I came face-to-face with Big Brother the other day, and it was a frightening experience.
He actually presented himself in the deceptive form of a young, attractive female officer, working for the Transportation Security Administration at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
At first she simply seemed chatty and friendly. She looked at my airline boarding pass and noted that I was coming from Denver. Then she mentioned that I was headed from Detroit to Grand Rapids.
Wearing the above shirt, designed by BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow, caused a “brown” man to be abused (even more than the rest of us usually are) by TSA thugs and then yanked off a plane. Arjit blogs at Storify:
My wife and I arrived at Buffalo-Niagara International Airport to fly home to Phoenix after attending my wife’s grandfather’s funeral, flying via a layover in Atlanta on Delta #1176.
While at the gate, a Delta supervisor informed me my shirt had made numerous passengers and employees “very uncomfortable.”
I was then questioned by TSA about the significance and meaning of the shirt (“It’s mocking the security theater charade and over-reactions to terrorism by the general public — both of which we’re seeing right now, ironically.”) and was told I would be able to board the plane, but only after acquiescing to an additional security check of my and my wife’s belongings and changing my shirt (“It’s not you, it’s the shirt,” as noted in a tweet below). We would then be the very last two people to board the plane. I agreed to these stipulations.
Soon afterwards, the Delta manager pulled me aside again, this time accompanied by not only three TSA agents, but also multiple Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority transit police. I was questioned some more, our bags were searched, and the TSA agents were satisfied we had nothing suspicious and posed no threat. At this point, however, the Delta manager informed us the pilot had decided, regardless of the outcome of the multiple TSA screenings and my willingness to change shirts, that due to the discomfort my shirt had caused, my wife and I would not be allowed to board the aircraft.
Apparently, the fact that I was deemed not to be suspicious and we had no threatening objects in our baggage was irrelevant to Delta. Instead, the fact that someone had used their imagination to make the determination that I posed a threat was paramount. And appeasing those bigots by preventing us from flying was their preferred response.
…At this point, the transit police began to aggressively question us. I was asked where my brother lives (he was the one who gifted me the shirt). A bit surprised by the irrelevant question, I paused for a moment before answering. “You had to think about that one. How come?,” I’m asked. I explained he recently moved. “Where’d he move from?” “Michigan,” I respond. “Michigan, what’s that?,” she says. At this point, the main TSA agent who’d questioned me earlier interjects: “He said ‘Michigan’.” Unable to withhold my snark, I respond, “You’ve never heard of Michigan?”
This response did not please her partner, a transit cop named Mark. Mark grabbed his walkie-talkie and alerted his supervisor and requested that he be granted permission to question me in a private room. His justification?: “First he hesitated, then he gave a stupid answer.” Michigan, my friends, is a stupid answer. (As a lifelong Ohio State Buckeye fan, I suppose I could’ve already told you that.)
And then, he decided to drop any façade of fair treatment: the veil was lifted, this was about who I was and how I looked (from a tweet by Arjit):
-”Says Buffalo-Niagara transit police officer Mark, in requesting authority for additional interrogation: “He looks foreign.”
Another Arjit tweet: “Did I mention a Buffalo-Niagara transit cop aggressively asked me why my wife didn’t take my name? “WHY wouldn’t she?” Yeah, that happened.”
In the world of NFTA transit police, women are the chattel of their husbands. And to indicate such, they must take their husbands’ names! My wife’s unwillingness to give in to this convention is clearly a sign of my swarthy suspicious character.
Eventually, after more questioning and being sniffed by drug-seeking dogs, we were rebooked on a flight the following morning at 7 am.
Delta enabling this treatment is icky stuff.
And a call to action: If you’re traveling, consider going as Arjit did, with this emblem front and center. The shirt’s no longer on sale, but you can print out the design and tape it to your back or chest. If we all use our First Amendment rights, they’re less likely to be yanked from us.
Perhaps also print this out and bring it for the dummies at the TSA checkpoint so you can board your plane on the day you’re supposed to.
