from a Suspected Terrorist on sight alone. All of us who display nonstandard behaviors are Suspected Terrorists.

    “So that a pattern of body language is established; what mannerism go with someone who’s legally blind, with a nervous flier, with a pregnant woman, with a passenger in need of the bathroom and more.”

    I have strong doubts that this actually goes on in Israel, and I’d also note that people (with and without disabilities) display a wide range of mannerisms and can’t really be simplified like this. People are individuals, not types. Any system which relies on (stereo)types is going to be monumentally flawed.

  39. I have strong doubts that this actually goes on in Israel, and I’d also note that people (with and without disabilities) display a wide range of mannerisms and can’t really be simplified like this. People are individuals, not types. Any system which relies on (stereo)types is going to be monumentally flawed.

    Yeah, seriously, on all counts. My own run-in with Israel security didn’t suggest any particular expertise* beyond digging into my political opinions and family background, for one thing. And anyway, even if humans did operate on a Quality X = Y framework, which they don’t, the infinite possible combinations involved still preclude some kind of “objective” analysis.

    * Yes, I suppose it could be super sekrit expertise. I don’t buy it; there were no vibes at all that we were being assessed that way.

  40. I am a government employee. Here’s the thing. Govt employees aren’t any worse than any other randomly-chosen group of people. They’re human. Many of them are quite compassionate, do their jobs the best they can, make mistakes from time to time but try to act morally. And, because this is a group of *human beings*… some of them are quite insensitive and will gladly break rules (which may or may not ever be punished). Some people are basically good human beings but are still susceptible to the prejudices they have formed after growing up in a fallible culture (that is, every human culture to ever exist!). And no matter how good/bad a person they are, EVERYONE makes mistakes sometimes. Everyone.

    You don’t have to think any group of people is a bunch of demonic soul-suckers to realize that certain policies will result in Bad Things, because there is at least one person in that group (statistical probability ‘n all) who has no problem with breaking whatever rules you set down. Even setting aside that rare Really Bad Person, the vast majority of the group will be people who are basically good and moral people but whose actions follow the guidance of a culture that exhibits certain prejudices, which means their actions will end up perpetrating those prejudices in some way or another.

    And to be honest with you: making this all about whether these government employees are Bad People (which no one has claimed) is basically telling disabled people, trans people, racial and cultural minorities, and other marginalized groups: “Hey, I don’t think this discrimination and harassment that you claim happens regularly actually happens.” If you really think this problematic behavior is contingent on a person being a soul-sucking Bad Person, and you’re objecting to the perceived characterization of an average group of people as containing any soul-sucking Bad People, then you cannot at the same time believe that this problematic behavior actually happens in reality. It is simply not a logical possibility. And if you think this way, and don’t think that POC, PWD, trans* and other non-conforming folk are dirty liars, I would suggest some time spent reconsidering exactly how this sort of marginalization works in the real world.
    .-= amandaw´s last blog ..Interlude: Cat toy edition =-.

  41. Mj mentioned that sanitary napkins worn by menstruating women will be visible.

    I’d like to point out that they would look exactly like the bomb the underwear dude was wearing. To prevent the exact same attack, it would be necessary to verify exactly what was in every pad.


  42. Well, I’ve long since given up any expectation of privacy and/or dignity when passing through airport security. It just doesn’t exist. For the most part common courtesy doesn’t even exist. It’s a completely dehumanising experience. [And it’s not just airports – I noticed the same thing with the ‘security’ procedures in a lot of public places in New York when I was there this summer.]

    I’ve been through the scanners that they’ve been using for a couple of years in Amsterdam/Schiphol. There wasn’t an obvious opportunity to ask for a pat-down instead. And this is what I suspect will happen – there won’t be a choice offered. You’ll have to ask for it, and the default answer will be ‘no’, or at least ‘why?’.

  43. Patrick … from me, a person who is visibly trans, autistic, has anxiety disorder and panic attacks (and nearly got arrested for such in 2001 *before* the WTC attacks), let me just say: fuck you.

