The 7 Creepiest Things About the TSA's "Porno Scanners"
November 17, 2010
The recent, furious backlash against the TSA's degrading body scanners has drawn attention to the myriad ways the so-called "porno scanners" can violate one's privacy, civil rights and basic sense of dignity.
With National Opt-Out Day approaching the day before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year, here are several of the absolute creepiest things about scanners that everyone should keep in mind when flying at the holidays, or any other time of the year.
1. The scanner operators can see everything, including your pads and tampons. It's creepy enough that the scanners take naked pictures of passengers, but now recently-appointed TSA head John S. Pistole has told the New York Times that they can also detect sanitary napkins, and that such a finding could lead to passengers being pulled aside for extra security measures. Screeners "are expected to exercise some discretion," he said, but discretion about what? Can we expect an extra invasive pat-down of our crotches on heavy flow days?
2.Naked passenger images are easily saved -- and spread on the Internet. Body scanner images are supposed to be deleted immediately. But as tech-blog Gizmodo proved earlier this week, it is all too easy for the machines to save images of naked passengers, genitalia and all, and for blogs to get a hold of them and spread them on the Web.
3. They could give you cancer. Scientists have warned that there are serious health risks associated with X-ray body scanners. In April, a group of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco sent a letter to the White House about scanner safety concerns, while Dr. Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the Johns Hopkins University school of medicine, has said that "statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays."
4. If you refuse to go through one, you could be publicly groped. Should you decide to take the National Opt-Out Day pledge and refuse to go through a body scanner on November 24, be prepared to receive an "enhanced pat down" of your entire body, including genitals, likely conducted in full view of other passengers. A pilots union has likened the process to "sexual molestation," while rape victims have been emotionally triggered and old ladies brought to tears by the pat downs.
5. You could wind up with a hefty fine for refusing to be scanned. The TSA has opened an investigation targeting John Tyner, a software engineer who refused to be scanned and was subjected to an "enhanced pat down." When Tyner told the TSA agent not to "touch [his] junk" -- and caught the exchange on camera -- he was kept from getting on his flight and now faces prosecution and an $11,000 fine. (Sign a petition to encourage the investigation of the TSA, not Tyner, here.)
6. They're fueling homophobia in brand new ways.The anti-gay wingnut group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality has called for the TSA to use "common-sense, healthy 'discrimination'" by banning "self-acknowledged homosexuals" from being security agents "so as to avoid [passengers] being put in sexually compromising situations." Apparently if a straight person feels you up publicly, that's just fine, but a gay person doing so is "sexually compromising."
7. They're an obscene waste of money.The House actually voted down the use of body scanners, but the TSA ignored the will of Congress and bought the machines anyway, wasting $25 million in stimulus funds.
Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn.