Naked Truth

Are travelers happy to bare all in the name of homeland security?

According to the Transportation Security Administration, Americans have no problem with the new airport screening procedures. So they should stop complaining.

That self-contradictory reassurance, which would be unnecessary if it were true, seemed slightly more plausible after chaos failed to ensue from protests by Thanksgiving travelers who refused to walk through the TSA's full-body scanners last week. But there are reasons to question the TSA's portrait of placid passengers happily baring all for the sake of homeland security.

First of all, the TSA's numbers are fishy. It typically compares the number of passengers who opted for a pat-down instead of a full-body scan to the total number of travelers passing through the same airport that day—for example,  "39 total AIT [advanced imaging technology] opt outs…out of 47,000 fliers" at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on the day before Thanksgiving or "113 AIT opt outs across LAX's 8 terminals, which is less than 1 percent of the approximately 50,000 travelers screened."

But to opt out, you have to be presented with a choice between revealing yourself to the TSA and letting an agent feel you up, and it seems most travelers never got that choice. Fewer than 400 of a planned 1,000 machines have been installed at airports so far, and they are used sporadically. Even when they're used, passengers do not necessarily know what they are walking through or that they have a right to request a pat-down instead.

"For most travelers through Newark Liberty International Airport," the Newark Star-Ledger reports, "the choice between a full-body scan and an aggressive pat-down was strictly academic. The half-dozen scanners now operational at Newark Liberty were largely idle during Opt Out Day—and for much of the Thanksgiving holiday before and afterward—depriving passengers of the opportunity to opt out even if they had wanted to."

CBS News reports that at Reagan National Airport, "Only occasionally were passengers routed to body scanners. The vast majority went through metal detectors only." Furthermore, the machines "were not labeled as 'body scanners,' nor were there any images posted by or on them showing what they do. Several seasoned travelers told us they didn't realize they were in a body scanner until they were asked to raise their arms." In any case, "no opt-out choices were presented." Yet "your consent is presumed if you walk into the machine without objecting."

In these circumstances, the TSA's claim that 99 percent of passengers "consent" to full-body scans is less impressive. Still, it is not surprising that most people would choose showing their bodies to a TSA agent they cannot see over letting one get up close and personal, which is a more conspicuous, embarrassing, and degrading experience. That does not mean they're fine with the scoping, only that the groping is worse.

The TSA likes to cite a CBS poll conducted a few weeks ago that found 81 percent of Americans support the new scanners. But the pollsters did not mention that the scanners reveal passengers' naked bodies. Not surprisingly, polls that allude to this fact tend to find less support for the machines. A Gallup poll conducted a few days before Thanksgiving found that 42 percent of fliers object to the scanners, while a Zogby poll conducted around the same time found that 61 percent of likely voters oppose the TSA's new procedures.

As more scanners are installed and virtual strip searches become routine, opposition may increase. Then again, Americans have a history, at airports and elsewhere, of getting used to invasions of privacy and infringements of liberty justified in the name of public safety. Requirements that once seemed objectionable—from surrendering your pocket tools and beverages to taking off your shoes, from mandatory seat belt laws to DUI roadblocks, from divulging your Social Security number to showing your papers, from letting police dogs sniff your stuff to signing a registry when you buy allergy medicine—have a way of becoming the new normal.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2010 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Daniel||

    Please... can't take any more screeching about the TSA. Make it stop.

  • No||

    It's like Nancy Grace with a missing baybee. The beast cannot be killed. Not with earthly weapons...

  • Hundocumented||

    Class. The next time we meet, please bring your thoughts on this statement...
    "Never mind the man behind the curtain!"

  • Annapolis2||

    I'll happily stop screeching when John Pistole gets his lecherous hands out of my panties and quits taking naked pictures of our children.

  • Daniel||

    There are actually other screechable topics

  • Fat Crack Ho||

    Ah, the soft, sweet sound of acceptance . . .

  • Daniel||

    Also, if going through the TSA is tantamount to groping, and you voluntarily pay to send your children through... what does that make you?

