Backscatter Blues

Transportation Security Administration

I got dem backscatter blues,
it’s not just “take off your shoes”,
but now they blast me with electrons
to see me in the nude,
Oh yeah, I got dem backscatter blues..

Leetsdale, PA – I drove from Grand Junction to DIA yesterday morning to take advantage of some very nice week-before-holiday-craziness airfares, and spend a few days with Leslie. The passes on I-70 were a bit interesting with the snow, but it took only an hour longer than usual to get to Denver.

Once I got to DIA I started looking for signs of discontent with the new Advanced Imaging Technology body scanners that TSA says are in Denver and a number of similarly-sized airports. These have been causing quite the ruckus among some travelers, travel industry lobbying groups, airline employees, and civil rights activists.

The scanners (they look like the one pictured above) were in use at one of the two large security checkpoints inside the Jeppesen Terminal that I got to look at. There was a fairly long but well-moving line of people, and I didn’t notice much wanding or patting down. Some travelers were going through the old magnetometers, but a good portion were getting their altogether analyzed by a couple of someones in a nearby office.

I’m sorry, but having engaged in Dispatcher humor over the years I know a job is a job and human nature is human nature. I can’t help but imagine comments like “Hey, Charlie, get a load of these!” floating around occasionally.

Because I was flying out of the A Concourse, I chose to use the smaller checkpoint located just before the bridge that connects the main terminal to the gates and airport offices at this concourse. I did not have to make the fateful “porno-scan or pat-down” choice that many travelers have had trouble with of late. There were two AIT machines in place, but neither of them was being used. I whisked through one of the four magnetometers in use, and was at the gate with time to spare.

The TSA personnel that check IDs and boarding passes were going out of their way to say “hello”, and ask “how are you doing today?”. To an semi-educated non-expert like myself, this felt like one of the most innovative and non-invasive screening processes that the TSA could employ on a regular basis. Most Americans will respond positively to pleasantries, especially in the regulation-regimented mundane environment that is the flying experience today. Anyone who doesn’t would probably stick out.
Is being unsociable probable cause for more intensive scrutiny? I personally doubt it, but with TSA trying to re-write the rulebook for civility and civil liberties in the age of “security theater“, just about anything is possible. This is why due diligence and common sense need to be the order of the day, not more ridiculous rules that frustrate the flying public even more than flying does already.

The scanning of pilots was evidence that not a lot of foresight was going into the processes that TSA uses. As the pilots’ unions and several aviation experts have pointed out, why would a pilot need to be scanned for a box cutter when he is eventually going to be placed at the controls of the most deadly terrorist weapon in recent history – a fully-fueled jet airliner?

For me, it appears that the TSA is treating the average, law-abiding citizen like the proverbial frog in the pot of water on the stove. How high will “Big Sis” (TSA Secretary Janet Napolitano) turn up the heat, and will citizens jump out in dismay, or sit there and be poached?

Have a great evening.
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