Monday, January 11, 2010
Learning to Fly
It's been a long time since I've done a post that was political in nature. the thing is, I feel compelled to articulate my anger about the TSA's new insistence that they use full body scanners at airports.
My issue with them is not a modesty issue. I am very open about my body and have no problem with nudity. In fact, I think more people should see my penis -- if nothing but for the general good. I grew up in a family where nudity was commonplace and we all still pee and shit with the door open. I was raised to never be ashamed of my body and I'm not... even though I should be because it has gotten horribly doughy and scarred as of late.
But the issue here is - only tangentially - about nudity.
I understand people who are less open like myself having a problem with this. And I don't begrudge them that. In a free society, we should not have to submit ourselves to strip searches.
My largest issue though, has to do with my general distrust and cynicism when it comes to what the government is telling me. Shit just doesn't add up.
The TSA and Homeland Security are making a point of stressing that the scans are not saved or printed and they are done away with as soon as they are done. There is also supposed to be software that obscures the face of the individuals. I'd like to address these two points individually.
First - the idea of saved images... The TSA has gone to great lengths to stress that there is no way that these images can be saved or printed for later exploitation or shenanigans. They allegedly scan you, review them, and delete them. If you believe this, you are collossally stupid. Simple logic would dictate that, the TSA - as a de facto law enforcement organization (they claim they're not, but they well and truly have arrest powers and legal authority far exceeding most federal law enforcement officers)- needs to maintain a chain of evidence. If, for instance, the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazrad walks into Hopkins airport with a bomb strapped to one leg and a copy of The Necronomicon strapped to his gootch, I can guaran-fucking-tee you that - after they dogpile him and drag him off to jail - they're going to need to prove in a court of law why they beat him like a shithouse rat in a burlap bag.
The data and picture has to go somewhere. It's not anti-government paranoia to believe that they're not storing this info somewhere. It's data, and the government loves data.*
Remember that the next time your girlfriend, wife, grandmother, or 8 year old kid get forced through one of these. The assertion that the data is gone, never to be seen again, is a bald-faced fucking lie.
The second point regarding the software that obscures facial features? That's cool... but a simple Google search has found that non-US airports have not implemented these fancy-schmancy new scanners for three reasons: 1) They're butt-ass expensive, and 2)they are not willing to submit their citizens to invasive virtual strip searches, and 3)There isn't software available yet to obscure the identity of those passing through it..
Waitaminute! Heathrow can't obscure the faces, but the TSA can? Who's lying here? Oh wait! We're America! We have Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. I'm sure we just had them write up a proprietary code for just OUR scanners. That's it, I'm sure the government would never lie to us to serve its own purposes.
The simple fact is that the TSA is lying to us and we should not tolerate it. There are those who will argue that a simple scan like this is the price we pay to ensure we don't die a horrible fiery death because some moron with a religious deathwish decided to get his little corner of paradise. They'll argue that we should stop being so uptight. They'll even argue that it's perfectly acceptable to have some unseen person in a room somewhere look at pictures of your naked kid.
And they'd all be fucking wrong.
The simple truth is, to say that TSA's history as far as civil liberty is poor is a gross understatement. They have too much power and are guilty of gross violations of civil rights. The no-fly list is a political blacklist that Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover would have salivated over.
I say that to justify this gross invasion of privacy and to believe the lies the government is telling you would be irresponsible at best, and willfully negligent at worst.
One final point, what sort of testing has been done to determine the levels of radiation these machines are blasting you with? As a cancer survivor, I find it horrifying that - outside of a necessary medical need - the government wants you to submit to a test that has the potential to cause damage to you at a cellular level. X-Rays cause pyrimidine dimers and replication errors to your DNA. This can lead to, among other things, cancer.
I frequently travel for work and have to endure the invasiveness of TSA policy every time. That said, I will NOT be submitting myself to these tests. It's a matter of principal. The argument that we are safer when we sacrifice our civil liberties and dignity is contrary to what makes us a free society, and, truthfully, the rhetoric I've heard from TSA and Homeland security is more in line with what I'd expect to hear from King George Bush the II's reign of idiocy; not that of our current administration.
But those disappointments are the topic of another post...
One final point: The worst part of all of this is the fact that Homeland Security and the TSA are using one underwear bomb as an excuse to implement the machines and further erode our civil liberties.... something they've wanted to do since last year and, now, they're capitalizing on this incident to push it past us. They are arguing that anyone who believes that full body scans are a violation of privacy (and - very validly - a violation of child pornography laws!)merely represents the screamings of a very vocal, but minor, lunatic fringe who doesn't understand the monumental help these scanners represent in the WAR ON TERROR!
* - (Edited to Add: I began writing this on Friday 1/8. This morning, this piece was published by CNN. My only comment is that I am vindicated on some of the points I've made. That is all.)