  • jasno||

    a loyal citizen?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Caption Contest:

    "Wow. Pussy Galore has really let herself go."

  • Hundocumented||

    (the image on the right)
    "Why So Serious?!"

  • Almanian||

    Hi, my name is Pat. Pat from Saturday Night Live...

  • ||

    I see far worse than that at the beach.

  • Steve Smith||

    STEVE LIKE PUSSY GALORE. STEVE LIKE NOT HAVING BATH FOR WEEKS AND ASKING FOR TSA PAT DOWN. STEVE LIKE TSA. STEVE WANTS TO RAPE TSA.

  • jasno||

    Wait... isn't STEVE now a TSA inspector?

  • Ragnar||

    Its not about the scanner machine. Its not about the groping.

    Its about the 4th Amendment and being treated like a suspect without any evidence.

  • No||

    We get it. We get it.

  • Hundocumented||

    to know and not to do is not to know

  • Daniel||

    They're groping the 4th amendment's wife and child?! How dare they!

  • Daniel||

    Stuff like this goes on all the time. This is the only one getting all the attention

  • Cr33pyCr4wl3r||

    where do yoo live i need to move ther

  • Daniel||

    I live in a place that violates the constitution regular basis

  • Daniel||

    Missing a couple of words.. oops

  • Cr33pyCr4wl3r||

    no.. missin direkshuns. plees inclood in next post.

  • sarcasmic||

    What 4th Amendment?

    I shall post the Constitution in its entirety:

    general welfare ... regulate commerce ... necessary and proper

    That's it. The whole thing.

    There is no 4th Amendment.

  • YourRepresentative||

    ...don't forget the "Good and Plenty" clause...

  • GMT II||

    Man, you mean the Constitution also gives us licorice candy? Since the candy is all white and pink, it must mean the Constituion is a platform for racists.

  • Laime Stream Media||

    "RACIST!" (quickly turning head)

  • ||

    ""...don't forget the "Good and Plenty" clause...""

    Your Good and Plenty rations will be increased from once a week to three times a month.

  • Spooky Dude||

    ...but first a controlled decline of your
    little candies...

  • ||

    Can I get extra Soma rations instead?

  • ||

    Soma rations will be increase from once a day to 15 a month.

  • CatoTheElder||

    It seems like you're still suffering from the delusion that the Bill of Rights still poses constraints on government power.

    It's long past time to face facts: the Bill of Rights is a dead letter.

    The whole idea of "living Constitution" has in fact killed the Constitution.

  • sarcasmic||

    Wasn't that the idea?

  • ||

    It was difficult opting out on the Busiest Travel Day of the Year because all the neked machines were shut off. Fastest I've gone through security in years!

    Flew out this week, and it took 20 minutes since they turned the machines back on.

  • CatoTheElder||

    I had the same experience in DFW and LAS the week earlier. Metal detectors only; no sniffers, scanners, or gropers.

  • ||

    Maybe it's already been addressed, but do airport staff have to go through these scanners? You know, the people who work in the Burger King between the security checkpoint and the gates? Or what about baggage attendants, or the plane servicemen?

    It seems like it would be pretty easy for someone to get a job, work there for 6 months, a year, 2 years or whatever, and then just plant a few dozen explosives throughout the airport after they are trusted employees and waved on through.

  • jasno||

    Already covered elsewhere, but, no, the people, at least the ones servicing the planes and handling baggage, do not have to go through security. They pass a background check. That's it.

  • ||

    "Requirements that once seemed objectionable—from surrendering your pocket tools and beverages to taking off your shoes, from mandatory seat belt laws to DUI roadblocks, from divulging your Social Security number to showing your papers, from letting police dogs sniff your stuff to signing a registry when you buy allergy medicine..."

    In other words, libertarianism remains largely ineffectual against statism.

    Have a nice day!

  • Montani Semper Liberi||

    I got into a rather heated argument with the in-laws over the holiday because I had the audacity to claim that DUI checkpoints and setting the drunk driving limit at 0.08 BAC for everyone had more to do with generating revenue for the municipality than actually preventing drunk driving deaths. People really are gullible.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    IT'S FOR THE FREAKIN' CHILDREN!

