At 65 airports around the country, travelers are getting naked without taking off their clothes thanks to new X-ray scanners. As you may have heard or experienced yourself, passengers and pilots alike are randomly selected to pass through the machines, which display a graphic photo, genitalia and all, to an agent located in another room. If you want to pass, you're subjected to a pat-down that hopes to accomplish the same thing — so you can bet it's invasive. Since the more aggressive pat-downs started three weeks ago, there have been reports of TSA agents making inappropriate comments, and one traveler told The New York Times, "I didn't really expect her to touch my vagina through my pants." She was subjected to the search after the X-ray machine detected a tissue and hairband in her pocket.
According to the TSA's blog (yes, it has a blog, and a blogroll), the media has exaggerated the problem. It says the pat-down, performed by a same-gender agent, is thorough, not invasive, and that a relatively small number of fliers complain. As for the "naked" scanners, the TSA assures the public that your face is obscured and employees are forbidden to save images or pass them on. But these promises of privacy are only as legit as the people who implement them. And after photos from similar scanners leaked this week, there's reason for concern.
If the idea of naked, yet anonymous, body scans floating around the Internet doesn't bother you, there might be another reason to skip the scanner and opt for the pat-down. Some scientists now warn that the X-rays could pose health risks. But then you're left with the option of a potentially humiliating pat-down. If you want to see what the frisk is like, Nov. 24 is National Opt-Out Day, which encourages people to refuse the scanner.
If you're traveling this Winter holiday, will the new security measures put a damper on your holiday cheer? One thing is for sure, lines aren't getting any shorter.