Don't Scan Me, Bro!

SUBHEAD: Protests continue to mount over safety and privacy of new airport scanners. Image above: Detail of the original Xray-Specs comic book ad. From ( By by Richard Knox on 12 November 2010 for - (

It's because of a growing backlash over the new body scanners that the Transportation Security Administration has deployed to 68 airports.

One group is outraged the new machines see through clothes to detect concealed weapons or bombs, calling it an invasion of privacy. So they've organized a "national opt-out day" on Nov. 24. The group is urging travelers to refuse the body scanning and opt for a pat-down instead.

But that could clog security lines at many airports, given the TSA's new especially thorough pat-down procedures.

Meanwhile, your pilot may not get to the plane in time either.

The U.S. Airline Pilots Association and the Allied Pilots Association are urging their members to demand pat-downs too — in a private area. The pilots are protesting on both privacy and safety grounds.

"Requiring pilots to go through the Advanced Imaging Technology (machines) means additional radiation exposure," Allied Pilots Association President Dave Bates writes to his members. He recommends that pilots avoid the body scanners.

Meanwhile, the government isn't doing very well at persuading critics in the scientific community that X-ray scanners are safe.

A word of clarification here: There are two types of airport body scanners. The controversial one uses very low doses of X-rays to scan travelers front and back and create a "naked" image. A TSA spokesman says there are currently 206 of these machines at 38 airports.

The other type doesn't use X-rays but instead a technology called millimeter-wave scanning. There are 167 of these units at 30 airports.

Earlier this year, four scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, wrote a letter to Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren raising concerns about the cancer risks of exposing hundreds of millions of travelers every year to airport X-ray scans.

Holdren's office asked the TSA and the Food and Drug Administration to respond. Their eight-page letter to Holdren was recently posted on the FDA's website.

After running through all the reviews and advisory committees that have certified the scanners as safe, the letter concludes:

The potential health risks from a full-body screening…are miniscule…We are confident that full-body X-ray security products and practices do not pose a significant risk to the public health.

The response doesn't satisfy John Sedat, a UCSF professor-emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics who was among those who wrote to Holdren last April.

"The response is deeply flawed," Sedat said in an interview. "It's double-talk. It doesn't answer any questions. Sadly, I have to say we still don't have the information we need to decide what are the dangers of this device."

Sedat says the UCSF group will make a formal reply to Holdren.

Dr. David Brenner is equally unpersuaded by the government's response. Brenner is head of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University.

Brenner's complaint is that the government experts are entirely focused on the risk of cancer for individuals.

"I don't think anybody would argue the point that the individual risk is small. Whether it's one in 10 million or one in 100 million, it's very small," he said in an interview. "But multiply that times 700 million people – the number of people getting on planes currently – and that's the public health risk."

And Brenner says there's reason to think the radiation dose delivered per scan is about 10 times higher than the government says. It comes from a paper by Arizona State University physics professor Peter Rez that is scheduled to appear in a journal called Radiation Protection and Dosimetry.

Rez says he was skeptical that the X-ray dose the government claims for the machines – about 1/10,000th of a chest X-ray — could produce a usable image at all. He calculated backward to figure out how big an X-ray dose would be needed to get the kind of images the machines produce.

Rez agrees the individual risk is still negligible. "It's a 1-in-20-million chance of dying from radiation for each scan," he says. "Your chances of being struck by lightning in the US in any year is 1 in 500,000. But the probability of being blown up in an airplane by a terrorist is around 1 in 30 million. So the risk from the scan is about the same as the thing you're trying to prevent."

Brenner says if Rez's dose calculation is right, pilots and very frequent fliers could exceed the recommended annual radiation dose limit of 250 microSieverts. That would require going through the scanner 250 times, by Rez's dose calculations, rather than 2,500 times, by the government's.

The result, he maintains, is "you will end up with some number of cancers coming out of each year's scanning operations." Applying it to the 125,000 commercial airline pilots and perhaps 125,000 other flight personnel, each averaging 250 scans per year, Brenner estimates "there might be five cancers, or two fatal cancers, resulting from a year's worth of X-ray screening" among airline personnel.

This could all be avoided, Brenner says, if the government relied entirely on the millimeter-wave scanners instead of the X-ray scanners.

By the way, you might be wondering: Can the average traveler standing in a security line tell the difference? Yes, a TSA spokesman says. The X-ray type is blue and has two walls. The millimeter-wave machine is grayish-white and is more cylindrical.

[Editor's note - Hearings have just been scheduled next week in Congress on the full body scanners and new TSA practices.]

