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. That guy was trying to get *into* the US, having already taken his flight. So Wil could play that card if there’s security at customs on his way back to LA. But we still need an example of the reverse – bypassing security on the way to get on the plane. That’s the hard problem.

  2. I wouldn't want to bypass security. I believe that security — the kind that actually makes us secure — is extremely important. This security *theater*, though, isn't doing that.

  3. I have to fly from 2-10 times a month, because it’s my job to be there and do stuff, some of it just can’t be done remotely, and it is the perfect job for me. I am also a PhD-trained biomedical scientist, and one of my graduate courses was in radiation biology. Let’s top this sundae with the fact that I was sexually abused for many years. Guess how I feel about TSA procedures?
    When faced with X-ray scanners, I opt for the pat-down. After I was hit in the crotch by a TSA agent in Tulsa during the pat down, to the point where I still felt it on my connecting flight, I made the decision to try to make them understand what they were doing. I look the agent in the eye, tell them that before they start they need to know something, and then tell them I’m a survivor of sexual abuse. I ask that they tell me everything they plan to do before they do it, because I don’t want to be startled. They usually offer private screening at that point, which I refuse, because being alone with them would hit more of my conditioned fear circuits. People ask, given that, why I won’t go through the machines. For me, they are a double hit – knowing that someone can see me relatively nude, and knowing that the assumptions behind math TSA uses to estimate the radiation effect are wrong. My risk for skin cancer is already high, and I’ve made the choice for long-term over short-term outcomes.
    TSA agents seem to be the only employees who have to work around X-rays who are not required to wear devices that monitor their radiation dose. I’ve been told they are forbidden to wear them, even at their own expense, for fear of alarming the public.

  4. It was the Bush Administration that put the TSA in place, a former Bush appointee who is lobbying for the manufacturer of these machines, and Republican donors who are manufacturing them.

  5. I’ve been unemployed since my last temp job ended in early December. My housemates flew to California to visit family over Christmas, leaving me alone in Minnesota, too broke to fly home to California myself. My father offered to buy me a ticket to come home for Christmas, and I turned him down because I object to what the TSA is doing and I didn’t want to be faced with the “choice”.
    I’ll admit to driving a bit above the speed limit, but other than that, I’m a law-abiding citizen of this country. Call me crazy, but I don’t feel I should have to be strip-searched or groped like a criminal simply because I’d like to see my friends/family.
    Now, reading Wil’s experience and all the comments, I feel genuinely sick. Because I’m going to be faced with the “choice” very soon.
    At the end of this month, finally broken by unemployment and financial issues, I’m moving back to California to live with my sister and her family until I can get back on my feet. I’m driving my stuff out west, but leaving my two cats in Minnesota because there’s no way I’m subjecting them to 3 days in the car (besides, Dad’s helping me move, and he’s allergic to them). The plan is for my sister, bro-in-law, nephew, and I to fly back to Minnesota at the end of June to attend CONvergence, pick up the cats then, and fly them home. The train or driving is out, because my sister can’t take that much time off work and it’s still too far to travel by ground with my cats.
    My only hope is that having the cats with us on the return will make the TSA wave us through as “too big a hassle” (and there’s a good chance we’ll get to depart through MSP’s Terminal 2, which I believe still doesn’t have scanners). But I’m terrified of what will face me as we leave California. And I’m not even an assault victim; just a woman who doesn’t want to have to choose between radiation-and-naked-image or being groped by a complete stranger (I don’t see how they figure the agent being the same sex is any consolation!).
    Right now, I feel so sick and distraught (I’m in tears typing this), I just know I’m going to chicken out on my stance and bow to the scanners if I’m pulled out of the line. Their intimidation tactics are going to win.
    And if any TSA agent goes anywhere NEAR my 11-year-old nephew, there will be hell to pay.

  6. If they try to pat down your daughter, scream bloody murder*. TSA IS NOT ALLOWED TO PAT DOWN CHILDREN UNDER 12. Nor are they allowed to separate you from your child.
    *Not really, as that will just make everything worse. Calmly, politely refuse and let them know you are aware of the regulations regarding traveling with children.
    I wish you luck and hope everything goes smoothly.

