No matter how ridiculous the airport security checkpoints may appear, the rest of the world has nothing on the experience one gets in the US.
I completely support bag x-ray machines, metal detectors, the explosive residue and contraband swab, the customs sniffer dogs and even annoying questioning, but I draw the line when common sense is shoved aside by bureaucratic red tape.
Firstly, there is nothing random about random body searches; they are ethnically and religiously motivated and there is no denying it. If you don’t believe me take some time to observe how certain types of people are treated at the airport.
If you still don’t believe me, as an experiment, try growing a beard and donning your new hairstyle, venture through security and immigration on your next trip — you’ll be amazed at how different your experience will be. I’ve done this many times and the situation hasn’t improved at all in the last ten years.
Secondly, the logic behind removing laptops from bags is supposedly to make it easier for security staff to identify the computer components and so they don’t obscure any of your other junk.
Where then is the logic for allowing iPads to remain in the bag? True story, it happened right in front of me when boarding a flight from Seattle. Did Apple manage to negotiate a deal with the security agencies? I think not, considering that the iPhone the same passenger was carrying had to be placed into its own tray.
Call me crazy, but I would have expected the security agencies to know that just like a laptop and the iPhone, an iPad has advanced electronics, solid state memory, battery and even two types of transmitters. It stands to reason that this could be described as nothing less than iRacial Discrimination.
The madness unfolded and a great debate broke out amongst us — the barefoot instigators; technophobes arguing with technocrats.
What further fanned the fire was a passenger with a Samsung Galaxy Tab. He was forced to remove it from his bag. Even under heavy protest and comparison of the identical form-factor, iPads we’re still in, everything else was out.
Not having either of the pads I moved through the queue quickly but was “randomly” selected to walk through a body scanner. I wasn’t sure if it was one of those new backscatter devices, but i declined all the same. The line came to a screeching halt — this time thanks to me.
Security: Sir, I would like you to walk through the device.
Shem: No, I don’t want to.
Security: Sir, airport regulations require you to pass through the scanner.
Shem: Unless you can provide me with all the technical details on how the device operates, whether being exposed to a hundred such scans increases the risk of any diseases or genetic mutations, I won’t pass through it. In addition, I want to see the generated image.
Security: Sir, you have been randomly selected for a body scan and we are unable to provide you with the image.
Shem: Then I suggest you randomly select the gentleman behind me because the only way you’re seeing what’s under my clothes is by giving me a pat-down.
Begrudgingly the security guard took me to the side and gave me a manual pat-down.
In truth, I’ve gone through one of these machines some time back at Heathrow — under protest of course and only because I was curious of the generated image and what it is like to be a technician. And let me tell you, there is nothing private about such a scan — I could clearly see a 3D-like representation of my body, warts and all.
The image I saw was nothing compared to the photo-realistic capabilities of the system and authorities say that they deliberately blur “sensitive” areas to protect privacy.
The privacy aspect aside, I’ve not been able to find any references to reliable documentation, and that worries me; I don’t consider the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as a reliable source since they use the machines. The fact that most people don’t object, raise their concerns or question the technology is even more alarming.
Academia is polarized on the health dangers posed by the devices and some argue that the TSA along with the FDA have concealed vital health research in order to get the devices to market.
This sheep mentality and blind acceptance is alarming and gives me the impression that society is becoming a nanny state (some faster than others) without any conscious objection.