  • Erin Viral||

    NO, IT'S FOR THE FREAKIN' WHALES! KILL THE CHILDREN!

  • Almanian||

    IF YOU DON'T DO ANYTHING WRONG, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT!

  • O The Bama||

    "I'm Shocked! Shocked to find groping stupidly going on here!"

  • TSA||

    Manus Semper Liberi!;)
    Best Prices and Amazing Selection of Lovingly Acquired Nail Clipping Tools.
    TSA.gov/checkmyjunk

  • Rhywun||

    Wait till things get really dire in your state. Here in NY, lawmakers are now so desperate for dollars a few of them don't even try to hide the money-grabs behind "health" or "safety" anymore.

  • Po Leece||

    ...your honor suspect was found importing
    a controlled substance. We found fifteen salt packets concealed under the driver's
    side seat and in glove compartment.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Mostly associated with fast food bags, which I think triggers a mandatory maximum sentence...

  • ||

    This is even more evident by the highly selective enforcement. Were they to strictly and uniformly enforce 0.08 on all drivers roughly 35% would end up arrested, with females (because of their generally smaller body mass) heavily over represented.

    One such episode would cause people to rise as one to restore sanity to these laws. Instead, selective enforcement keeps the number at a point where for most people it happens to someone else.

  • Foster Brooks||

    (while reading slur the words)
    But I like my females heavily over represented!

  • buy gold||

    recently, as the world of warcraft becomes more and more popular, each player wants to get the large amounts of wow gold to advance the game level in short times. many players choose to buy gold wow online. But where can the players buy gold safely?

  • ||

    Is the World of Warcraft becoming more popular recently? I thought it had peaked a few years ago and was now just riding the nerd cult wave.

  • Hooha||

    It's not riding jack. Activision is actively killing it by robbing it of any sense of individuality or achievement.

    For the gamers in the Reason audience, I suggest actually clicking on one of those Eve ads all over the place. That's how I support reason :p

  • Tim||

    Unlike the image shown, TSA has never actually apprehended a gun wielding terrorist at an airport checkpoint.

  • TSA||

    Best Prices and Amazing Selection of Nail Clipping Tools. TSA.gov/checkmyjunk

  • ||

    Ever wonder why all the images accompanying TSA stories are fake TSA images?

  • Maryland Courthouse Worker||

    I wuz punked by BMI agin!

  • kinnath||

    I believe this scan is real. From what I recall, a fairly high-up manager at TSA was doing a demonstration for "important people" to show that concealed weapons were very easy to see in the scans. And this lady was extremely pissed when her scan made it out into the wild -- it was a violation of her privacy.

  • 0x90||

    It's Napolitano. Before the weight gain. And the sex change.

  • Janet||

    That's Mr. Napolitano!

  • TMLutas||

    That's not entirely true. I'm reliably informed that they did apprehend a State Department protective detail guy on his way to Central Asia.

    He had several weapons with ammunition.

    They confiscated his nail clipper.

  • ||

    so their metal detectors don't reveal guns?

  • Tim||

    BTW:
    Not exactly a bond girl is she?

  • sarcasmic||

    I wonder how long before the nudie scan of Fergie goes viral?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvs.....z16oQbSznE

  • TSA||

    I Got Mine!;)
    Best Prices and Amazing Selection of Slightly Used Toe Nail Tools. TSA.gov/checkmyjunk

  • ||

    2nd pic in the article: Her latest dance routine on display for those behind her in line?

  • ||

    Please tell me the radiation from those scanners can destroy vocal cords...

  • Nipplemancer||

    i liked her when she was on Kids Incorporated with Jennifer Love Hewitt and the dude from the Monster Squad.

  • ||

    Wait... so paying passengers have to go through all this shit, but any moron with camera claiming to be a member of the press/papparazzi can stroll this close to security and snap pictures of the process?