    You may find this pseudo-security merely inconvenient, but this same pseudo-security puts my life in danger. As soon as the scanner operators see my very gender-ambiguous body, they will ping onto the TSA bulletin that states that trans folk are a security risk by our very existence – see, cuz we are really deceivers who might be carrying bombs. ANYBODY who does not meet rigid definitions of proper gender presentation can be detained as a potential security threat. Given the treatment that many trans folk (and POC and PWD and women) suffer at the hands of law enforcement, the threat of being raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by law-enforcement personnel is high.

    And I agree with others about the true purpose of “security theatre” – it is a means of implementing a full-scale police state in little bits and pieces, nothing more and nothing less.

  44. GallingGalla: thankyou. Spot on. I’m personally unlikely to have my life threatened by Australian airport security (thanks to my privilege), though the airport and security process could make me very ill, along with the Othering, invasiveness, and forced-dependence issues. But it’s really not that difficult to imagine that, you know, people might have experiences other than your own. That’s what this website is all about, that’s what intersectionality is all about, that’s what social justice is all about.

    As an extra note, could commenters please not assume that the post is talking about the American TSA and nothing but the American TSA? The poster is Australian, and the news article is an Australian article about a UK change. There’s a strong tendency with some commenters here to drift back to “we” as “the USA” and “others” as “elsewhere”/”international”, and I’m not too keen on it. This is not a USAn website.

  45. Sarah:

    I hear your points.

    I was thinking of the training of personnel in context of the training police go through in order to acertain ‘probable cause’. But I did not mean to imply AT ALL that training having to be filtered through an individual’s perspective can’t be tainted/shifted/warped etc by biases, prejudices and ignorance.

    It just seemed to me that training personnel/staff who work in a particular environment is as important, and perhaps more, than bigger/better/more intrusive machinery and technology that do more to make things easier for the employees while being more invasive for the innocents.

    Which is why I brought up customer service as an example of attentiveness and consideration to the individual customer as something that does not happen and is not trained for, for the most part anymore it seems in the US. And as an example of one aspect of paying attention to individuals as individuals, vs, wallets with baggage, or wallets in need of seats or wallets buying your product.

    I grew up in an environment where customer service and attention to detail was crucial to the GNP and it shaped my expectations; expectations that were then dashed as I got older, lived in the US and world concepts changed. But I realize the emphasis on ‘Pay attention to the -PERSON-‘ has never really left me. No doubt it’s why the emphasis on travelers as all suspected terrorists vs customers trying to get somewhere,continues to leave me – WTH?

  46. Given what Lauredhel said, I should probably point out that I am from the UK, not the US, so I’m obviously not talking from either the US or Australian viewpoint.

    Another thing they are changing is that airport security is going to be looking for ‘strange behaviour’ as well as scanning people. What about people who can’t raise their arms for the scanner? Apparently you have to do that. What about everyone who does not or cannot act ‘normally’ whatever that entails?

    This whole thing is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  47. What’s so maddening about the whole thing is that we don’t need to do all this. What we need to do is give extra screening to the guys whose fathers call the US Embassy and say, “My son is becoming a religious extremist,” pay cash for their tickets, and don’t check luggage. Oh — and try to board without a passport. And have a revoked British visa. Let’s focus on those guys and quit hassling the rest of us.

  48. As a queer, trans and genderqueer, disabled, non-citizen, whose documents photo matches but whose gender and name do not “match” my current physical presentation, i have precisely *zero* expectation of privacy when i go through an airport. i *hope* i’ll be treated with respect. i *hope* i wont get too much of a hassle. i *hope* i won’t feel *as* violated as i did the last time. i *hope* i wont have to spend ages explaining myself. And i *hope* all of it comes together and im not refused entry. Sure. But i dont *expect* my privacy to be respected. There is nothing that has ever happened for me in the context of flying on an airplane, or crossing the Canada/US border in any way that has ever or would ever lead me to imagine this. i simply cannot relate to this expectation in any practical way.

    Theses machines are simply one more layer of bullshit to get through. One more invasion of my privacy and person that i can either choose to subject myself to or not. i think they’re completely gross, unnecessary and ineffective, and believe theyll do more harm than good.

