"full-body scans would keep me from flying"

Posted: January 6, 2010 in disenfranchisement, full body scans, privacy concerns, terrorism, tsa

c/o Transect blog

By Quinn
I’ve seen a lot of talk about full-body scans on CNN, but it took William Saletan’s piece over on Slate advocating the use of full-body scans in order to protect from terrorists like Abdulmuttalib to push me to write about this.

The lack of consideration for the side-effects of a mandatory, uniform full-body scan policy is absurd.

Now, I actually agree with one of Saletan’s major points – that people should get over their hang-ups about other people seeing their entire bodies. Puritanism is so last century (and last decade). I also certainly appreciate that many people worry about their security on flights.

However, the statistical likelihood of being caught in a terrorist attack is quite low – so low that I can’t imagine how the loss of efficiency in the security process or the invasiveness of the procedure can find a counter-balance in “preventing terrorist attacks.” We’ve already done quite a bit in terms of making it difficult for terrorists to pull off an attack. Anything more just leads to diminishing returns. Saletan seems to think a continual escalation – like an “arms race” – is what’s necessary to keep people safe. But there comes a point at which more security measures won’t actually much of anything to deter attacks.

More to the point, this particular attack was a failure of intelligence, which just didn’t get its act together. Perhaps it might be better to address intelligence rather than airport security.

Previous moves, including requiring gender markers on tickets and ID issues, have already made travel unappealing for trans people. But full-body scans are beyond what’s even potentially justifiable. This will out trans people left and right. In a transphobic society, this puts too many people at risk for harassment. I’m sorry – I don’t trust U.S. TSA or any law enforcement agency not to give me crap for being trans. They have the power to pull me aside for even more scrutiny or say that I’m not who I present myself as. Or pull some madness like assuming that my trans-ness is a disguise for terrorist activity. Or just harass me – since law enforcement officials can be bigots just as much as anyone else.

And don’t even get me started on how this violates the religious liberty of people who do believe in modesty as a matter of faith, even though I generally don’t agree with them. This really won’t help relations with Islam.

The U.S. needs to catch itself before setting up full-body scanners everywhere. And, if it doesn’t, no country that seriously respects the privacy of its citizens should cooperate with the U.S. if asked to use full-body scans – including the Netherlands (and Nigeria) and Canada. The consequence is effectively deterring me – an otherwise law-abiding person – from air travel, along with an uncounted number of people like me.

We need to ask more questions about full-body scans than what Saletan has mentioned – or what the talking heads on CNN are blathering about. Do we really want to punish many innocents to catch the few guilty? Do we really want to make it impossible for some marginalized communities to fly for the sake of “mainstream” society? And do we really want to enact extreme measures in response to an attempt at terrorism that didn’t even succeed?

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