There was a time in my life when i would have been excited about being felt up by a random stranger in an airport. Of course, the context of my fantasy involved a cute international 20-something and a mutual understanding. When that very thing really happened this afternoon, it was anything but consensual and nothing like the experience i had imagined. I was given the opportunity to be escorted to a less public place, but i declined and stated that i would rather show the rest of the travelers what they could expect if they exercised their civil liberties. As i stood at the exit of the airport security checkpoint, other travelers passed by and watched a surprisingly pleasant agent gently pat me down. The most remarkable aspect of the experience was the striking similarity between the pat-down procedure to which i was subjected and that used in law enforcement. I struggle to see what probable cause any air travel passenger might ever exhibit that would substantiate this level of scrutiny, short of maybe wearing a T-shirt that says “in all seriousness, i plan to do you harm.”
I’m pretty sure i brought the experience on myself. I wasn’t paying attention when i was walking through security, and i found myself looking for the shortest line, not the shortest line that fed into a non-invasive scanner. As a result, by the time i realized that my lane was feeding directly into the Porn-O-Matic, it was already too late to shift to a different lane. There was a brief moment when i thought i might have an opportunity to choose the metal detector, say if the scanner was occupied, but when the moment of truth came, the path was clear and only one choice presented itself – my naked ass recorded for all time in striking clarity (along with potentially harmful radiation) or a police-style pat down.
What i find most ridiculous about this security measure is the simple fact that they don’t have enough scanners yet. Since they do have enough metal detectors, they are funneling people through both devices arbitrarily based on the layout of the queues feeding the scanning stations. That means any possible benefit there might be involved with the new scanner technology is mitigated by the logistics of pushing a lot of people through a bottleneck. It is possible they hope to do something like random screenings, but based on the layout I saw, it looks like they are hoping to funnel everyone through the scanner eventually. Until then, they are offering no better odds of improving security than random chance. I would prefer that my tax money be spent on a system that produces measurable results with clear advantages over existing solutions and no harmful side-effects or not spent at all.
Also, given the fact that this technology uses X-Ray radiation, I’m naturally skeptical of the claims that the device is harmless. Cumulative effects of long-term exposure to X-Ray radiation are still largely unknown, and I am not interested in finding out those effects if there is an alternative. It seems obvious to me that not being exposed is the best way to prevent ill effects. It also seems obvious that this security measure is doing nothing to reduce risk and only serves to add to the stress of traveling.