  49. Shamhat – oh lord. That is just wrong – wear a tampon or drive?

    Something that has been a part of American security theatre since Sept. 11 could be problematic for PWD. (And it robs of us of a Romcom cliche! Think of the cliches!)

    No ticket, no entrance. The last time I flied, my sister and mom waved to me from the security check-in. And I was left alone for 3 hours. (My flight was delayed and they didn’t bother telling us when we were together.)

    What if you can fly by yourself, but need a companion or assistant during the interminable wait? What about underage children? (Because if it could affect PWD, check and see if it will affect somebody more lovable so people will care.)

    However, this has been going on for 8 years, so I guess those issues have been addressed.

    I’ve been very lucky while flying since Sept 11th. (All my international flying was done when I was an annoying baby, toddler, and 6 year old.) I last flew in October 2006, right before/around the whole liquid nonsense. (I drink water all the time – hate that rule!) I like flying, but I’m in a minority. I don’t know how I’d feel flying now – my pain has gotten worse and those seats are so comfy!

    I wonder if they’re going to inspect the medication we keep in our carry-on bags now, or if they already do. (All travel sites and whatnot recommend keeping your meds in your carry-on bag in case your luggage goes elsewhere.)

  50. “What if you can fly by yourself, but need a companion or assistant during the interminable wait? What about underage children?”

    This was at Newark, so the procedures may be different elsewhere. But when my grandmother had to fly–she was in a wheelchair–they let my mother go through security with her. In order to do this, my mother had to go to the Continental desk, show her drivers’ license and they gave her some sort of a pass that let her go through. This was *after* 9/11.
    I suspect that the people at the desk saw my 60 year old mother and 87 year old grandmother in a wheelchair and figured they were not a risk. Does the TSA even have one standard policy for all airports, or does it vary from one to another?

    They do have specific procedures in place for dealing with underage children. My aunt’s 8 year old daughter has flown several times by herself. The airline has someone assigned to look after the unaccompanied minors–they go with them through security, then are driven on one of those carts to the gate. I’m not sure if this is specific to Continental or general procedure for airlines.

  51. Kaitlyn:

    I wonder if they’re going to inspect the medication we keep in our carry-on bags now, or if they already do.

    I just went through security a few days ago, where, during the “hand inspection” of my carry-on (a small purse), they removed all of my prescription medication — anti-anxiety meds, anti-depressants, and my birth control, which they never asked about — and proceeded to hold up each bottle in front of my face and demand, very loudly, to know what it was and what it was for. I had to explain in front of three security guards and a two lineups of approximately 30 people what each medication was for, at which point one of the security guards decided it would be an excellent time to ask what panic attacks are and why people get them, because she’d never heard of them and didn’t understand.

    So at least in my own experience, they check the medication. I can only imagine if someone had been coming through carrying medication for something more stigmatized (I imagine airport security sees a lot of anti-anxiety prescriptions, for people with phobia of flying).

  52. SG – Yuck. I’d just hope they’d check that your name is on the prescription bottle and not grill you over the contents. I mean… I’ve had nurses say they don’t know what something is! I definitely have “more stigmatized” medications in/on my person – and I take all 10+ on the plane, in my backpack. A bit more nervous now…

    Thanks, SG and Heather for answering my questions.

  53. Okay, I’m a cis, white, middle-class-looking, 30-something, female professional, and I can extrapolate from experiences with old-fashioned luggage x-ray airport security just how great a violation of privacy and just how deeply uncomfortable and humiliating a full-body scan might be.

    I’m going to throw this out for all the other privileged types who don’t see how a full body scan by inadequately trained personnel might just be a problem.

    After a performance one time, I tossed my tuning fork into my bag. Then I flew somewhere. Before the flight, I’d removed all sharps and tools from my purse (yes, I carry a screwdriver in my purse). So I was kind of surprised when the very polite security personnel asked to search my purse. I mean, no big deal, there wasn’t anything questionable in there.