Christopher Elliott: 5 Things Not To Tell A TSA Screener (VIDEO). [PUBLISHED: 8/21/2012]
It happened to Ann Holley again last week. As she passed through the security checkpoint at Atlanta’s busy airport, she asked a TSA agent to “opt out” of being screened by a full-body scanner.
Under the agency’s rules, she received an automatic “enhanced” pat-down.
She wishes she hadn’t.
“I was left waiting for an agent to come by and give me a pat-down,” says Holley, who works for the federal government in Hartford, Conn. “I waited 15 minutes.”
She adds, “I’m wondering whether TSA has decided to leave those who opt out hanging so we’ll eventually get tired of waiting and give in, the way nearly everyone else does. I never see anyone else opting out anymore.”
Holley — not her real name because she’s afraid the TSA will make her wait even longer the next time she’s in Atlanta — committed one of the passenger screening “no-nos” that you need to know about before your next flight. They include cracking jokes, mentioning certain laws and sometimes, just asking simple questions.
But to answer her question: Does the TSA intentionally keep passengers waiting? If there is such a policy, it is almost certainly an unofficial one. There’s ample evidence of its existence, including this passenger in Phoenix who had to wait in a glass cage nearly an hour when she balked at TSA screening of her breastmilk.
“I demand to opt out!”
See example, above. Personally, I avoid those untested scanners just like Holley, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Taking a loud, principled stand at the airport is likely to end you up in that glass penalty box. Instead, look for the line without a scanner and if you’re sent into the wrong queue, say that you’d prefer not to use the scanner. I suspect that exclaiming, “I opt out!” will force a supervisor over, and good luck making your next flight. (For the record, Holly made her flight — but just barely.)
“May I take your picture?”
Although the official TSA policy is that taking snapshots are allowed at a screening area, the truth is, agents don’t like to be photographed at work. I know, because I’ve been at a major airport with a public affairs officer and a professional photographer, and have been told that the policy isn’t worth the HTML it’s coded on. A careful read of the actual rule makes that reasonably clear: “Taking photographs may also prompt airport police or a TSA official to ask what your purpose is,” it says. Who in their right mind would want to be subject to a police interrogation?
My advice: Unless you see abusive behavior that must be documented, don’t provoke the agents by pointing a camera at them or asking if they’d like to be part of your vacation photo album. (They don’t.)
“Ever heard of the Fourth Amendment?”
That would be the one about the right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, in case you were wondering. Aaron Tobey famously posed that question on his chest last year, and was arrested. Of course, we can hope that most TSA agents have heard of the Fourth Amendment, as well as some of the other constitutional questions surrounding the latest screening methods.
Although I agree with the protesters that the TSA is treading on thin ice, constitutionally speaking, I think the best place to bring this up is either in a court of law or at the ballot box this November.
“So a terrorist walks into a bar …”
TSA agents aren’t supposed to have a sense of humor (although when they do, it makes the failed comedians of the world sound funny). The agency dryly warns that quips about bombs will not expedite the screening process. No, duh.
The real joke, of course, is that we’re paying $8 billion a year to fund this circus. It’s a joke no one is laughing about, except perhaps the well-connected subcontractors who are building the gadgets and scanners that are supposed to protect us from those funny terrorist bombs that haven’t shown up at the airport yet. And those subcontractors are laughing … all the way to the bank.
“How can you live with yourself?”
If you haven’t already guessed it, being a TSA agent can be a thankless job. Many workers disagree with their agency’s policies, but they stay on the job because they need the work. The last thing these federal workers want is an angry confrontation with a passenger who thinks they are all gate rapists operating above the law. (Fact is, what the TSA does is highly questionable, and when they aren’t on the job, I’m sure agents do a great deal of reflection — but there’s a time and place for it.)
Dressing down a TSA agent at the airport, while tempting, serves no useful purpose. These federal employees answered a call to duty printed on the side of a pizza box and are protecting us from airborne jihadists, or so they think. You have decided to fly, and in doing so, to subject yourself to their wrongheaded screening. If you have a problem with that, do something well in advance of your flight, not half an hour before departure.