  7. A friend of mine has described seeing young, attractive women singled out for “random” physical searches on several occasions. It’s inexcusable and, as so often happens, people abuse their authority to get their thrills on both power and nonconsensual sexual kinks.
    As a survivor of sexual assault, I’ve chosen not to fly in the US again. I have the option of driving, and drive from Seattle down to San Jose a couple of times a year when I have to be down there. I’ve driven as far as Los Angeles and back to avoid flying, because I actually have the time to do it, though it physically wipes me out. I absolutely refuse to get on a plane in the US ever again unless the policy changes. If I have a reason to fly to Europe, I’m going up to Vancouver BC and flying from there.

  8. After I’ve hear the first time around about what was happening in the US at airport, I’ve been pushing back, and back, and back and further back all my plans to actually travel there.
    I’ve been sexually assaulted before, just the thought that a stranger could touch me like that was enough to give me flash-backs and induce small panic attacks.
    I don’t know how much people from other countries know about this, but I’m quite certain the US are losing potential tourists because of it.

  9. Opt out. Every time. No excuses. Even if you’re running late and will miss your flight because of it. Even if it is uncomfortable and awkward. Organize a group trip of like-minded people and suggest that every last one opt out of the backscatter scan. I opted out of the scan and for the pat-down the last time I flew. I politely asked that the pat-down be in public view and was carefully groped by a polite (and somewhat elderly) TSA agent. Had to run to make my flight, but I felt it was worth it.

  10. I will be flying to Florida for a wedding this June and since I do not deal well with heat I am going to be wearing some very loose fitting, linen cargo pants. I will NOT be wearing any underwear. I am hoping that I am asked to drop my pants as part of the screening process.
    ==================================
    As much as I hate the TSA process, at the moment we are stuck with it. And unfortunately at least one federal judge has ruled that air port searches do not violate Constitution. I think he also ruled that one does not have to actively consent to these searches. If I remember correctly the case was U.S. vs. Biswell. Granted, this case was back in 1972, but until the Supreme Court rules otherwise this case sets precedent. I also believe that in at least two other cases Federal judges have ruled in favor of airport screening. So, at the moment they are legal. Fortunately, though, with the TSA more and more lawsuits are being filed by people and we can only hope that somewhere a federal judge decides to break with precedent and/or that the Supreme Court will hear one of these cases and make a ruling (and hopefully that ruling will be AGAINST the TSA).

  11. Airport screenings may not be illegal (and I’m all for them, honestly, especially if they ever increase the efficacy above “theatre”), but back in 1972 they weren’t groping innocent travellers’ genitals. THAT canNOT be deemed okay by any stretch of the imagination, or America really is no longer the “land of the free”.
    On the other hand, if my grad school app is accepted, I’ll soon be re-entering school to become a therapist. Just think of the clients TSA is cultivating for me.

  12. Based on Wil’s experience I just booked travel on that exact train to attend a wedding in the Seattle area this summer. I had been dreading the whole idea of flying because of the TSA gropings and the fact that I’ve already had a radiation over-exposure due to a brain tumor.
    NO WAY am I submitting to something they aren’t sure of the safety of. The procedure that made my hair fall out and gave me radiation burns was “safe” and “low dose” too. Oops.
    I’d been putting off buying plane tickets and now I’m gonna have a great train trip.

  13. Wil, here I sit on the Delta flight to MSN, after opting out and receiving my grope.
    I hereby proclaim that the standard unit of measurement for these experiences shall now be the Wheaton.
    As such, my experience tonight was about 20 centiwheatons. Or 200 miliwheatons if you prefer.

  14. True, the screenings they had in 1972 are nothing like what we have now. Unfortunately law suits/rulings/precedents often lag behind the reality of the world we live in. But that is only to be expected. Do not get me wrong, I am not defending the TSA searches, but until the courts rule otherwise we are stuck with them.
    In the mean time I encourage people to push as far as they are willing to go.

  15. My grandmother won’t even fly anymore due to being frisked every time she flies. I seem to have inherited the same curse. I’ve learned not to wear belts, underwire bras, etc, because I was taken into the ‘special room’ a few times for a search because I beeped…I even once had to lift my shirt to prove it was simply an underwire bra causing their sensitive system to go haywire in front of EVERYONE…they didn’t even take me into the ‘special room’. I’d tell you why I assume it doesn’t happen to me anymore, (it has something to do with my physical disability) but I don’t want to give the bad ppl any ideas on how to breeze through the entry point.