    Eventually they found the tuning fork, removed it, held it aloft, asserted that it couldn’t be used to hurt anyone, and loudly wondered what it was. I cheerfully explained and demonstrated how it worked, repacked my bag, and went on my way.

    No big deal, right. Now the security people know what a tuning fork looks like.

    Now imagine the same scenario with a full-body scan and an ostomy bag. Or stomach staples. Or, oh I don’t know, any medical device to which the personnel at that particular airport have not been exposed. Suddenly that cheerful little bit of harmless education is not so cheerful nor so harmless. Even with polite, reasonably well trained security personnel, someone’s always going to have a device or issue they haven’t seen before. Someone’s always going to have the first tuning fork anyone’s ever seen.

  54. SG, you bring up a point that I’ve been thinking about since I read the beginning of the article, and that nagged at me all the way through the comments. So far it seems like everyone is assuming that the people doing the invasion of privacy will be “assholes,” but I feel that implies malicious intent. These security screeners don’t HAVE to be malicious to be extremely invasive. The curious guard who asked about anxiety attacks probably had a “benign” motive (curiosity), but the very asking of that question out in the middle of a security checkpoint is invading your privacy. She didn’t know, but ignorance isn’t an excuse.

    I’m an RN. I know privacy; my license depends on privacy. There are very enlightened people in my life who are stunned at the lengths I go to in order to protect privacy because they have the privilege of never thinking about it. If most of the screeners are privileged (and do not have privacy training), then most of the PWD will have their privacy invaded. It makes me a little ill.

    That said, I wonder if it’s possible to get the medical associations of the involved countries riled up about this? Am I being naive to think that the American Nurses Association & American Medical Association might get behind some sort of privacy training? (Again, US-centric here because I don’t know about the corresponding groups in Australia, the UK, Canada, or elsewhere…)

  55. So far it seems like everyone is assuming that the people doing the invasion of privacy will be “assholes,” but I feel that implies malicious intent. These security screeners don’t HAVE to be malicious to be extremely invasive. The curious guard who asked about anxiety attacks probably had a “benign” motive (curiosity), but the very asking of that question out in the middle of a security checkpoint is invading your privacy. She didn’t know, but ignorance isn’t an excuse.

    HillaryGayle, that was sort of my point with the tuning fork story, right? The security personnel at that particular airport were entirely professional and pleasant. They wanted to see what that oddly shaped metal thing in my bag was, because they didn’t look at it and map the unfamiliar shape to something known either to be permitted or not permitted. And looking at my tuning fork, with my permission, is not a violation of my privacy, because a tuning fork is not a medical device, not something I wear on my body, not something stigmatized, not something I feel the need to keep quiet about.

    Furthermore, had they decided to confiscate my tuning fork, I would have been able to walk away from it. I’d have been annoyed, but whatever. I’d have been on my flight. And tuning forks cost, like, $6. Had my tuning fork been an insulin pump or, I don’t know, anything else, something I needed, I’d be a lot queasier at not only the potential for having my privacy violated, but also the difficulty of explaining, the potential for being detained or for having something that I need confiscated. Not because security officers are necessarily assholes, but because even the best trained most respectful may have gaps in their education, experience, and understanding.

    Shorter me: I agree, and I think it would be a Good Thing if health care associations were to look into how they can provide training, and lobby for such training to be provided and made mandatory.

  56. Looking at Zingerella and HillaryGayle comments, I can’t help but feel there’s an overtone of “This could affect white, het, cis, able-bodied individuals too!“; Because to me, someone can be convinced they’re behaving professionally and still be participating in casual racism, homophobia, transphobia and ablism.

    Discussing these isms and how they can affect passengers via airport personnel does not automatically make said airport personnel assholes – the same way someone being racist does not automatically make them members of the KKK.

    I feel that people have been describing the ways airport personnel can wallow in privilege, NOT that they’ve been listing 101 ways someone can be an asshole / 101 descriptions of asshole behavior.

    If there’s constant stress that only ASSHOLES have privilege, then all the nice, caring liberals of the world who’re certain they’re good decent people will never pay attention when they get called on something.