SUBHEAD: TSA's super frisky pat-downs heat-up pilots and travel industry.

Video above: "We Won't Fly" plan defeating TSA scanners and gropers. From (

Earlier this week, we wrote a Diary about the recent rollout by the TSA of enhanced pat-down procedures at airports. Rather than the back of the hand light pat-down that passengers have become accustomed to, TSA security agents now perform a thorough groping of travelers that seems to resemble something used on inmates being processed in a prison rather than an airport security checkpoint. But now, things are heating up, and as the complaints from everyday travelers continue, now the airline pilots, flight attendants, and travel industry folks are voicing their displeasure with the new procedures as well. More airports are also rolling out the backscatter scanners, or what I have taken to calling "The Naked Machine", which takes images of a traveler's body underneath their clothes so as to determine if someone is smuggling any dangerous devices or exploding underpants, etc. Travelers can "opt-out" of using the scanner in favor of the pat-down (though there doesn't seem to be any signage or information for travelers indicating this at the airports), an alternative which TSA officials apparently instructed their people to make the most unplesant and embarassing experience possible....ostensibly to discourage other travelers from making that uncomfortable choice as well. However, keep in mind that even those who do go through the machine can still get pulled out for special screening and an official TSA-sanctioned security molestation if the image captured doesn't turn out clearly for some reason.... Well, we all three went through the machine. Husband and I were fine. They scanned the kid and then informed us they had to pat him down. I asked why, they said he moved. So I am thinking run of the mill pat down, wand over his body and light touch. He is 9 years old for the love of Pete but that was not the case. Had anyone but a physician doing a necessary medical exam touched my child in the places the TSA agent put his hands, I would have filed charges. He groped the inside of his legs and touched his genitals. He put his hands around my son's neck in a choking position, felt all the way down his chest area and his buttocks. He placed his hands inside my son's pants waist band and felt around his waist. The agent was loud and intimidating even for me, a 36 year old women. He barked at him to "hold up your pants" and "spread your legs, shoulder width." All I could think was my son looked like he was being frisked and how humiliating this was for him to be stared at by everyone as they passed by us. Now, this whole scenario was out in the open, we were not given the option of privacy. My son was scared and humiliated. or if you forget to take your cell phone out of your pocket. Thomas Mollman's attorney says the TSA's behavior is no different than sexual assault. Mollman had recently undergone surgery and was on pain medication, and when he forgot to remove his cell phone walking through security, he was pulled aside. That's when Mollman said he was searched three separate times, the final time, underneath his pants, on the skin. "I was wearing shorts at the time...between the underwear right on the skin, all the way around the back, all the way around my front--360 degrees--touched inappropriately here and here, Mollman said." Thus far, the experiences were primarily from travelers, but now airline industry workers like pilots and flight attendants are pushing back as well, and they've got unions to back them up. "Pilots are not the terrorist threat," said John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association and a veteran pilot for United Continental. "Seeing scarce security resources being used on pilots makes absolutely no sense." Some pilots, male and female, have complained the pat-downs make them feel uncomfortable. The group urged any pilot who feels unfit for duty afterward to "call in sick and remove themselves from the trip." That has prompted urgent talks between the pilots' group and TSA administrator John Pistole. The two sides hope to resolve the matter in a few weeks, Prater said. While I wouldn't argue that the standards of security should somehow be less stringent for an airline pilot, I would say that the consequences of causing an airline pilot to have a meltdown due to the handsy treatment are far greater, and it's probably not the best idea for it to happen just before sitting down in the pilot seat of an airplane cockpit where hundreds of people are putting their lives in that pilot's care. The US Airline Pilots Association, in a letter to members, described an incident where a pilot was disabled emotionally by the pat-down search experience: One U.S. Airways pilot, after being selected for an enhanced pat-down, experienced a frisking that has left him unable to function as a crew member. The words this pilot used to describe the incident included "sexual molestation," and in the aftermath of trying to recover, this pilot reported that he had literally vomited in his own driveway while contemplating going back to work and facing the possibility of a similar encounter with the TSA. This is a very serious situation, and it represents a crossroads for all U.S. airline pilots. Might the emotional effects of searching the pilot create a new danger for travelers?USAPA further advises its members to "make sure you are emotionally fit and not stressed in any way by your close encounter with the TSA" before deciding to proceed with their flight. Flight attendants are also getting the same treatment, and aren't happy about it either. Flight attendants, like passengers, must undergo a naked body scanner or a pat-down before boarding. But some flight attendants are not okay with the measures because the pat-down means they will experience others touching and feeling their genital areas. One flight attendant