  16. You will find out the ACLU is not really interested in helping with this issue. They sent me a form letter from a politician I hate when I wrote about it to them. Maybe your lawyer is a better option. Could we start a class action? I would be in it if we did. I expect to have trouble in July when I travel from Australia to LA. My husband is employed by a US company and the job is in Australia, so I have to fly to visit my family. It’s the trip back that will be the problem. I refuse to have either the x-ray or the feel up. And I will probably make a scene if they pick me for it. They have picked me for the bomb sniffer test at every airport I have travelled through since they started the so called random sniffer tests. I am a 58 year old blonde grandmother. One of my friends who works for Homeland Security says I am the perfect target for them to choose so they can say they are NOT profiling (just caucasian grandmothers can be profiled, apparently).

  17. I’m sorry this happened to you, Will. I’m a victim of sexual abuse as a child and it’s a horrible feeling to be powerless as an adult or a child as someone violates your privacy and maybe more awful when it’s done in the name of security and with a badge.

  18. Wil, I hope you see this… don’t just write to politicians – WRITE TO THE AIRLINES TOO! To fight big industry and big lobbyists, you need something big. We should ALL write to the airlines, too. Let them know that you don’t want to fly if you are subjected to this. I know you have to, but many of us can drive instead of fly, or plan a local vacation, or whatever. if the airlines know that passengers are staying home to avoid this – they might start to push back, and they are bigger than we are. If they feel it in their bottom line, they WILL push back.
    I am dreading my business trip next month because of this. My husband and I are planning another child, and I won’t do the scanner because I could be pregnant – so my other option is a hand in my pants? and really – who wants a job that makes you have to do that, really….

  19. When you voluntarily waive your rights, you give them up. The problem is, given no real choice, you didn’t voluntarily waive your rights. And some rights can never be waived. Lastly, this is only true if the rules apply equally to everyone and since anyone who hires or flies their own plane does not have to go through this at all, the rules are not equally applied.
    One of the unfortunate things about living in a society run by fascists and one of the first thing all fascist governments do is restrict the movement of their populace.
    Now, note here that fascist simply means a group of rich people working hand in hand as government with big corporations to provide them what they want and who use religion, culture and economic differences to divide the general populace and keep them from forming effective opposition to what the government does.
    So, IMO, we are living under a fascist government and have been pretty effectively since the second Bush administration.
    All this is to say the rich get things and have more rights accorded to them than we do and now you’ve found out one of those rights you no longer have accorded to you.
    Lastly, remember what B. Franklin supposedly said, “He who sacrifices freedom for safety will have neither.”
    The searches are a) ineffective, b) a violation of our own personal space, c) act as a chilling effect on freedom of movement (along with the high prices of gas), d) cost us valuable time and money that would be better spent elsewhere, even to be used in better ways to catch terrorists from whom we truly have little to fear anyway.
    So, will you take a stand and risk having a high profile case? That’s a tough call. You may not have many resources but you have more than most of us who post here. You do have some public pull but you risk much in order to defend your rights, our rights and simple public decency. God bless you if you do take a stand and sue.

  20. I didn’t feel at all safe a few months ago in a trip from Oakland to Salt Lake City. Due to a scanner malfunction, the TSA sent everyone through without even a second glance. Sure, our bags went through an x-ray machine, but as is the case with pat-downs and back-scatter machines, there aren’t any more metal detectors. More here (new window).

  21. Just as with an EULA, when you have no choice, you are actually being coerced into giving up your rights. This is therefore unconstitutional. Shrink-wrap agreements are unconstitutional also. The only real validity to your statement is that courts have not found them unconstitutional because those who are being violated have not had the money to fight the big corporations that are behind the removal of our rights.
    No lawyer will back my up on this, I feel sure, but that does not make my belief incorrect. When you are given no reasonable choice then your rights are being violated, period.
    I also know that I have the right to make as many copies as I want of any software or CD or DVD I purchase as long as I don’t give them out or seek to profit from them, as long as they are strictly for my own use on one device at a time. But is that what the minute, near indecipherable to laymen terms say in the shrink-wrap agreement? No. Furthermore, I actually do purchase that stuff, not rent it, no matter what a shrink-wrap license says.
    So, there is a basic set of rights systematically being denied people simply because we don’t have the wherewithal to stand up for our real rights. That’s the current state of affairs in America and much of the rest of the world.
    Lastly, Wil, I sympathize with you and feel bad for you. I hope I never feel like you have and hope no one I know will ever feel that way. It’s horrible and inexcusable. God bless you. I hope you can find some easing of your feelings with your friends.

