Is That A Gun, Or Are Your Just Happy To See Me?

I say a sign the other day at the airport that full-body millimeter-wave imaging was coming soon to the Phoenix airport.  I guess this was pretty inevitable, and has certainly been predicted in many movies, including Total Recall:

I can't really decide if this is any more invasive and humiliating than what we already do, ie get undressed, put our medications and creams in clear plastic bags for all to inspect, and subject ourselves to full-body pat downs.  For my part, based on this and numerous other humiliations, I am working as hard as I can to minimize how often I fly.  JD Tuccille has more, and observes that body cavity searches aren't just for airplanes any more:

If you think that air travel is starting to resemble a very-expensive
East Germany-nostalgia tour and you'd prefer a less-intrusive
alternative, you might consider traveling by train. Well, except, not
on Amtrak, which implemented random bag searches, armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs earlier this year.

Even local travel is iffy, since New York City has been subjecting subway passengers to annoying searches for the past three years. Los Angeles's MetroLink implemented a similar policy this week, apparently just so officials there wouldn't feel left out. Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell told the Los Angeles Times

As a postscript, I had a meeting the other day with the National Park Service in Denver.  To get inside - remember this is the park service, no other agency shares this building - I had to give up my driver's license, have all my bags searched, and go through an X-ray machine.  Does anyone think that maybe we have lost some perspective when I have to go through full-on invasive security to discuss merchandising at a gift shop?


  1. Dude:

    Before we even begin considering if millimeter-wave scanning is more or less invasive or humiliating or dehumanizing than the status quo we have to assume that it will replace the current system, and not just augment it. I'd be surprised if these new devices were put in place and I was allowed to leave all my batteries and toothpaste and nail clippers and such in my carry-on like we did in the good old days of the 90s. (I don't think I'll ever have another opportunity to refer to the 90's as the good old days as long as I live.) Far be it from a bureaucratic fiefdom like the TSA to voluntarily surrender some of it's functions.

  2. David:

    Yet another reason to prefer private transportation to mass transportation (aside from the cost, incredible subsidies, inconvenience, crowds, politics...)

  3. jsalvati:

    Even if someone wanted to argue that it wasn't invasive, they could never argue that it's at all cost effective.

  4. Allen:

    Was it out at the Federal Center in Lakewood? Maybe all the buildings in the Fed Center itself do this?

  5. Ari Herzog:

    The federal government is typically more sensitive to security than state and local levels.

    I used to work for a Massachusetts state agency and our building's security consisted of baggage conveyer belts and walk-through X-ray machines for visitors; but mere passes for staff.

    On the other hand, whenever I attended meetings in Boston's Federal Reserve Bank, the x-ray belts and machines were for everyone; the Fed staff were so sensitive that if an employee went outside to smoke, they had to walk through the machine before heading back to their office. If an employee went out for coffee, the coffee had to be placed on the moving belt to ensure it wasn't hazardous.

  6. Dr. T:

    We lost our perspective on security before the rubble finished settling in NYC on 9/11/01. All previous airline hijackings were political, so the crew and passengers followed the standard policy of passive cooperation. As soon as we knew the score, passive cooperation ended immediately.

    Imagine this scenario today: Two passengers on an airliner grab two stewardesses, hold razor sharp plastic knives to their throats, and announce that they will kill the women if they aren't let into the cockpit. What do you think will happen? All the passengers sit like scared sheep. OR Some of the passengers grab the hijackers and beat the shit out of them. I have no doubt that the latter choice is correct. Therefore, I believe we should drop back to the airport security practices of 1970: check the bags for bombs and make sure no bags get on a plane without the owner being on the plane. That's it. I don't care if my fellow airline passengers have nail clippers, scissors, knitting needles, jackknives, a 20 oz soda, or a 6 oz cup of Jello dessert. If a potential hijacker has a knife, well, so will many of the good passengers. If someone tries to create a liquid bomb to blow a hole in the jet, I'm sure other passengers will stop him (as they did with the shoe bomber).

    I don't require any more security on an airliner than I do on a crowded sidewalk in Manhattan. I don't demand that all people within a block of me get identified, questioned, scanned for metal objects, forced to put bags and coats through x-ray scanners, etc. Demanding all this to fly on a plane seems bizarre.

  7. Corky Boyd:

    I had the same feeling in mid August and the first week in September 2001 when I made two round trips between Detroit and Fort Myers, FL. We hadn't had a hijacking in years. We now had scheduled flights between the US and Havana. This was the safety valve. The crazies could reserve a flight and live in peace in the People's Paradise. They didn't have to hijack one. Yet security seemed heavier than in the days of te black panthers and the weather undrgeround. Time to ease off, I thought.

    Four days after I returned, a friend called. She was hysterical. "Turn on the TV." "What's happened?" "Just turn it on". The outline of a banking plane on the smoking WTC building told me this was this was no accident.

    I will never complain about lines, hassles, pat downs, shoe searches again or millimeter wave backscatter radar. How soon we forget.

  8. Dan:

    Among the most egregious searches I've ever been subject to was at the Statue of Liberty, which I took my wife and kids to earlier this month. We went through not one, but two, security checks, including one in which puffs of air were blown at us. This really freaked out one of my kids, and basically ruined his whole visit (he is pretty sensitive, I admit).

    As I was being frisked and having my bags checked, I wondered if this was really appropriate at what is supposed to be the symbol of U.S. freedom and liberty. I understand that there have been threats against the statue, so I see a need for some precautions, but I think they've gone too far.

    In addition, you can't go to the top of the statue anymore - only to the top of the pedastal. I asked a security guard the reason and he said it's not security - it's fire code. They're worried people will get stuck up there in a fire and not be able to get down the winding stairs. My thought on this is unprintable on a family blog. I think they're really just worried about liability if some out-of-shape person has a heart attack climbing to the top. So thank the lawyers and insurance companies for that little rule.