Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Travel In A Fascist Nightmare

Opt Out of a Body Scan? Then Brace Yourself

"HAVING been taught by nuns in grade school and later going through military boot camp, I have always disliked uniformed authorities shouting at me. So I was unhappy last week when some security screeners at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago started yelling.

“Opt out! We got an opt out!” one bellowed about me in a tone that people in my desert neighborhood in Tucson usually reserve for declaring, “Rattlesnake!”

Other screeners took up the “Opt out!” shout. I was marched from the metal detector lane to one of those nearby whole-body imagers, ordered to take everything out of my pockets, remove my belt and hold my possessions up high. Then I was required to stand still while I received a rough pat-down by a man whose résumé, I suspected, included experience at a state prison.

“Hold your pants up!” he ordered me.

What did I do to deserve this? Well, as I approached the checkpoints, I had two choices. One was a familiar lane with the metal detector, so I put my bag on that. To my right was a separate lane dominated with what the Transportation Security Administration initially called “whole-body imagers” but has now labeled “advanced imaging technology” units. Critics, of course, call them strip-search machines.

I don’t like these things, and not just because of privacy concerns or because of what some critics have asserted are radiation safety issues with some of the machines that use X-ray technology.

No, I don’t like the fact that I have to remove every item from every pocket, including my wallet and things as trivial as a Kleenex. You then strike a pose inside with your hands submissively held above your head, like some desperado cornered by the sheriff in a Western movie, while the see-through-clothes machine makes an image of your body.

The T.S.A.’s position is that anyone can “opt out” of a body scan for reasons of privacy or whatever, but will then be subjected to a thorough physical pat-down and careful search of belongings.

In my case, I had been routinely using a normal metal detector checkpoint, when I was ordered to switch lanes and instead go to one of the new machines. I said I would prefer not to, given that my carry-on bag, laptop and shoes were already trundling along the regular machine’s conveyor belt, out of sight. That’s when the shouting started."


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