  22. Someday, someone with a brain and in control of this is going to wake up and realize that all this TSA nonsense doesn’t work. I don’t know anyone who feels safer with all this TSA screening.
    Let the loonies in, I say. Passengers now know better than to sit idly by and let them ignite their shoe-laces or worse. Ever see an angry mob? I don’t think any terrorist in their right mind would want to face that in a confined space unless they’re a big fan of being on the wrong end of Lord of the Flies.

  23. I’m so sorry you had to endure an assault to fly. I’m partially dreading my flight later this month for similar reasons. Back in ’05 I traveled to Germany, had a great time, then was patted down by security to leave. This “pat-down” was a woman rubbing down my entire body (front,back & in between) with her hands.
    I was molested growing up. Repeatedly. Hm. An authority figure touching me and I have no recourse? Guess who was in the bathroom crying – sobbing, really – for about 20 minutes?
    I’ve never flown back, despite how beautiful the country and how friendly the people were there. Writing to the airport about the incident and why it upset me, I asked if they might consider alternatives – an interview or pre-screening via the Embassy. I got back a response that boiled down to, “We have the best security in the world and have had no complaints”. Basically they told me TOUGH. I doubt the TSA will respond any differently.

  24. @Everyone. Especially Wil.
    There several thousand active people at Facebook groups “We Won’t Fly” and “Boycott Flying”. Please join if possible to get up to date on current efforts to fight the TSA. If no Facebook account, http://www.wewontfly.com is the website that promoted Opt Out on Thanksgiving, has participated in conferences and TV, and is a great source to know for anyone who cares about this issue. You are NOT alone!
    I encourage you, WIL, to align yourself with the thousands of us who have been actively fighting this and I personally welcome a well-know person with guts.
    LEGAL CLARIFICATIONS and OTHER INFO
    I have been studying this, although not a lawyer, but here are some accurate facts.
    1) There are at least three lawsuits being brought by an individual against the TSA. One place to look at is this guy who is suing on his own. http://tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com/
    The TSA is arguing his choice of court to bring a lawsuit against them, but this guy is pretty smart and I hope he has the right court.
    2) http://www.epic.org just had their first court date early in March. Their lawsuit does not rest primarily on 4th amendment rights, so I am a little disappointed. However, they are fighting the TSA. Go to their website to see what they are doing.
    2) Airlines do not provide security, as the Federal government took over in 1974 because of hijackings and the airlines did an inadequate job. The United States Court of Appeal made a decision in US vs DAVIS (1973 case) (http://openjurist.org/482/f2d/893/united-states-v-davis) which is the basis of TSA’s current legal ground, as they claim, for strip searching you with strip search scanners and
    sexual assault pat downs. Just because a lower court asserts something, doesn’t make it right. I will say that ultimately this issue – if Congress doesn’t do its job and if the President won’t issue an executive order – will have to be decided in the courts.
    3) The carriage of contract is the legal contract between you and the airlines. Many airlines include a clause to refund your money if you are involuntarily refused boarding. By not choosing to go through a security screening, the TSA will not let you board which is involuntary choice. There are details around security check you are supposed to pass through in the contract. Carriage of contract varies among airlines.
    I know one person who successfully sued an airline for a refund. I know another person who challenged his credit card purchase. He sent a copy of the 4th amendment to his bank among other reasons for why he didn’t fly, and his bank PNC (which I want to publically acknowledge their heroic actions)didn’t pay the airline.
    4) The Supreme Court may give us a hope. We know it is “conservative” leaning at this point. In 2006, they overturned the Washington D.C. handgun ban, so therefore Americans die every year in Washington D.C. because that city can’t outlaw handguns.
    This same Supreme Court gave a religious fringe church the right to protest at military servicemen funerals – that is pretty vile in my opinion. But, they have the right. Again, supporting the Constitution.
    So, hopefully Supreme Court will support the 4th amendment. The police cannot stripsearch you unless you are a prisoner – last time I checked, airline passengers are not prisoners.
    5) Final important point for the “Scared” people concerned about underwear bombers.
    READ VERY CAREFULLY. See http://www.planecrashinfo.com . There have been ZERO bombings by airline passengers on flights starting in the US, over the last FORTY NINE (49) years. That is none, nada, zilch, zero,nothing.
    The risk is as close to zero as you will find. There is no “need” or clear and present danger.
    The only 2 attempts we know of were over the last 5 years, they were done by foreigners – not US citizens, they were on flights originating outside the US, and they didn’t succeed. I guess it is hard to find suicidal people, arm them with anything effective for a bomb, and then have them actually explode a bomb.
    Everyone and Wil, I encourage you to take a minute to join up in Facebook – that is easiest place to get aligned.

