Friday, August 12, 2011

Safety or Scrutiny: Tales from the Full-Body Scanner

A short while ago, I shared some tips for breezing through airport security by packing smart and cutting down on carry-on liquids. Well, during my flight to NYC last week, I had the chance to experience a whole new facet of the TSA security system - the 'full-body scanner.' You may remember the controversy surrounding the widespread introduction of this device about a year ago. Travelers railed against the practice as a violation of privacy and health experts speculated about the danger such scans could present for the body, especially in the case of commuters and other frequent travelers.

Image from time.com

To be honest, I've often been a bit conflicted about security issues. In general, I'm an advocate of preserving privacy, but as a seasoned traveler I've sadly come to accept numerous (and sometimes inane-seeming) security measures as part of the process. I feel uncomfortable about the constant increase in security measures, especially when many seem so ineffective or easily subverted, but I've largely become inured to these routine affronts to my privacy - a fact not helped by a few years spent in the military. Nevertheless, I wasn't sure how I'd respond to these new, more invasive measures. I followed the public debate with interest and waited for my chance to experience this controversial measure in person. 

I've traveled more than a dozen times since the widespread use of scanners began, but last week's scan at Nashville International Airport was my first experience. I expected many of my fellow passengers to object to the scan and was surprised when only one or two asked to be pulled out of the line for an ' enhanced pat down.' I was also surprised at how streamlined the whole process was and ended up feeling more awkward than violated - and that only because I can't help but doubt the effectiveness of such measures.

I think that small kernel of skepticism is really the key to my whole outlook on airport security. I'm happy to comply with security measures because I think safety is very important, but at the same time, I'm aware of just how easily many of these measures can be side-stepped, circumvented, or thwarted. While I didn't feel particularly outraged or exposed by my scanner experience, I'd submit to the process with more grace if I knew it would actually prevent a tragedy. 

Sadly, If there's one thing I learned from my time in the military, it's that the face of terrorism is constantly changing. The practices and methods of terrorist groups are infinitely more adaptable than those of big, bureaucratic agencies like the military or the TSA - their effectiveness depends upon that fact, and for this reason it often seems like the security measures we experience are always too little, too late. Let's hope this isn't the case with the full-body scanner.  In a culture where personal information is hardly ever truly personal (just think of the vast amounts of info circulating about each of us on the internet!), a full-body scan seems like a small price to pay for the freedom to fly without fear - if only that freedom were a guarantee!

Have you experienced the full-body scanner on your travels? What do you think about the implementation of this and other similar security measures? Where do you draw the line in the balance between privacy and safety?

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