    Freedom of press my ass

  • noyuo||

    " the TSA's portrait of placid passengers happily baring all for the sake of homeland security"

    heheheh I thought you wrote "flacid" heheheheh

  • ||

    What Trembling Fools They Are

    A silent spring, I’ve never heard,
    DDT didn’t kill my bird.
    The population bomb has proved a dud,
    It’s just not so, my favorites bud.
    Where’s the swarm of killer bees,
    The forest with depleted trees?
    Skies were blue - they still are,
    Peak oil - I use it in my car.
    Polar icecaps just won’t melt,
    That’s a lie that Al Gore dealt.
    My skivvies in disarray,
    I’ve been fingered by mo-TSA.
    As a child beneath my desk,
    Escaping that Atomic death,
    A white-hot flash that never came,
    I’m pining for that cleansing flame.
    For fear of something real,
    Not just a panic-driven zeal,
    Oh, what trembling fools they are,
    That sold my freedoms for a lie.

  • Government Motors||

    ...that sold my freedoms for an electric car. (it rhymes better)

  • G. Naad||

    (nashing of teeth) Hey, you forgot heterosexual HIV!

  • Almanian||

    But enough about the TSA.

    Do you know the Moooslims are building a mosque in the White House built with debris from Ground Zero™ and held together with mortar created from the blood collected during female circumcisions??!!!!1

    And it's being funded by the Kochs.

    Not a peep from REASON....

  • Bramblyspam||

    The nudie scanners really don't bother me. It's just a body, everybody's got one, what's the big deal? Total strangers see me naked regularly, every time I change or shower at the gym.

    I'm far more bothered by the stinkin' nonsense with shoes, water bottles, swiss army knives and what-not. Heck, I'd love to at least get those dull cafeteria knives instead of plasticware with the airplane meals...

  • 0x90||

    "The nudie scanners really don't bother me."

    Well, then you should have the option of using them. And the privelege of personally paying for their purchase, upkeep, and operation. For an extra buck or two, we could throw in an I Voted-style sticker that says I Got Scanned, along with a special commemorative God Bless the TSA PowerBall ticket.

  • ||

    I agree, and when I first heard about the scanners and thought that they were being introduced as an optional, less-intrusive means to enforce already-in-place security procedures I didn't think it was a big deal.

    However, the fact that 1.) the scanners were introduced to implement NEW procedures which have been generally recognized as entirely ineffective; and 2.) people who opt out are essentially being punished by being subject to equally ineffective but more obtrusive pat-downs; really pisses me off.

    As is often the case, it takes something with a sexual tinge (in this case, nudie pics) to awaken the public to a privacy/civil rights issue that's been going on for, what, ten years now.

  • ||

    Privacy? Don't make me laugh, we gave that up years ago.

  • ||

    Of course people don't object. The risk/cost is too high.

    Object, and you're going to get groped, but that's the least of your worries.
    Object to the groping, and you're a "domestic extremist", the new euphemism for "suspected terrorist". TSA can literally hold you for as long as they care to.

    You might miss your flight, which is not the same as missing the 7:42 bus to midtown.

    • There might not be another seat available on another flight.
    • The ticket likely cost you a couple hundred bucks - good luck getting reimbursed by TSA for that.
    • You're likely traveling with somebody (spouse, business associate) who is inconvenienced by your absence, or worse, is implicated by association with you. When traveling with a group, the peer pressure to just go along with the program is immense (unless it's a group of libertarians, I suppose).

    Then, there's something at the other end of the flight you're missing.

    • Maybe you spent a couple grand on a vacation, but you're in the TSA glass box instead.
    • Maybe you don't get home for your kid's birthday, or to pick up the dogs from the kennel.
    • Maybe you lose a business deal because you missed the meeting with the client.

    At least when dealing with regular police on the street, you have some hope that they know the law, and they know the rules about detaining somebody without cause (although, from what I've read on H&R, that's a lot closer to a 50/50 prospect than I'd like). TSA agents are apparently beyond scrutiny. And they don't even know their own rules.

    That's the bigger deal here. People don't just go along with the enhanced screenings because they don't mind. They do it because the punitive costs are extraordinarily high.