  25. I haven’t been to Israel but I know a few people who have and they all said that while it seemed a lot of red tape involved, the time they needed to get from airport entrance to gate was actually a lot less than at any other airport with tradtional security measures. They felt both safer and being treated in a far more friendly and professional manner than anywhere else.
    The TSA treat everyone as a potential criminal, the Israelis know who to look out for. Intelligence (in both senses of the word) is a powerful thing.

  26. As a survivor of sexual abuse, I break into cold sweats when I think about the flight I’m going to have to make in June. I’ve written to all my representatives, but they don’t care about anything but who’s donating money to their campaigns. As long as somebody is making money out of this deal (the scanner company), I don’t see how we can stop it.

  27. States are passing state laws to make the TSA agents specific actions illegal and the stripsearch scanners. TX, PA, and NH so far have introduced bills.
    At the federal level, Rep. Chaffetz just reintroduced a bill this session, H.R. 1279 I recall.

  28. Im not a US citizen so I would encourage all of you to do what you can to get this practice stopped. My husband is fighting colon cancer with a poor prognosis and we would very much like to visit the US together while we can – but he has a colostomy and the thought of a pat down is utterly terrifying for him. We have heard of the poor guy who had a urostomy bag broken by a TSA agent. Right now there is no way we would visit your country and risk putting him through that kind of humiliation.

  29. I break this whole issue down into 2 logical statements.
    1> Is it invasive and unacceptable? Yes. This is opinion based on the second statement.
    2> Is the cost (the assault on us) worth the benefit (safety for all)?
    This is where the TSA COMPLETELY fails.
    There is NO safety benefit. None to people flying, None to innocents throughout the country. No benefit at all.
    Why?
    People who are willing to die to kill others can easily do so. With or without a plane. And I can only assume people willing to blow up a plane would be willing to insert any of the high explosives currently avaiable into their body cavities with a detonating device configured to be activated with their trusty iphone.
    No pat down would catch these people. None.
    If there’s a gap, then there’s NO safety.
    So it’s all just “safety theater” to appease the masses and make us feel safe.
    You know what? I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe from my own government.
    What’s the cost of a human life? Starving people on the streets (and yeah, we have plenty in this country) would suggest a pretty low $ amount that would save their lives. Or people in need of an expensive surgery, or expensive medications.
    Now how much are we spending on this “security” theater? How many lives could be SAVED with that money spent elsewhere?
    This, IMHO, is the biggest societal failure of our generation.

  30. Speaking as a woman who has been raped and sexually assaulted numerous times…
    Thank you for speaking up. I know from experience how incredibly hard it is to talk about something like that, especially to the public.
    I live in mortal dread of flying. At the end of June, I’ll be getting on a plane and flying out to LA for familial reasons. Due to time constraints and finances, I don’t have another option. Thinking of getting on a plane makes me sick to my stomach- the idea of someone looking at essentially nude or touching me is abhorrent.
    Knowing it happens to someone as genuinely awesome and not-dickish as you… well, that makes me sick, too. You’d seemed so excited and happy about heading to Vancouver to work on Eureka. I hope that the experience of getting there doesn’t dull the fun of working on such an awesome show. Good luck to you.