who felt groped has filed a claim, a local ABC news channel reported in Phoenix. The flight attendants’ claims of groping and sexual assault are expected to pile up along with lawsuits as the law persists. The New York Times reported today that at least four major travel organizations are highly opposed to the TSA’s tighter security measures. The organizations say that travelers are avoiding the U.S. --a multi-million dollar consumer decision that negatively impacts the airline industry. What's more, they are also very concerned about the Naked Machine scanners because exposure to radiation of any level is cumulative over a lifetime, and these airline workers may go through security checkpoints hundreds or thousands of times in just a year. Some of the nation's most frequent fliers are refusing to subject themselves to TSA's new full-body scanners. USA Today reports that two of the country's largest pilots unions have advised their members to opt for pat-downs rather than the scanners one TSA agent cheerfully dubbed "the dick-measuring device." Union leaders say they're concerned that repeated exposure to radiation in the scanners could be harmful to pilots (or their egos). But pilots also hate the pat-downs, which left one flier feeling like he had been "sexually molested." (Jeffrey Goldberg was less distressed by his experience.) "Our members are just absolutely outraged," the president of the US Airline Pilots Association said. Thus far, the TSA's response to the complaints has been to say that these procedures are all perfectly normal and make us all more safe, but never addressing the actual issue that you quite possibly could be severely traumatizing the very people you're supposed to be protecting. As we’ve discussed before, TSA’s screening procedures change regularly based on the latest intelligence. Pat-downs have long been one of the many security measures TSA and virtually every other nation has used in its risk-based approach to help detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives like the one we saw in the failed terrorist attack last Christmas Day. Then they downplay the concern as being anything to worry about. And then they minimize the issue by making it sound like hardly anyone has to go through it anyway. Well, after watching a TSA officer loudly holler, "OPT OUT!", dragging the hapless traveler off to the side where they are then groped, bullied, embarrassed and humiliated in full view of the rest of the line of people waiting to go through security themselves (or perhaps worse, being separated from your belongings or travel companions and escorted off to a private room for the same treatment), yeah I'll bet very few people would offer themselves up for that willingly. How, exactly, is that not punitive? The TSA indicated in their blog post yesterday that the following are part of their new pat-down procedure rules: A few other points to keep in mind: * Pat-downs are conducted by same gender officers
* All passengers have the right to request private screening at any point during the screening process
* Anyone has the right to have a traveling companion present during screening in the private screening area. But a piece published today over on American Thinker talked about how the TSA isn't even regularly following those rules, and even when they do that isn't necessarily all that reassuring. TSA procedures supposedly require that pat-down searches must be performed by persons of the same sex, and in privacy, although these principles are frequently violated. This basis for this rule is the belief that an intrusive search by a person of the same sex will necessarily be asexual, and therefore less offensive, than one performed by a person of the opposite sex -- an unsupportable presumption. What if the person being searched, or for that matter, the searcher, is homosexual? This is roughly equivalent to being searched by a member of the opposite sex, and for some individuals, it may have significant emotional implications. Having been forced to submit to pat-downs every flight, due to the presence of an artificial metallic hip joint, I can testify that a body search is quite unpleasant, especially when conducted in view of other travelers wondering if you were planning to hijack their flight. What's more, now that TSA officers are getting about as up close and personal as your friendly neighborhood gynocologist or proctologist, whether in person, or by viewing the images taken with the Naked Machine, couldn't that make a career in the TSA a very attractive option for sex offenders or pedophiles? What are the hiring standards for TSA officers anyway? Who are these guys (and gals) who are screening us? How does the TSA screen its prospective employees for a background of sexual perversion or sex crimes, for whom such a position might carry furtive attractions? Can there be any serious doubt that the prospect of looking at images of nude children, and engaging in the act of "feeling up" adults and children will attract sexual perverts to apply for TSA employment, which permits them to perform the same actions under color of the law that would land them in prison in virtually any other job? Apparently, the TSA rules for background checks for airport personnel do not even exclude a prior record of sexual crimes, with the exception of rape. According to the U.S. Code, sexual perverts, child molesters, or illegal aliens are still qualified for TSA employment. TSA has also cleared illegal aliens for flight training despite the experience of the 9/11 attacks, although none have made it to the cockpit of an airliner so far. One should never "misunderestimate" the competence of the bureaucracy when it comes to generation of mindless decisions. And then there's the inevitable new industry of airport pornography. Americans should also be concerned about invasion of their privacy by having images of their naked bodies disseminated rudely by TSA personnel. The