  • H. Reid||

    Today was a great day in America. Only 36,000 Americans received extraordinarily
    high punitive costs while traveling across our great country. In Nevada, unemployment has dropped to a new low... 13 1/2%...

  • The truth sucks||

    You've nailed it WildBill. I'm very opposed to the new procedures (and not very fond of the old) but what am I really supposed to do when traveling for work or with family?

    Our libertarian hero, Mr. "touch my junk and I'll have you arrested", left his dad hanging. Did his dad go on and fly without him? Did his dad also leave the airport?

    I'm not going to take a chance of leaving my minor kids on one side of security while I'm on the other arguing about my rights.

    So as much as I hate the rules, the TSA has me by the short hairs (pun intended).

    My personal protest is limited to flying as little as possible (usually one or two times a year) and driving my carbon-spewing pickup for anything less than 500~600 miles.

  • Not Tony||

    I've stopped commercial, public flying in my family until the law is changed. We either drive, or fly private (much more expensive, but hey, as Reason likes to say "free minds are not free").

  • ||

    I believe this scan is real. From what I recall, a fairly high-up manager at TSA was doing a demonstration for "important people" to show that concealed weapons were very easy to see in the scans.

    And, of course, concealed weapons are very easy to find with much less intrusive weapons.

    What we need to see is someone wearing a replica of the underwear bomb. Unless that's so obvious a bored high school dropout can pick it up every time, then these are useless for their declared purpose.

  • Dave||

    I was just looking at flights for a friend from Oklahoma City to Memphis - almost $800 round trip. It wasn't that long ago, I could fly round trip to Europe for that kind of money, domestic flights were less than $200. And what does that $600 increase buy me? Long lines, rude people, overbooked and overcrowded aircraft with too small of seats, and I can choose to either be the star of my own personal TSA porn movie or get groped by a TSA agent, and even then they won't find the bomb in Abdul's underwear so it's all just a moot point anyway. It's all redefining fear of flying so that it's less about the possibility that the plane might crash and more about the probability your TSA video will be the most popular (or least popular, depending) video of the day on YouTube (or one of its porn equivalents).

    Not to mention the connections suck so bad anymore that it's not really that much faster to fly. This is why I drive everywhere I go - it's just not worth the hassle.

  • ||

    ""I was just looking at flights for a friend from Oklahoma City to Memphis - almost $800 round trip.""

    At first I thought no way. But I went to Cheapflights.com and sure enough, if you were to book a flight for today for a one week stay, $845. For next week was 600 something, but if you book it a month in advance, $257.

  • Bramblyspam||

    The nudie scanners really don't bother me. It's just a body, everybody's got one, what's the big deal? Total strangers see me naked regularly, every time I change or shower at the gym.

    I'm far more bothered by the stinkin' nonsense with shoes, water bottles, swiss army knives and what-not. Heck, I'd love to at least get those dull cafeteria knives instead of plasticware with the airplane meals...

  • Bramblyspam||

    Blah, double post. Ignore, delete, whatever. Sorry folks.

  • ||

    who wants to see fat people, like most are, in or out of clothes. get over ur fat selves already...

  • TMLutas||

    I wonder if the TSA advertises for job openings at "chubby" porn sites.

  • cynical bastard||

    No, they advertize on pizza boxes and at gas stations. Note "X-ray vision"

  • Hundocumented||

    i like the part about... "Paid, ongoing Training"
    you stick your right leg in, you stick your right leg out, you do the T. S. A. and you shake it all about.

  • ||

    When the Sex Pistols first came to America in 1978 the Airport Security wanted to strip-search the band. Fortunately for them they tried to search Sid Vicious first and he hadn't bathed in over a week. Security was so disgusted they changed their minds. Maybe the rest of us shouldn't bathe the week before flying.

  • Nobody saw this coming||

  • shiroi neko||

    no i'm not.

    hate it.

  • Gary Gaddy||

    TSA gropes to balance traveler safety and satisfaction
    http://garygaddy.tripod.com/bl.....m=20101126

  • nike shoes UK||

    is good

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