Are you *really* committed to the fight against the TSA?

Nine months after the TSA implemented scope & grope, with years of other abuse prior, fliers are angry. Those of you here on this forum likely are (or were) frequent fliers who more than most others understand that the TSA will violate you without cause. The comments, and my inbox, are full of people describing their horror stories, their frustration, their embarassment.

Yet, here’s what’s really embarassing: for most people, even those here, the truth of the matter is, it’s all talk. I look around the Internet, and thread after thread, post after post, is a story of being violated by the TSA, not standing up against violations by the TSA. Nearly every story ends with the OP passing through security because after giving a TSA screener a “good, sound talking to,” they went ahead and did exactly what the TSA asked for. But don’t worry: they filled out a comment card.

It’s not just the “Internet community.” I went to the big protest in NYC last month, and one of the speakers, who works for an organization that protests the TSA, told the crowd how horrible his pat-down was before his flight to NY. How the TSA touched his “junk” four times. Maybe you didn’t have a chance to say “no” before the first time, but you didn’t know what was coming the second, third, and fourth? I pointed this out to him in front of the crowd, and he said it was worth it to be there talking to us, but you could see for a moment on his face that he realized that he was just as much a sheep as anyone else.

So where are our John Tyners? Our Andrea Abbotts? Our Sharon Cissnas? Our Michael Roberts? Where are the people who stood up and said “NO” and meant it?! Is your flight really that important? Is making your vacation today instead of tomorrow worth your dignity? Do you really think you’re going to lose your job for missing one flight? (Hint: if I were an employer [and I am] and my employee told me he missed a flight because it required him to be sexually assaulted, I’d be damn afraid to fire him in fear of lawsuit!)

My guess is that the above are our excuses, but the truth of the matter is that the real reason we failed to act is that we’re scared to stand up to our government. We get to the checkpoint and see the machines and the little blue uniforms, and we’re intimidated into compliance.

So I ask you: draw your own line in the sand. Decide what your commitment is, and decide it before your next flight. What you will not do under any circumstances, even if it causes you to miss your flight. I’ll go first.

I will not go through the TSA’s nude body scanners.

I will not let the TSA “touch my junk.”

I will not go into a private room.

I will not be told that I cannot video record at the checkpoint.

Maybe you have more: maybe you want to commit to not letting the TSA touch your children. Maybe you have less: maybe your fight is only the molestation pat down and the nude body scanners don’t really bother you.

But please, draw your own line, now, before you get to the checkpoint, and stick to it. Be a fighter, not a victim.


7 thoughts on “Are you *really* committed to the fight against the TSA?

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  1. Freedom to Travel USA, h t t p : / / fttusa. o r g. And no, I WILL NOT accept unwanted touching. I WILL NOT accept some anonymous Peeping Tom seeing naked pictures of me. I WILL NOT accept gratuitous radiation.

  2. Excellent post! I’ve been struggling with how far I will go, and what I can do besides armchair activism. I can abide by the four principles, but I can see how it can be problematic for others. I live overseas. How would I handle, say, a funeral in the US. My sister travels frequently for business, and I know she has a dilemma with this.

    I think the line in the sand can be both effective and practical as well as forgiving for situations where we can’t be ‘dudes’ and abide.

    Last, I’ve been floating the idea of singling out one airline. If, for example, Delta were to be ‘randomly selected’ and boycotted, I believe their lobbyists would be singing even louder in Washington. Congress does not seem to be listening to us — I believe they are accustomed to listening to large corporations. Any feedback on the 1-Airline approach welcome.

  3. I am committed. While I agree with Thoreau that “it is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him;” I nevertheless consider the current situation too gross an infringement on my own personal domain to be borne.

    When returning from DC earlier this year – returning from a political demonstration, no less – I tried to avoid the millimeter-wave scanners at my checkpoint at Reagan National Airport (DCA). I had chosen it as nearby my destination and with a good chance of getting through with only the normal metal detectors, as long as I paid attention and timed it right. No joy. They rerouted my line to a MMW when I was nearly at the front. I declined, was routed through the metal detector and then on to a pat down station. I again declined, and a supervisor was called over. A few minutes later the total response included three uniformed TSA agents, five TSA suits, and five Virginia State police officers.

