Sunday, November 21, 2010

Invasion of the Body Scanners

I flew yesterday from San Francisco to Fort Worth, and had my first run-in with the already infamous TSA body scanners.  I haven't been keeping really well-versed on the ongoing protests - I only learned about "Don't Touch My Junk" guy a day or two ago - and I didn't know that I was going to have to deal with the machine when I got to SFO yesterday.  So I hadn't had time to get worked into a lather, but the experience was disturbing enough without priming.  The capsule itself was disconcerting, for sure - it's mostly enclosed, with a rotating scanner bar that's fairly ominous, and requires assuming the stance of submission seen to the left.

But weirdly, I didn't really find myself getting agitated until I got out and as I made to walk and pick up my bags, I was stopped in a kind of corral on the other side, where I was told to "turn and face my bags" and again place my feed in two yellow footprints. 

This suddenly put my hackles up for a whole lot of reasons.  First, the guy who gave me this order (and that's essentially what it was) had a fairly thick accent, and I had to ask him three times what the hell he was telling me to do.  I know these jobs are shitty enough they probably can't be too picky about screeners' speaking ability, but in a high-tension situation like this, a little elocution goes a long way.  Second, there wasn't just the one guy there - two of them blocked my way, as if I might suddenly make a move and they would need to cooperate to subdue me. Third, I got to watch them pull aside a black guy and give him, let's say, the personal treatment, which is never fun to watch.  And finally, of course, was the simple absurdity of being made to stand at parade rest while a bunch of strangers examined an X-Ray of my sunken, hairless chest.

I found myself, without even thinking about it, getting very testy with the screeners very fast.  And this was after a great week in SF, with two seemingly cheerful San Franciscans. Of course, this might have been just a delayed release of the deep disturbance of being in a tiny clear chamber, being scanned.  It's just as humiliating and weird as sudden public outcry has suggested. People are starting to question where the line of fair trade between security and privacy lies, and while I'd tend to think it should have been somewhere back with subpoenaing library records, finding out it's at the point of actual genital contact is better than not finding it at all.

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