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A well done plea

National Opt-Out Day
To JetBlue: My dignity, my rights, your bottom line

I just had to share these.  The top link I actually got from Adam Savage (of Mythbusters) via his Twitter feed.  The bottom link/video I got to from National Opt-Out Day’s site.  I recently blogged about my frustration with the TSA and all the trouble I had going through their checkpoints.  My problems mainly stemmed from annoyances with how long the procedures took and all the limitations about what I could carry, as well as for being singled out because I was wearing cargo pants.  While I was annoyed about being sent through the full body scan, I didn’t really think about the violation to my privacy.  At the time, that being my first flight in nearly 10 years, I was more scared than anything else.  I just wanted to make sure I got on my plane in time; my biggest fear was that I was going to miss my flight to Chicago and then to Ireland (didn’t help that due to a volcanic ash cloud most flights had been grounded for nearly a week prior).

But what happened was a violation of privacy.  What was the TSA agent’s grounds for putting me through it?  I was wearing cargo pants and the metal detector didn’t go off.  Personally, I don’t believe I look like someone who would be carrying explosives or other items.  No sensors went off, no detectors beeped, no dogs barked, and no police officer of 25 years experience “got a bad feeling” about me.   Nope, it was because I was wearing cargo pants, and the decision was made by a guy younger than I am.

For me, I’m annoyed.  I do not like being assumed guilty until proven innocent; that is not how I’m treated by any other government law enforcement agency.  Even the police have to have a good reason; they can’t just pull people off the street and pat them down.  The police are also not above reproach.  If a police officer does pat me down for no good reason, I can go to his superiors and at worst pull him into court.  A police officer has power, yes, but the rules he/she has to follow are well known and documented, and if the officer doesn’t abide by them then the officer is answerable to the people.  The TSA, however, seem to make up its own rules up as they go, and as I discovered checkpoints in the same airport can operate under different rules, and the traveler is relatively powerless.  You do as they say, or you don’t get through.  There is no higher power to easily appeal to, and if you don’t behave you could be stranded and possibly even detained.

For the lady in the second link, she had what sounds like a full blown panic attack at the thought of going through security again.  Her reasons, from what I can tell, are quite valid.  She can either be viewed naked by a stranger she’ll never even see, or groped.  I didn’t know that was the other “option”.  I didn’t know that’s what I would have gotten if I opted out of the full body scan.  That’s.  Not.  Right.  Not for a regular traveler who should be presumed innocent first.  The TSA should not have the power to just grope or strip search anybody they choose without due cause and due process.

You would at least think that the people performing the scans and “enhanced pat downs” would be highly trained individuals, wouldn’t you?  I mean, think about it, anybody else who is allowed that kind of authority has months if not years of training, such as police officers, federal agents, nurses, doctors, teachers, etc.  You would think that there are extensive background checks, as well as training the new agents in interpersonal communications, self defense, laws and regulations, technology (so they know what to look for and what not to), how to look for drugs or other contraband, bomb detection and basic handling, etc.  These people are supposed to be stopping some of the worst elements society can dredge up as well as some of the smartest.  They are the people who should be able to spot the guy who has explosives rigged into his laptop as well as being able to stop him when he’s found out.

Well, the background checks are there.  A new agent will have their background screened thoroughly.  Beyond that, though, a new agent must have a high school diploma or GED.  They’ll receive around 56-72 hours (i.e. 1 to 2 weeks) of classroom training, and the rest of what they learn is on-the-job.  On average they’ll make anywhere from $24,432 to $36,648 annually depending on location.  But that’s it, that’s all the training they’ll receive.  To put it in perspective, a Starbuck’s barista (i.e. the guy behind the coffee counter) will receive at least 24 hours of special training. The training included classes on coffee history, drink preparation, coffee knowledge (four hours), customer service (four hours), and retail skills, plus a four-hour workshop called “Brewing the Perfect Cup.” If you are a manager, management trainees attend classes for 8 to 12 weeks.  All that for making and pouring coffee, and on average they should be dealing with happier people who don’t have explosives on them.

I think the lady in the second link made a well done plea.  I agree with her: what can one average person, even a tax-paying vet, do?  Especially since for a lot of people flying is the only option.  OK, granted, it’s rare that anybody has to fly anywhere; though you can argue about vacations (both international and national) and what not, the truth is you don’t have to go on those vacations, you want to.  But there are many cases where flying is the only reasonable option if you are to go on the said vacation.  It may be because of time constraints, it may be because the destination is halfway around the world, but whatever the reason the result is the same:  you have to go through the TSA checkpoints, and for some people like the lady in the video the violations of privacy are becoming a huge issue.

For me……I’d still fly.  I’d probably opt-in for the scanner versus being touched, though.  As much as I dislike the idea of the scan, I hate the idea of being “enhanced patted down” even worse.  But like my other post indicated, I’ll only fly if I need to.

As a final note, I want to point out that I think the searches/pat downs are wrong for the average traveler who shows no real sign of concealing anything and for whom the sensors detected nothing.  If you are a idiot and don’t reveal your metallic items, or are belligerent, or act suspiciously, or are caught with something you really shouldn’t have, then I don’t have any sympathy for you.  It’s a checkpoint; be aware of what you are going through before getting there, and don’t try to pull a fast one on them.   I do feel for those with metallic implants, however, since there isn’t anything they can do about that and the sensors will go off every time for them.