What will it be: machine or me?
On Thursday afternoon, TSA's online spokesman Blogger Bob posted some myth-busting explanations to the TSA Blog about the recent uproar over pat downs and the full-body X-ray devices. The answers are helpful, as are most of Blogger Bob's postings, and they may change the minds of some citizens about the merit of the new screening machines and aggressive pat-downs in spite of the... uh, grabbing headlines.
But TSA shouldn't be let off that easily. In fact, if they could step over here for a moment ... and remove all items from their pockets, they've been selected for some supplemental scrutinizing.
Front-line communications has always been the weakest aspect of the Transportation Security Administration. Let's not mince words: TSA's communications inside airports absolutely sucks. The signage is usually too small and too opaque to do any real informing. The policies, while perhaps necessarily vague and ever-shifting, are insufficiently explained and rarely displayed in a useful fashion ahead of time for the travelers who need them. Most of all, the vast majority of transportation security officials responsible for screening travelers don't have the right personality or adequate training --- often both --- to interact with citizens in a positive way. Travelers who pay attention to the charade walk away shaking their heads, the unspoken feeling being one of "no confidence" in the system or the people running it.
This, obviously, is a shame. Some security is necessary. TSA has saved itself additional headaches by having a candid blog where policies and actions are explained to the public. Sometimes the explanations come a few days too late, but generally they do come. What to do to improve front-line communications at airports will be the subject of future posts here.
As for the current controversy over the body-scanning machines, OhMyGov has written about the technology going all the way back to 2008 (from the Airplane! movie-like feel of it all to the "TSA Porn" charge of one Congressman) and thinks its an improvement ... to the extent that carrying dangerous non-metallic items on your person has long been a glaring loophole in the airport security process.
However, the system runs to trouble with the error-prone human back-up to the new technology. TSA's uniformed security officers just can't be put in the position of feeling up and down the pants of travelers who aren't under suspicion of wrongdoing. If suspicions are aroused, well, that's a different ballgame. But there seems to be little to no coordination between the intelligence conducted behind-the-scenes to determine the risk posed by an individual and the treatment they receive during the checkpoint process.
This controversy isn't going away anytime soon. For now, here are answers, reproduced here from the TSA Blog, to help you get to grandma's house next week for Thanksgiving.
Myth: All children will receive pat-downs.
officers are trained to work with parents to ensure a respectful
screening process for the entire family, while providing the best
possible security for all travelers. Children 12 years old and under who
require extra screening will receive a modified pat down.
Myth: The TSA pat-down is invasive
passengers who alarm a walk through metal detector or AIT [Advanced Imaging Technology] machine or
opt out of the AIT receive a pat-down. For this reason, it is designed
to be thorough in order to detect any potential threats and keep the
traveling public safe. Pat-downs are performed by same-gender officers
and all passengers have the right to a private screening with a travel
companion at any time.
Myth: The pat-down is a punishment for opting out of the AIT.
Fact: There’s nothing punitive about it
- it just makes good security sense. And the weapons and other
dangerous and prohibited items we’ve found during pat downs speak to
Myth: Everyone who travels will receive a pat-down. Fact:
Only passengers who alarm a walk through metal detector or AIT machine
or opt out of the AIT receive a pat-down. It is one layer in our tool
kit to address the nonmetallic explosives threat. In yesterday’s hearing,
Administrator Pistole said: “The bottom line is few people in the
overall scheme of things will actually receive those pat downs. Now,
we've heard some examples, and obviously, there's a vocal group out
there who have experienced this for the first time, and, rightfully so,
raising concerns, what's behind this. And the bottom line is we, the
transportation security officers in particular, are trying to work in
partnership with the traveling public to say we want to ensure that you
are safe on this flight. Work with us in a partnership to provide the
best possible security. And that's what it comes down to.”
Myth: Complaints about the pat-downs are extremely high.
Fact: Only a small
percentage of the traveling public receives a pat down as they travel
through the security checkpoint. Approximately 2 million people fly in
the United States every day. The number of complaints is extremely low.
Myth: Pat downs for certain individuals are limited to the head and neck. Fact: No one is exempt. Everyone is subject to the same screening. TSA is sensitive to religious and cultural needs, but everyone must be screened effectively. Administrator Pistole echoed those sentiments on MSNBC’s Hardball recently.
AIT Myths & Facts
Myth: AIT is not safe.
Fact: Backscatter technology is safe for all passenger and has been evaluated
by the Food and Drug Administration, National Institute for Standards
and Technology and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
All results confirm that the radiation dose is well below the standard
for safety set by the American national Standards Institute. The
technology is safe. A person receives more radiation naturally each hour
than from one screening with a backscatter unit. In fact a traveler is
exposed to less radiation from one AIT scan than from 2 minutes of an
Myth: There has been an overwhelming public outcry against AIT.
Fact: A recent CBS News Poll found that 4 in 5 Support Full-Body Airport Scanners
Myth: AIT cannot detect powdered explosives.
Fact: This is
false. Advanced imaging technology is deployed specifically because of
its ability to detect both metallic threats – which a metal detector
would pick up – and non-metallic threats – which a metal detector would
not pick up. This includes explosive material that can take the form of
powders, liquids and gels and be used in an improvised explosive device
made up completely of non-metallic material.
Myth: Everybody who travels must undergo AIT screening.
imaging technology is optional – anybody can choose to opt out and
receive alternate screening, which will include a pat down.
Myth: TSA Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) images can be stored on the AIT machines located in our airports.
Completely false – TSA’s machines should not be confused with the
recent stories about the U.S. Marshals Service. The machines used by
TSA at our airports cannot store, print or transmit images. They simply
don’t have that ability. Administrator Pistole also addressed this on
Hardball. (At 6:03 on the clip)
Myth: TSA Officers are sharing AIT images they are taking with their cell phones.
Our officers are prohibited from bringing electronic devices such as
cell phones into the AIT viewing room. This is a fireable offense and no
such reports have been substantiated.
Myth: The AIT images shared by TSA are proof the images can be stored.
The images shared by TSA are either from the vendor, or were
photographed by the media at a press event where an example of the
technology was shown.
Myth: Children must be screened by the AIT.
Fact: Anybody can opt out of AIT, including children.
Miscellaneous Myths & Facts
Myth: Airports can opt-out of TSA screening.
All commercial airports are regulated by TSA whether the actual
screening is performed by TSA or private companies. So TSA’s policies –
including advanced imaging technology and pat downs – are in place at
all domestic airports.
Myth: Radio Host Meg McLain was handcuffed to a chair after choosing not to undergo AIT screening.
Fact: She was never handcuffed to a chair and many of her outlandish claims were proven to be unfounded.