That said, there are times when you ought to speak up. But that’s a topic for another time.
Canseco’s airport flap: Anger or a political opportunity? – San Antonio Express-News. [PUBLISHED: 8/19/2012]
A TSA report card: The good, the bad, and the grounded – The Business Journals. [PUBLISHED: 8/15/2012]
EPIC – White House Pulls Down TSA Petition before deadline. [PUBLISHED: 8/9/2012]
Federal investigation launched on alleged racial profiling at Logan Airport – The Boston Globe. [PUBLISHED: 8/13/2012]
UPDATE: 8/17/2012: Mandatory Class for Airport Officers Accused of Profiling
via Lisa K. Friedman: Airport Security – Huffington Post. [PUBLISHED: 8/7/2012]
Who decided that full body scanners were a good idea? The Electronic Privacy Information Center contends that scanners are “invasive, unlawful and ineffective.” My concern is slightly more superficial: Do I really want to be seen without my Spanx? At the airport, you have to make a spot decision. Do you want to glide through the scanners like everyone else, or do you want to make a scene? I was traveling with my mother. There was no doubt which choice would be hers.
“I’m going to refuse,” she said to me as we loaded our wheelie bags onto the conveyor.
“Why not?” She moved to the line of tape marking the floor.
“Ma’am, step into the machine and place your shoes on the designated footprints,” the unsuspecting TSA official called out to her.
“I don’t want to be x-rayed,” she said.
“Just go in,” I whispered. The security line snaked, tension coiled behind me. I leaned forward and urged. “We don’t want to be late.”
She threw out an elbow, jolting me back. For a woman who weighed barely 100 pounds, she sure packed a punch.
“Ma’am, are you choosing to decline the body scanner?”
“You bet I am,” she said with obvious glee. “I’ve had x-rays of my teeth. I’ve had mammograms and bone scans. Lord knows how many other rays have permeated my body. I’ve had enough radiation to light the Olympic torch.”
They ushered her to a holding area as I stepped into the machine and surrendered my arms overhead, posing like a human suppository.
“Look who they pick on!” I heard her yell over the sound of the machine. “A 75-year-old lady with swollen fingers and fallen arches.”
As I waited with our bags, someone bumped my shoulder. I recognized the boarish wheeze before I saw his sweaty face. He’d been behind me in the security line. He grunted in my mother’s direction. “Is she with you?”
I shook my head. “Never saw her before.”
Guilt swept through me fast as lightening and then, an immediate wash of defiance: What if my mother was right about radiation? I took out my phone and found the EPA website. Cosmic radiation, I read, is a constant sprinkle of particles from space, raining down on the earth. The higher you go, the more you’re exposed to radiation. “On a typical cross-country flight,” the EPA report claimed, “in a commercial airplane, you are likely to receive less than half the radiation dose you receive from a chest x-ray.”
Who hasn’t had an x-ray? A friend once said: “You know you’re old when you drive around with your films in the back of the car.” If the contents of our cars indicated our ages, I’d have celebrated my last ten birthdays on “The Today Show” with Willard Scott. I have the films of a centenarian: x-rays, CT scans and an MRI that I probably didn’t need. I’m a glowing example of what medical science offers. In fact, I should be grateful I don’t hear Radio Netherlands through my dental fillings or leave a visible smear in my wake like the Road Runner.
Once on the plane, I turned to my mother. “Well, we made it.”
She smiled back at me. “You know, they always hassle me at the security checkpoint,” she said. “I honestly don’t know why. I never do anything wrong.” In her lap, a skein of yarn released a long strand that she wound effortlessly through those crooked fingers. I heard the familiar sound before I saw what was poised in her hands: 14-inch, pointed-tipped, aluminum knitting needles.
The next generation of airport security.[PUBLISHED: 8/6/2012 by: PoliceOne.com]