  57. Agreed on all counts. Your tuning fork really is the perfect metaphor for all the ways this could go wrong with medical appliances. The ones I would be most concerned about are pumps (as you mentioned) or -ostomy bags. I could just see screeners making someone remove clothing and violate all sorts of body autonomy over those things, since both contain liquid and are worn on the body. What about knee or hip replacements? They’re SUPPOSED to be non-reactive metal, but they fit similarly into this scenario.

    My husband brings up a good point: do airports usually have some sort of emergency medical response teams on staff? One of those might have someone familiar with medical appliances. Just kinda brainstorming possibilities.

  58. Avalon’sWillow, I’m totally sorry that my comments gave that impression. The point I was trying to make is the one you actually made more succinctly—that privilege blinds even nice, professional, non-assholish people to how their actions can be harmful, and that an exchange that would be pretty innocuous in the case of a person who benefits from the same amount of privilege that I do might be much less innocuous in the case of another person, because the second person is not shielded by privilege.

    If a full-body scan had revealed my questionable tuning fork, and everything else about my story been the same, I’d have still had an okay time, and would have been only a bit embarrassed that I’d been silly enough to not remember that there was a metal tuning fork in my pocket. Finding the fork would not have violated my privacy or made me feel threatened in any way.

    Shorter me: You’re right, and I’ll stop talking now.

  59. I sincerely apologize for any impression I gave to that effect. It was my intention to emphasize how screeners “wallowing in privilege” (nice phrase!) could be a large part of the problem here, as a background for my hope that some training for those screeners (in recognition of medical appliances, in privacy issues, and most importantly in their own privilege) could help.

  60. Never mind individual screeners not recognizing insulin pumps – the TSA website states that I (a pump user) should “tell the screener I cannot remove my pump because it is surgically attached.”

    Except that it isn’t surgically attached. Trust me, I did not have surgery in my living room half an hour ago when I refilled and reinserted it. That doesn’t mean I should remove it for screening, of course.

    But it does raise the issue, if the TSA website, presumably the central repository of information and presumably having been compiled after some input from the health care system can be so specifically misinformed, what does this mean for individual TSA screeners at dozens of scattered airports with even less access to medical information, when they encounter a pump, or other less common devices.

  61. I don’t know what a “cis” is…but anyway, I am a sexual assault survivor and there is no way in hell I fought off they guy – who had a gun – only to be forced to either flash my naked body at a stranger or be subjected to a pat-down.

    I have asked the TSA whether or not the Frequent Traveler program will allow me to bypass security. I doubt it but I have not heard back from them.

    I have to travel out of Chicago soon, which has installed these machines and I have decided that I will wear my one-piece bathing suit through security the next time I fly. I will respectfully ask that they allow me to be viewed without touching me or without my going through the scanner. TSA will be able to detect anything that they would otherwise find through a pat-down or my going through the scanner. I doubt it will work, but it will be worth a try…I’ll drive home if they don’t comply with my request.

    By the way, I understand that many people do not have the options I have for obvious reasons…this is just my way of dealing with the situation and I thought I’d share… I want to take control back over who I will let see or touch my body and this seems to be the only thing I can think of. I am a swimmer so it seems natural to me…

  62. Ilene Flannery Wells
    “I don’t know what a “cis” is…but anyway”

    Ilene, “cis” refers to non-transssexual or non-transgender folks. I.e. ‘cisgendered’, from ‘cis-‘, “on the same side”, + ‘gender’; in contrast to ‘trans-‘, “crossing over”; both from Latin, and both prefixes used in Chemistry with similar meanings.


  63. In Miami, an employee who demoed one of these scanners for his coworkers reportedly “endured months of ridicule” for the size of his penis “before he allegedly snapped,” made his tormentor apologize on his knees, and beat him with a police baton. Such professionalism from his peers! Such respect for diverse bodies! Are we supposed to believe that 1) security employees aren’t going to comment on passengers’ bodies 2) even when they are particularly novel to said employee, or 3) that it doesn’t matter because passengers won’t be present for “months” of abuse?

    Link to article “Penis mockery allegedly led to airport beating” here:

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