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Nov 16, 2010 03:02PM
FYI: I have been doing a lot of reading about this lately, on the official TSA blog as well as in news reports and on traveler/flyer discussion boards. What's happening is really scary, and sickening.
As of the end of October 2010, at least 73 airports in the U.S. were using "advanced imaging technology" (AIT) (also called "whole body imaging" or "WBI") as a primary method of screening airline passengers. There are at least 400 AIT scanners in use (probably a lot more by now). Some websites say the scanners are used only for secondary screening -- i.e, passengers are not scanned unless they set off the alarm on the walk-through metal detector. That is not true -- "primary" means you will be scanned by the AIT instead of the metal detector. There are two types of scanners being used on passengers: backscatter X-ray scanners, and millimeter wave scanners.
The backscatter scanners use radiation that penetrates completely through clothing and produces an image of skin, plus anything solid that blocks the X-rays (like weapons, wallets, jewelry, pocket contents). Supposedly, the scanners have been programmed to "obscure" facial features and details of the "genital area"; but I've seen some pics that didn't look all that obscured. TSA claims the amount of radiation exposure from one of these things is "very small," but two pilots' organizations have advised their members to refuse to go through the scanners because of the risk of excessive radiation. (Pilots get exposed to a lot of radiation just by flying every day.)
I don't know much about the millimeter wave scanners. They obviously don't use X-rays. TSA says they're completely safe, but I guess I have my doubts. In any case, they also produce a nearly naked image of the passenger. I would think you could not go in a millimeter wave scanner if you had any metal on your body, but I don't know that for sure.
At this point, TSA does not require people to go through the AIT scanners -- you still have the right to "opt out." So, if you're unfortunate enough to be "selected" for scanning (and they actually use the word "selected", which IMHO is an unfortunate choice of words), you can decline by saying, "I opt out." They are supposed to accept your choice without argument or explanation, but agents will sometimes try to convince passengers that the scanners are "harmless" or "faster" etc. ... or, they'll point out that, if you opt out of the scanner, you will be subjected to an "enhanced" pat-down search which most people do not like at all.
The "enhanced" pat-down is far nastier and more invasive than the old-style pat-downs TSA had been doing. Some people have argued that TSA makes the pat-down as embarrassing and obtrusive as possible, so you'll regret your choice and go through the scanner next time ... and other passengers won't even consider opting out. The TSA denies this, of course.
With an enhanced pat-down, the agent uses the front of his/her hands, including the fingers, to rub or stroke all parts of your body. They rub their hands over bare skin, including face, neck, arms, legs ... and they pull their fingers through and under your hair. They stroke all clothed areas carefully, from head to toe (sometimes including the soles of your stocking feet). They rub their hands and fingers all around, between, and over, the breasts, often "cupping" each breast with their hand(s) and running the fingers under the band or underwire. They use their hands to stroke up the front and back of each thigh to the crotch until their fingers "meet resistance" (their words). They also try to run their fingers through the butt cleavage, as well as on bare skin underneath the waistband, if you're wearing slacks. This stroking is sometimes done repeatedly (2 or 3 times over the same area); and sometimes a person is subjected to a second pat-down by a different agent even if the first one didn't find anything. They do all this while wearing gloves that are then tested for residue in a sniffer machine.
I have no idea if the enhanced pat-down could detect a breast prosthesis. I suspect it could, because of what I've read about the agents digging their fingers under the edge of a bra and sometimes squeezing the breast and, in men, the "genital area." Also, if they find something they cannot "clear" (their word, meaning "figure out what it is"), they can order you into a private room and make you take off the relevant clothing. I've read that some men and women have been ordered to remove their shirts or blouses; and women have been told to raise or remove their skirts if the agent cannot feel far enough up the thighs through the skirt fabric.
You're supposed to be able to request a same-sex agent if one is not offered automatically, although TSA admits they cannot always provide a same-sex agent at some airports because of staffing issues. And, you're supposed to be able to have this pat-down done in a private location, with a witness of your choice if you ask. You are also supposed to be able to keep your possessions in your sight (remember, they've been sitting in bins on the X-ray conveyor belt all this time); but I've read of many instances in which the agent did not allow the passenger to retrieve his/her possessions or even keep them in sight.
I assume, but do not know, that either of the two types of scanners will detect something odd about a breast form. It's fabric and/or silicon, not skin; so I don't even know what it would look like on the scan. Any time the person viewing the scanner images sees something he/she cannot "clear", the passenger will be subjected to a thorough pat-down of the area. I have been following a flyers' blog/discussion board, and people there have said sometimes more than half the passengers going through the scanner at a particular airport end up being patted-down anyway. (Kind of makes you wonder if it's worth what they paid for it, yes?)
Anyway, this whole thing sickens me. I was having enough trouble with the eagle-eye looks from the I.D. inspectors, and having to take off my shoes, pull out my laptop, and stuff all those tiny containers of shampoo, make-up, toothpaste, chapstick, etc., into that zip-lock bag for some federal agent to inspect, just so I could board a commercial airplane on a flight for which I'd paid hundreds of dollars. (Don't get me started on the checked-bag and new carry-on fees!)
It turns out that anyone who knows anything about concealment and smuggling understands that neither the AIT scanners nor the "enhanced" pat-downs will find something, if somebody really wants to get it on a plane ... if the plane is the target these days in the first place. But, it sure does make some Americans feel safer.
I used to fly at least half a dozen times a year (x 2 = 12 flights or more). Since the TSA started clamping down on what we can wear and what we can carry on, I've only flown once or twice a year and that was just because of family emergencies (oh, and a very special get-together with my May '08 chemo sisters). I will be trying my hardest not to ever fly again. My dh refuses to even consider flying commercially. The airlines will lose.
2008, IDC, Stage IA, Grade 2, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR-, HER2-