appearance on the internet of nude body scans of "hot chicks," naked children, and curiously deformed adults is just a matter of time and human nature. The TSA claims that this is impossible, and that the agency will delete the raw images, but there is actually no law or regulation that prevents the agency from saving the original, detailed images, and it has already been done by the U.S. Marshal's service. It is important to understand that the initial image obtained is of much higher quality than those printed in the newspapers, and it may contain recognizable facial features that are only subsequently filtered out by the display algorithm. s it plausible that these filters will never be defeated by an employee and that airport scanner images of children will never be found later on child pornography sites? It's impossible to predict all of the effects these new procedures will have, but certainly it seems to be making some travelers re-think whether they will fly or find another mode of transportation rather than run the TSA's new scope-or-grope gauntlet just for the dubious privilege of flying what are becoming far-too-friendly airport skies. Executives from across the travel industry are meeting with DHS officials this week, so we'll wait to see if, for once, the free market can actually do what our government should be doing, which is protecting us without infringing on our 4th Amendment rights to privacy. Oh, and speaking of rights? Knowledge is power, and your most valuable asset in these situation is to know exactly what yours are, because the TSA folks sure as hell don't: Flying out of ELP last week, decided to opt out of the "cancer" machine and was told to wait. In a LOUD voice, first smurf "OPT OUT". I am then told to walk to the "pat down" area -- thru the NON WORKING metal detector. Why not just keep the detector on and have the passenger walk thru and then do a light pat down? Groping starts -- I was making some jokes about things moving up. Smurf asks "why did you chose to opt out?". I tell her that getting cancer is not very high on my priority list. Her response -- "These machines don't cause cancer." I just ignored her as a smartazz comment was on the tip of my tongue. But I chose to bit my tongue. Groper smurf asks me to remove my wallet and watch and place in tray. I oblige. He then finishes his groping and picks up the basket and starts to walk away. I ask him if I can follow him so I can keep "an eye on my belongings". He says loudly -- "NO, stay here". I said "If you decide to take my belongings out of my view, I will have to call a LEO [diarist's note: stands for Law Enforcement Officer] and press charges for theft. At that time, he puts down the basket and calls for a supervisor, saying loudly "that I am uncooperating". Supervisor comes over and stops approx 6 inches from my face and say "Do you want to fly today?" loudly. Asks again louder. At this point, I m getting a little pissed off. So, I tell her loudly to back up out of my space and tell her that she has ABSOLUTELY NO power to detain me and yes, I will fly today. I also tell her that I would like a LEO here now. So, she calls them and 3 LEOs show up. The smurf who gropes me says "Impeding search". I look at the officer and tell him that all I was asking for was to keep an "eye on my belongings". I wanted to watch him put it in the xray machine and wanted to retrieve it on the security side. The officer says that that is perfectly a legitimate request and sends the groper smurf along with another LEO to scan the wallet and watch.
In the meantime, the head LEO is explaining the procedures to me and I listen to him. After he is done, I explain to him that I complied with everything except the issue with the belongings. At that point, supervisor smurf starts telling the LEO that I got in her face and told her that she did not have the right to detain me. The LEO looks at me and asks if that was true. I said it was but after she was in my face asking "Do you want to fly today?". I even pointed to the cameras around and asked the supervisor to get the tape and replay the situation so the LEO can see how she invaded my personal space first. Now, the LEO starts to notice that I know my stuff and makes the proper decision. He tells the supervisor to back off and let me catch my flight. She starts to protest and he shuts her down by saying "This gentleman did not break any laws nor did he have anything illegal, so unless the TSA can show proof, they need to let me go." I gather my belongings, smile at the TSA staff that are looking at me THUNDERBOLTS in their eyes and be on my way. The LEO walks with me for a bit and when he is out of earshot, tells me "Son, you know your rights. They don't. Next time, just call us before things escalate and we will take care of it in the proper manner." And I did catch my flight -- on time. UPDATE: I meant to include a mention that a National Opt-Out Day is being organized to take place on Wednesday, November 24th, which is the day before Thanksgiving (aka The Busiest F*cking Travel Day of the Year). Cheers to Support Civil Liberty in the comments below for reminding me! Air travelers, mark your calendar. An activist opposed to the new invasive body scanners in use at airports around the country just designated Wednesday, Nov. 24 as a National Opt-Out Day. He’s encouraging airline passengers to decline the TSA’s technological strip searches en masse on that day as a protest against the scanners, and the new "enhanced pat-downs" inflicted on refuseniks. "The goal of National Opt Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change," reads the call-to-action at, set up by Brian Sodegren. "No naked body scanners, no government-approved groping. We have a right to privacy and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we’re guilty until proven innocent." More information is available over at the website:

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