Day of reckoning for TSA protocol

Just in time for the peak travel season, passengers are rebelling against airport security.

The day before Thanksgiving has been designated National Opt-Out Day, a call to action by Brian Sodegren to put an end to the Transportation Security Administration’s scanner screenings. He is encouraging travelers to protest the full-body scanners by opting out and then refusing the alternative pat-downs.

“The goal of National Opt-Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change,” Sodegren wrote on OptOutDay.com. “We do not believe the government has a right to see you naked or aggressively touch you just because you bought an airline ticket.”

According to the TSA, there are 385 imaging units at 68 airports, but by the end of 2011 the number of machines is expected to increase to 1,000.

The purpose of the technology is to detect explosive devices under clothing. Those who refuse the scanner are required to undergo a pat-down, which is a security measure that has existed for years.

But now, the pat-downs are no longer conducted by TSA agents using the back of their hands. The security measure has been “enhanced,” allowing agents to use open hands and fingers to touch any body parts of passengers.

In a Nov. 11 website posting, the TSA said, “There’s nothing punitive about it — it just makes good security sense. And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we’ve found during pat-downs speak to this.”

But for Sodegren, this goes too far.

“You should never have to explain to your children, ‘Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK,’” he wrote.

Activism against the enhanced security measures is on the rise.

WeWontFly.com urges airline passengers to “Jam TSA checkpoints by opting out until they remove the porno-scanners.”

Concern for privacy is not the only issue surrounding the scanners. Some scientists argue that too little research has been conducted on the possible health effects of the small doses of X-ray radiation emitted by the technology.

In an April letter to John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s assistant of science and technology, a group of UC San Francisco researchers raised concerns about possible overexposure to the breasts, testicles and epidermis from the concentrated dose of radiation.

The TSA said the machines are safe and have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Staff Writer Kamala Kelkar contributed to this report.

Hazards in question

UCSF researchers say health concerns with the TSA scanners that have not been fully evaluated include:

  • Long-term effects
  • Cornea and thymus exposure
  • Effects on children

Possible risks:

  • Premature aging
  • Damage to breast tissue
  • Damage to sperm, skin, tissue

 

Source: UCSF

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