Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Terrorized by the TSA
The United States is land where all are created equal and all, in theory, should be subjected to the same airport searches and screenings regardless to race or religion. Many believe that racial profiling shouldn’t be used as a means to identify people for screenings or detentions. In an effort to avoid law suits and bad press the TSA agents are supposed to randomly choose individual travelers for increased security measures such as bag inspections and pat downs. As a long time frequent traveler I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that in my experience there is nothing random about who is chosen for these increased screenings but race and religion has nothing to do with who is chosen.
The new full body screenings are just the latest in a long, nine-plus year battle I have with airport security. Beginning shortly after 9/11 I spent every Thursday afternoon receiving a full-body pat down at the Philadelphia airport, including a bra strap and wire inspection, for my weekly flight back to Minneapolis. Even at that time of heightened security and fear when it was typical to wait in over a two hour line to clear security, only a small number of people were plucked out of line for this extra special treatment. Statistically speaking, I broke the odds week after week with what we started jokingly referring too as my Thursday massage appointment.
In the past 3 weeks I was “randomly” chosen to pass through the new full body scanners 4 times out of 4 trips through security. On the fourth time, this past Sunday in Minneapolis, I finally declined. When asked why I declined I referred to reports on groups recommending pilots bypass this technology because of increased radiation and privacy concerns. The response from the TSA agent was of disgust, calling newspapers and reporters “liars who are threatening national security.” I was then escorted for a 15 minute pat down, bypassing not only the full body scan, but also the metal detector. I don’t know if this is standard operating procedure when opting out of the scan, but somehow I didn’t feel any safer knowing that a body pat-down was used INSTEAD of a metal detector, not in addition to one.
The type of attention I get from security is so frequent there is no way it can be random begging the question; am I being profiled. I am not a Muslim man, or a religious zealot, or even in any way shifty. There is nothing about me that screams “suspicious” or “security threat.” I am a tall and curvy blonde with big blue eyes and an even bigger smile who has been informed by friends and strangers alike of her above-average looks. Others have noticed the frequency of my special security “perks” so this isn’t a matter of paranoia; I am purposely being selected for additional screenings.
As the polar opposite of those who typically try to blow up planes, am I being used to offset any racial profiling being employed at checkpoints? “Look here, how can you accuse us of racial profiling? We just strip searched the Nordic girl next door!” Or do agents “randomly” select people based upon their preference to look at unclothed images of and pat-down people with some personal appeal? Or do they just want to cop a feel to settle a bet whether my chest is real or not? Whatever the reason, I am the continued victim of government approved harassment as I traverse our nation and the globe. What recourse do I have? None. If I want to see my family or keep my job I have to fly. The TSA made it very clear that if you want to fly the friendly skies you need to put up with some procedures that we normally leave to only those who are more than just friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the airplane I am in blowing up in midair, but this process is not making me feel any safer. Airports worldwide use personality screenings and profiling to make more educated choices on who deserves some extra special love and attention from security personnel. Yet here we are in the USA, watching the TSA frisk four year olds. Have we let fear and stupidity blur common sense? In our effort to protect the rights of those who look like a threat we are in turn threatening the rights and security of everyone? I don't know what the right answer is, I just know it's impossible to feel protected from terrorists when watching several suspicious looking men breeze through security as I have a pair of gloved hands down the waistband of my pants.