    It was explained to me that I may not be able to fly if I did not cooperate. They asked if I had any alternative travel plans – I said no. They asked why I was declining. I said that I was not willing to be imaged naked or to have my genitals touched, with anything, through clothing or otherwise. They said that by entering the checkpoint I had started the process, and that now I could not simply decline and walk away. I simply repeated that I would not consent to either procedure. They said that I may be subject to civil penalties if I stopped in the middle of the process (I knew this to be correct: a $10,000 fine. I also knew it had never been used against anyone to date). I played the broken record again: “I won’t consent to either procedure.” One of the local police officers asked for my driver’s license, full name, street address and phone number, saying that they were going to run a criminal records check. He returned the license a few minutes later and told one of the TSA suits that the check came back clean. The senior TSA suit asked me one more time if I really wanted to decline the process and not fly. I said no, I DID want to fly, but that I would not consent to either procedure. She said that I could collect my carry-on and the personal items I had removed for the metal detector. I did, and then she and the police officers escorted me around to the exit aisle of the checkpoint. They did not follow me out of the airport.

    I caught a cab, returned to my hotel, and had breakfast. I searched for alternatives on my laptop and inquired about local transportation at the front desk. I called Alaska Airlines to tell them I wouldn’t be on my upcoming flight, and that I needed to fly out of BWI later in the day instead. An hour later I was on a train ($50) to Baltimore for a flight out of gate C – the only gate in a major nearby airport with none of the new scanners whatsoever. I got home to Walla Walla, WA on the same flight I had originally been planning on. Alaska Airlines was great about it, but it still cost extra ($550) for the replacement leg: it was only a code-share and not actually their plane.

    I had thought my decision and its repercussions over carefully before the trip. I had thought through what language I would use if I was unable to avoid the new scanners, what my behavior would be, and all the things that I would NOT say or do. I had prepared to make an audio recording of the incident, although I was trying to avoid one. To that end I had checked the recording laws in the state of Virginia – a one-party state, so I was legally okay. In the event I had forgotten to start the recording, and afterwards it was apparent to me that I wouldn’t have gotten much of interest anyway. My recording device was too far away from me at the time, and there was a lot of ambient noise. My experience went smoothly, with no raised voices, physical posturing on either side, or even any inappropriate threats or legal posturing on the part of the agents, administrators or officers, the one exception being when they stated that I could not stop part-way through the process. The nicest person there was one of the police officers, who tried to act as a mediator and convince me to let the process continue so that I could catch my flight. He asked if there was any part of the process that they could modify so that it avoided my concerns. I said yes, if they would not reach inside the waistline of my pants and would stop the leg frisk before they “met resistance” that I would undergo a pat-down. The TSA agent, however, said that such a concession could not be made.

    The process was civil, quick, and – except for the cost and inconvenience of it all – painless for me largely because my behavior and language, though insistent, was passive and calm at all times. I did not mention any political or principled motivations, I did not impugn the agents, administrators, or officers, and I did not contradict anything they said, even if I knew it to be misleading or false. I actually avoided responding to their questions and statements as put to me, almost entirely, by responding with the “I won’t consent to either procedure” line whenever possible. Only on a couple occasions was any other answer required for cooperation or civility – rather like the wise policy of responding “no comment” to any question in a police interview.

    Next time – if there is one – I may choose to speak or behave differently. But I wanted the first time to be a smooth as possible and I wanted to be absolutely blameless if any inappropriate action was taken against me. Because of the expense and inconvenience incurred I will not be chancing it at any scanner checkpoints in the future if I can reasonably avoid it. I am driving three hours each way to an airport without scanners this Thanksgiving, just to avoid the scans and pat-downs for myself and my three-year-old son. That is why I would love to see your injunction succeed. It is exactly what one needs these days to protect their right to travel – for personal, political, or business reasons – by means of common conveyance without forfeiting reasonable security in their persons, papers and property.

    The most chilling sight of the day? Seeing the all-too-familiar TSA uniforms roaming around the train station when I boarded my train to BWI. How long until all transportation carries the risk of naked imaging and genital contact?

  4. I have drawn my line in the sand some time ago. I will only fly when necessary and when I do I will not allow naked body scanning, I will not accept being radiated, I will not allow a pat down that touches any private area’s, I will not allow a pat down without a witness of my choice (usually one of my family members) and I will not accept anyone touching me unless they put on clean gloves in front of me. I would like nothing more that to see you succeed. Good Luck!

  5. I’m on board with you, Jon Corbett. I’ve already walked my talk with a 24-hour drive going to and from Las Vegas – 12 hours each way. For those of you who don’t know this, Las Vegas McCarran Airport has only nude scanners – there are no metal detectors and no other choices except the sexual assault.

  6. As a cancer patient who has had extensive pelvic radiation, it’s not just the nudity about these scanners that is disturbing. Even medical personnel make mistakes with radiation equipment. These machines are operated by people who have high school diplomas OR a GED.. or experience as a security guard. My oncologist told me that HE doesn’t go through the machines.

    Just refusing to fly is not the solution.

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