“I’m going to be one of those crazy 75 year-old radical grannies going down to DC with picketing signs,” I said to Jon earlier this morning.

“You already are,” he replied.

And while I was smiling, he was not amused. I was trying to make light of the slightly embarrassing scene I had just caused in security at Boston Logan (and get ready, what I’m about to write may flag me for the no-fly list).

Boston recently installed full-body scanners—delightful new security devices that enable security personnel to see everything (and I do mean everything) about you. Although I fly pretty frequently, my first encounter with them did not happen until this week. On Wednesday morning going through security for a flight to DC, I was pulled aside from the metal detector line and asked to go through the full body scan. I looked at the security guard quizzically, “Do I really need to?” I asked out of genuine curiosity. They were not sending everyone through them, rather picking and choosing. I was already wearing a form fitting shirt and skirt and didn’t really see how I could be concealing much (it was work appropriate, just not some big, baggy outfit). 

The security guard said, “You can go through the full body scanner or have a full-body pat down.”

I contemplated the possibilities—hmm, either have someone see literally every inch of my body (and let me tell you it really is every inch) or have someone feel my body. Neither was appealing. And frankly, neither felt warranted.

“Is there any reason why I have to go through either?” I asked nicely.

“It’s standard protocol,” the guard replied.

“I don’t really feel comfortable with either one of those, can I just go through the metal detector?” Not only did I not want someone feeling or seeing everything, the line for the full body scanner was quite long and I was already running late for my flight having waited in the security line for 20 minutes.

“Sure, go ahead,” the guard said and I whizzed through the metal detector and was on my way.

Given the experience on Wednesday, when presented with the same situation at Logan this morning—and an added long line for the full body scan—I once again asked, “can I go through the regular metal detector?” This time the security guard not only didn’t look as friendly, he was in no mood for my question.

“You can go through the full body scanner or you can get a full body pat down,” he said brusquely.

I was confused. As Jon and I had placed our carry-on items on the security belt, there were five people waiting for the full body scanner. It was quite the line. As I asked the question, another guard had taken four people ahead of us out of the long line for the full body scanner and sent them through the regular metal detector. So I thought, makes sense to shorten the line and I don’t like the invasion of privacy…a win/win.

Apparently he did not agree. “Take off your watch and your bracelet and hold them in your hand.”

So I objected again. “I really don’t feel comfortable going through the full body scanner or getting a pat down.” The male security guard kind of looked annoyed and turned his attention to Jon, while a female security guard came toward me from the full body scanner and said in a brusque tone, “you can choose: either the scanner or the pat down, which would you like to do?”

“Well, I don’t really want to do either. Can I go through the metal detector?”

She looked at me sternly. “Scanner or pat down?”

“Fine, I’ll do the scanner.”

So I stepped into the space between two walls of machinery.

“Place your feet on the indicators with your hands above your head.”

Excuse me? The position indicated was the equivalent of a Law and Order criminal frisk. My legs were spread, my hands moved to my head to a vulnerable position. I felt exposed on a multitude of fronts.

“I feel like a f*&%ing criminal,” I said under my breath, albeit a little louder, as I tried to take a deep breath. Stay calm.

Well, the female security guard really didn’t like that. “Do you want a pat down? Stand still!”

Ah, yes because there’s nothing like being ordered around to make one feel comfortable when their private regions are being exposed via live feed to the security guards watching the monitor and standing spread eagle in front of an airport full of people. Awesome.

“I really don’t understand why this is necessary,” I said again, clearly agitated as the security guard moved me from the scanning device to a holding pad where I was told to wait until given the-all clear.

I couldn’t hear and didn’t notice if anyone else was upset by this whole process, all I could think about was the burning in my face and the frustration I felt at our system.

As we grabbed our bags, Jon was visibly annoyed at my reaction. ‘Why did you have to do that,” he asked.

I tried to explain how invaded I felt. How ridiculous it seemed. Given the early morning and my only 5 hours of sleep, I don’t think I was articulating my point very well. But it seems to me that this level of investigation is unnecessary in this age of information and frankly, a level of Big Brother with which I just do not agree.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully support security measures to prevent terrorist attacks and to keep Americans safe. My question is, is the extra level of security that full-body scanning provides really worth forfeiting an American value of personal/private space? And in addition, are there not better ways to prevent terrorist attacks? In an age where we have unparalleled technologies to track movement, compile data and analyze behavior, you are telling me that our security teams don’t already have a pretty good idea of who would be a threat before they even get in the security line? If they don’t, then Houston, we have a problem.

I suffer under no delusion of privacy. I know that American Airlines (the airline I fly the most, but really any airline) and the American government have huge amounts of data on my travel, personal history, and perhaps even this blog. (And this is no conspiracy theory notion—working in online media I can attest to how much information you can gather about someone with a few clicks. And frankly if you’re a business, why wouldn’t you because you want to be able to target a customer so the more information you have on them, the better—and that same information can be passed on for security.) To ensure our security and the American way of life, we have given up a lot of our rights to privacy. So the question becomes, when is it too much? And when should we stand up to it?

Jon said I should just go along with the body scan—everyone else was doing it and they need it to see things that wouldn’t already be detected. Ok, sure. I get that—kind of. I could possibly understand it if someone gave them a reason, or provided cause (Jon said I provided cause by asking to not go through it). However, I am just left rather dumbfounded as to why people with no record and no indication of a threat are subjected to invasive procedures when people who have been identified as threats (ie, the young Nigerian fellow whose own parents had called the US Embassy to warn about) skip through unnoticed.

So I would like to US Government security officials:

  • How much safer are the people on my flight because the security guards at the airport got to see me naked?
  • How much more information do these scans really provide? If someone has a gun hidden somewhere, won’t that set off a metal detector anyway?
  • Is there a way to be smarter, more effective, and more efficient with our security so that we can be safe and at the same time not jeopardize core American values?

I’m curious to know what others think. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should go along. But as the silent masses piled through security this morning disrobing, de-shoeing, un-buckling, without even an eyebrow raise, my inner radical grannie just couldn’t be silenced. And I think maybe America might be a little better, and a little safer if there were a few more raising their inner grannie voices as well.

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