  31. Wil,
    As a sex abuse survivor, I get panic attacks even thinking about going through what you went through. The other thing that terrifies me is that CHILDREN are also groped. So, when I fly with my 3 year old, if I get pulled out of line, I have to decide if my baby girl will get a dose of radiation or will be sexually assaulted. This is tearing me up inside. Which is less harmful?
    One of the issues that has been brought up is that children might get confused. We teach them that it is NOT OKAY for anyone to touch them this way, unless we’re at an airport? Seriously? It’s completely ridiculous. Please pursue this, so many of us are behind you and would do whatever we can to help.

  32. I was trying to sleep last night and I could not stop thinking about your experience and how wrong it was. And I have two suggestions that I hope will be helpful.
    1) When you see a lawyer, ask his opinion on a CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT. You are NOT the only one who has been molested by the TSA — there are plenty of stories on the net and plenty of people who haven’t come forward with their experiences. Many of those people don’t understand their rights, or don’t have money for a lawyer, or simply don’t want to buck the system — they want to move on and try to forget. I suspect they’d be more than willing to join a class action suit. I remember reading a figure on the number of formal complaints against the TSA since all this started — I want to say it was around 9,000. But the government is used to complaints and is good at ignoring them. Get thousands of people together for a lawsuit and I think you’ll get their attention.
    2) This is probably the weaker of the two options, although I’m sure it’s easier. Start a petition to disband the TSA and replace it with a competent private organization. Between your Twitter network and those of your colleagues (Felicia Day, Christian Kane, etc etc), you should have no problem getting 2 million signatures right off the bat. And if those people all pass the word along, who knows how many people would sign? It’s not as attention-getting as a lawsuit, but I still think it would send a wake-up call to the government that they need to act on this problem.
    I hate feeling so helpless about this issue. I think until people stand up en masse and make a fuss, the government is going to continue to believe that any issues with the TSA are simply isolated incidents and they’re going to ignore the problem. A regular person like me has virtually no power to force change. You have a huge audience who listens to you and friends with similar followings. I really feel like you can make a difference for this issue by rallying all the regular people so we can be heard. I hope some positive change will come out of what happened to you. I’m so tired of feeling like the government only cares about my tax money. I’m tired of being ignored and abused. I know we can’t hope to change everything, but if we can make a difference on this issue, it would give me hope that our country isn’t broken beyond all fixing.

  33. How we can’t just submit to some sort of subscription-based background checks with DNA encoded ID cards or something like that so the innocent can bypass all this is beyond me.
    They violate us all over two jackasses who couldn’t have blown themselves up in the first place.
    How often does terrorism on airlines happen in Israel? Oh yeah, never. They don’t do the invasive insanity we do here. They check behaviors, they check watch lists, they do the intelligent approach.
    We give up our rights so we have the illusion of safety.

  34. I live in Vancouver, I went to Emerald City Comiccon. Yes taking Amtrak was longer, but when you take into account the screening hassle of flying, it was faster and much cheaper to take the train. Vancouver to Seattle. Guess how much time is spent in the security area to take the train? 30 seconds as your bag goes through the x-ray machine. No metal detectors, no backscatter machines, no TSA, no “arrive 2 hours before your flight.” Just a brief stop at the border for the border officials to ask where you’re going. Also about 30 seconds.
    Now this makes sense for the short-haul trips, but North America is still decades behind the rest of the world in high speed rail. I priced out a ticket for Vancouver to San Diego:
    206$ and 48 hours on Amtrak. Yeah no thanks. 712$ for a 3hour flight or 308$ for a 5 and a half hour flight. We’d need a 500km/h maglev to be competitive with air travel.

  35. Bonkoif’s comment is correct in that this is the usual justification. There are, however, two massive problems.
    1. It is not true that you can sign away any and all protections by agreeing to a contract. If the fine print read “And by signing this you agree that we can shoot you in the head” the TSA agent would still be guilty of murder if he did so.
    2. The bigger question is whether or not airports and airplanes are public spaces. You can’t (in principle) be stopped and groped for walking down the sidewalk without a good reason specific to you and the moment. You can be picked up for trespassing for walking across someone’s private property though. Given the enormous subsidies airports receive, it seems reasonable that they are public spaces, being there does not amount to a crime and the desire to fly does not constitute a reasonable cause for groping.
    3. (yes, I know I said 2 problems) The problem that most folks don’t seem to address which Wil actually makes quite clear is that beyond being a 4th amendment violation, this is a 1st amendment problem. The freedom to assemble requires a freedom to travel. As an admittedly extreme example, the government cannot post guards around your property and demand to search you if you want to go anywhere. Obviously there’s the 4th amendment issue, but more troublingly, you have a right to go assemble with your fellow citizens somewhere off your property. You can’t be kept under house arrest. The intimidation and molestation we now face at the airport has a chilling effect on our ability to travel and thus restricts our freedom to assemble. I think this is so much worse than the actual 4th amendment problem. People (perhaps rightly) will argue that the groping is a momentary thing and you can just get over it and move one. But the larger problem is that many of us now avoid flying. This represents a major and persistent impact on our lives.

