I don’t feel safe. I feel violated, humiliated, and angry.

Yesterday, I was touched — in my opinion, inappropriately — by a TSA agent at LAX.

I'm not going to talk about it in detail until I can speak with an attorney, but I've spent much of the last 24 hours replaying it over and over in my mind, and though some of the initial outrage has faded, I still feel sick and angry when I think about it.

What I want to say today is this: I believe that the choice we are currently given by the American government when we need to fly is morally wrong, unconstitutional, and does nothing to enhance passenger safety.

I further believe that when I choose to fly, I should not be forced to choose between submitting myself to a virtually-nude scan (and exposing myself to uncertain health risks due to radiation exposure)1, or enduring an aggressive, invasive patdown where a stranger puts his hands in my pants, and makes any contact at all with my genitals.

When I left the security screening yesterday, I didn't feel safe. I felt violated, humiliated, assaulted, and angry. I felt like I never wanted to fly again. I was so furious and upset, my hands shook for quite some time after the ordeal was over. I felt sick to my stomach for hours.

This is wrong. Nobody should have to feel this way, just so we can get on an airplane. We have fundamental human and constitutional rights in America, and among those rights is a reasonable expectation of personal privacy, and freedom from unreasonable searches. I can not believe that the TSA and its supporters believe that what they are doing is reasonable and appropriate. Nobody should have to choose between a virtually-nude body scan or an aggressive, invasive patdown where a stranger puts his or her hands inside your pants and makes any contact at all with your genitals or breasts as a condition of flying.

I do not have the luxury of simply refusing to fly unless and until this policy changes. I have to travel dozens of times a year for work, and it simply isn't practical to travel any other way. Airlines know that I am not unique in this regard, so they have no incentive to take a stand on their customers' behalf. Our government also knows this, so our Congressmen and Congresswomen have no incentive to stand up for the rights and freedoms of their constituencies against powerful and politically-connected lobbyists like the former head of the TSA. This is also wrong.

I have to travel back into the USA next week, and I'll be back and forth between Los Angeles and Vancouver for much of the next several months. When I think about all this travel, I feel helpless, disempowered, and victimized by the airlines and the TSA … and I'm one of the lucky passengers who has never been sexually assaulted. I can't imagine what it must feel like for someone who has been the victim of sexual violence to know that they are faced with the same two equally-unacceptable choices that I faced yesterday, and will likely face whenever I fly in the future.

It's fundamentally wrong that any government can force its citizens to submit to totally unreasonable searches so we have the "freedom" to travel. It is fundamentally wrong that the voices of these same citizens are routinely ignored, our feelings marginalized, and our concerns mocked.

I don't know what we can do to change this, but we must do something. I'm writing letters to all of my congressional representatives, contacting an attorney, and reaching out to the ACLU when I get home. I am not optimistic that anything will change, because I feel like the system is institutionally biased against individuals like me … but maybe if tens of thousands of travelers express our outrage at this treatment, someone will be forced to listen.

Edit to add one more thing: I don't believe that all TSA officersare automatically bad people (though we've seen that at least some are.) For example, I recently flew out of Seattle, opted-out, and got a non-invasive, professional, polite patdown. It was still annoying, but at least my genitals weren't touched in any way, which was decidedly not the case yesterday. I realize that most TSA officers are doing the best they can in a job that requires them to interact with people who automatically dislike them and what they represent. It isn't the individual officer who is the problem; it's the policies he or she is instructed to carry out that need to change.

1. The TSA recently admitted that the amount of radiation passengers are exposed to in backscatter scanners was 10 times more than they originally claimed. The TSA claims that the scanners are still safe, but what else would we expect them to claim?

308 thoughts on “I don’t feel safe. I feel violated, humiliated, and angry.”

  1. Being a cancer survivor who has had massive doses of radiation to the head (12 years ago when procedures were less safe than today), I just called my radiation onc to see if there is a danger.
    In the meantime, I’ll be declining that scanner to get the pat down.
    If I hear anything interesting from my doctor, I’ll post here.
    (oh, I fly every week)

  2. My brother told me about that and I was floored. They haven’t had a terrorist incident at an airport since the late 70s! I think lobbying by the security sector is a big reason why the rest of the world deals with security the way they do.

  3. As a locomotive engineer for one of the four biggest railroads in the US, I am subject to DOT drug & alcohol rules, must give full access to my national driver record to the company, have tri-annual physicals, and have successfully completely a DOT-compliant security & background check before I can even be hired. This apparently isn’t enough for TSA.
    The honest truth is that the terrorists have already won. By the very definition, terrorism is the use of terror to change the way something is. They’ve already completely altered our way of life, explain to me how they haven’t won?

  4. I had my first experience opting out this week on a business trip and while it wasn’t as nasty/unprofessional as Wil’s encounter, it infuriates me to have our country treating people like this. With the TSA asking for legal backing to continue groping minors without parental consent and occupying a train platform this week, it’s clear that they’re not going to stop their power grab until enough people start pushing back.
    Here’s a blog entry I just posted, noting there are over a dozen petition sites totaling about 70,000 signatures but fragmented by political affiliations. We need to coordinate if we’re going to put this beast back on a short leash:
    http://donbcivil.blogspot.com/2011/04/coordinating-fight.html

Comments are closed.