On a recent trip to Orlando, I opted out of the full-body scan at AUS, as I always do at every airport security checkpoint. While waiting for my pat-down, I was lectured by the TSA gate agent about how safe they are, was subsequently questioned about my cellphone use as a radiation exposure comparison, and was subjected to repeated attempts to get me to change my mind and just go through the scanner.
During all of this, and my wait which was somewhere around ten minutes or so, my effects sat on the conveyor past the x-ray machine as countless people walked past them retreiving their own things. As neither the gate agent nor any of the conveyer x-ray agents asked me which items were mine until I was ushered through for my pat-down, it would have been extremely easy for any of those people to walk off with any of my belongings. Luckily, regular citizens still seem to be honest for the most part.
Once it became obvious that the gate agent had assumed my refusal to be subjected to the scanner was due to health and safety reasons, I decided to test a theory. As soon as I opted out I was asked to stand next to they conveyer x-ray machine which was about as close as you could get to the radiation scanner without walking the short distance from the end of the line to the actual scanner. I asked the gate agent if I could stand somewhere else farther away from the equipment. The gate agent rudely dismissed my request with the statement that I was required to stand exactly where I was and could not move anywhere else. Interesting passive-aggressive response from someone who was assuming that I didn’t want to be near the radiation. I remained there for the remaining duration of my wait.
The pat-down agents were contrastingly both courteous and respectful when compared to the gate agent and the supervisor that I was about to speak with. After my pat-down, I complained to the TSA supervisor about the gate agent and was told that the lecture he subjected me to is policy, that the scanner isn’t an X-ray machine, and then I was rudely dismissed yet again, this time with a disgusted look and a “you’re done here, sir.”
As being subjected to a radiation scan is not mandated, it’s still my choice whether or not to opt out of the scan and no one should ever be lectured about it or coerced into changing their mind. Furthermore, I’m appalled that the supervisor would blatantly lie about the technology being used. Granted, he didn’t technically lie as AUS uses millimeter wave scanners which is T-ray, but a layperson doesn’t usually know the difference. Furthermore, within the context of the conversation the supervisor had assumed that my objection to the scanner was for health and safety reasons, which, if that is your reason for objecting, which type of radiation you’re being exposed to is likely a moot issue for you. What he was deceptively implying was that the device was not a radiation scanner and I was stupid for being afraid of it.
New Harassment Policy?
The lecture I received about how safe the scanners are must be new policy, as I’ve never been lectured before at other airports and I opt out EVERY time. Granted, by the time I took this trip I hadn’t traveled in a few months and this is the first time I’ve traveled through AUS since they started using the new scanners. Since reporting my experience to friends and family via social media, I’ve heard many similar stories regarding recent travel that involved a lecture, and most of those included comments about this being a recent change in their travel experiences. All I can conclude from this is that it is now the TSA’s policy to lecture, berate, shame, and intimidate air travelers into compliance and submission.
Reasons for Opting Out
The reasons for opting out are likely as varied as the people who choose to do so. There are a few usual ones however, which I will outline here and how they relate to my experience.
Health and Safety Reasons
This is probably the most common, and why the TSA gate agent and the supervisor both assumed that I was simply scared of the scanner even though I never expressed to them my reasons for opting out. Knowing multiple cancer survivors and witnessing the ordeal that they went through in order to survive, I can completely understand why some people are suspect of radiation scanners. If I knew that I was prone to cancer, I would avoid anything that exposed my body to additional radiation as often as I could. The last thing I would want was some random particle zipping through my body and whacking a cell just the wrong way and potentially triggering the development of another tumor. Conversely, if my cancer treatment involved radiation therapy, I likely would have had far more than my share of radiation in my lifetime and would want to avoid any additional exposure. That said, I am personally not prone to cancer as far as I’m aware and health and safety reasons are not my reasons for opting out, as I’m not too worried about the occasional dose of radiation. I’d be much more concerned if I had to stand next to the scanner all day like the TSA employees do, as studies have indicated that any additional exposure to radiation, including low levels, increases your lifetime risk of developing cancer.
Privacy concerns are another common reason for opting out. These new radiation scanners, both backscatter X-ray and millimeter wave T-ray scanners, reveal the naked human body in all its glorious detail. Many people are self-conscious about their bodies. Many people have religious or spiritual objections to having people they don’t know see them naked. Whatever the reason, personal privacy can be a concern, however privacy concerns are also not my reason for opting out.
The final reason I’ll outline here for opting out is that many people believe that full body scans violate an individual’s Fourth Amendment right to not be unreasonably searched without issuance of a warrant due to probable cause:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
This is one part of my reasons for opting out.
I personally choose to opt out both in protest of the liberty-encroaching policies of our Federal Government in recent years, the mere existence of the TSA, and the blatant overreach and disregard for the public that they routinely engage in. I also believe that a pat-down is far less of a violation of my Fourth Amendment rights than a full-body scan is. There are a number of valid reasons to opt out, and doing so is a personal choice that should not be questioned or required to be explained. It’s somewhat amusing that the TSA gate agent assumed I was scared of the scanner, which isn’t at all the reason that I opt out.