  36. THIS.
    This is why I do not want to fly anymore. Not that I flew alot in the past, nor do I have to for my work.
    I’m lucky in that regard, that I have the choice.
    But just the thought of someone being able to ‘legally’ feel me up sceeves me out to the point of a panic attack.
    No, thank you.
    I’ll hang on to my dignity.
    Wil, I really hope, for your sake, someone hears you.

  37. You do have a choice. Don’t fly. I don’t care what you think you need to do, if it was me, I would quit that job that required me to fly and hence, be groped and radiated. I would hold the job responsible as well.

  38. I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this, but you receive a radiation dose just from flying. You’re at a higher altitude where the air is thinner and therefore being exposed to more radiation from the sun. If you’re worried about your radiation exposure, you shouldn’t be flying.
    Honestly though, you get so little radiation from those sources that I don’t know why everyone is making a big deal from it. There are plenty of pilots, flight attendants, medical workers who give xrays and administer radioactive treatments that are all receiving a limited amount of radiation exposure in their daily lives, not to mention the astronauts (who don’t have the protection of the Earth’s atmosphere).
    People are scared of radiation because they don’t understand it, and can’t see it. It’s the new witchcraft.
    Sorry to hear about the rest of the experience though. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in your place.

  39. Hey Wil,
    Not to detract from what happened to you, but the title you use to link to the TSA scanners is misleading. It’s not that they put out 10 times more radiation, it’s that the initial tests were flawed, and reported they put out 10 times more radiation than they thought they did….which still doesn’t alleviate my trust in them, if they’re going to mess up testing so badly.
    It even says in the article you linked (emphasis mine): “The flawed results showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.”
    I live in Canada, and what happened to you and others still makes me afraid to travel to the U.S.

  40. Wil, since you’re going to be back and forth between the US and Canada, can I maybe ask that, at some point, you put up a comparison of your experiences going through American and Canadian security screening? As a Canadian, I don’t have a direct stake in the TSA process, but CATSA (the Canadian equivalent) has recently introduced backscatter scanners and an opt-out policy. I’d really be interested in your impression of the differences between the security procedures in each country.
    The way that the TSA treats US citizens is reprehensible – I want to know if my government is doing the same thing.

  41. I so very much wish that EVERY member of Congress and every senior level member of government had to go through both processes EVERY time they fly.
    Myself, I have an immune disorder. One of the two scanning methods uses ionizing radiation and is of an unknown health risk. I already have a genetic disorder, I really don’t want the risk of acquiring another, TYVM.

  42. Just bring your cats with you. My cat is terrified of cars (she thinks she’s going to the vet, which she usually is), and I’ve had to drive her across country twice in 18 months. She did fine both times, and each trip was 6 days. Your cats will be fine, and you won’t be subjected to the TSA, and you’ll save the money as well.

  43. I’ve driven to Vegas and San Diego for years now and haven’t flown with my child back to the UK because I can’t allow him being poked and prodded by goons and remain “airport calm”. It’s pretty much against everything I moved to the USA for.
    I disagree with you re the individual agents being good people because with every ill-conceived and panic induced policy they happily enforce it,emphasis on force. Good people do not scare kids,trigger stress for people with prior experience of assault. Yes they may be in the minority but fly enough a year and you’ll hit the 5% that suck, hell math wise half of them are below average to begin with.
    Not much is going to change without people refusing to fly. Both parties went along with this so voting is not going to work after all we’re out of Gitmo and warrant-less wiretaps are illegal now.:)
    If possible a nice peaceful shunning of those that work for TSA for services, E.G., Restaurants and gas. If that’s unfair let them in if we can search them first:)

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