It’s not the scanner… it’s not the hand search…
it’s the lies that bother me


I’ve been watching since the airport scanner debate… protest… situation… pick a description… started up. And to be honest with you… it bothered me, and yet I’m not really sure what bothered me about it.

Was it the privacy concerns? Sort of… but not necessarily because of the scanners and what shows up on the screen.

Was it the type of searches being conducted? Sort of… but again not necessarily for any of the better known reasons or complaints.

Instead, the best I can come up with is that once again we seemed to have people rushing into actions without considering the possible reactions.

And now we have the airlines being warned that people may do something like have a bomb surgically implanted.

I will let that sink in for a moment.

Surgically implanted bombs.

(And some of you were going nuts about the pat downs that followed things like a cucumber wrapped in aluminum foil. Bombs being surgically placed? Oh yeah… this is just going to make international travel a delight.)

The thing is… what about the reaction to this news? No… no… not directed at the action of someone actually being so beyond comprehension and description that they would consider doing such a thing.

I’m talking about the reaction to the news.

See the airlines will do something… I don’t know, like requiring cat scans and colonoscopies before boarding… and air travel will get more difficult because you’ll have to fast the day before travel and drink that hideous gunk in order to get through the TSA screeners. That’s basically the “this is what we have to do to keep the country safe from the terrorists” action. (My words.)

What I want to know though is a step beyond that. What happens because of the possible changes?

Do ticket prices go up because airlines have to employ doctors and medical teams to perform the exams? Will some airlines promote their great in-flight meals for those of us that will be longing to eat again?

And before you start accusing me of crossing a line… going to far… being filled with sarcasm and vinegar and even humor about a serious subject… well… yeah… I admit that some of this essay so far is set up against the edge of the envelope in fun. Obviously I don’t expect pre-flight colonoscopies. (Although… to be fair… medical exams of this type could be something to consider as the national medical debate continues.)

The thing is… having fun and half-serious or not… I’m afraid I have some examples that illustrate my concern.

In fact… how about three?

First of all, the procedures in general. This article appeared in the Orlando Sentinel about a year ago. (November 2010) Check out this line from it:

“Popular technology site Gizmodo has posted a video on its site containing a series of controversial images captured and stored by a security scanner at the federal courthouse in Orlando.”

And then this one…

“The images became the subject of controversy in August, when the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center learned the courthouse machine — which uses millimeter-wave technology — had been storing the images of people scanned while entering the building. The group later requested the images and posted some on its website.”

Yup… bip… bop… freedom of information act request… boom… the images supposedly obtained as part of a routine procedure became part of public record. Maybe the plan was to never use the images for anything else… maybe the procedures were for nothing to be stored… just look at the results and you see that best intentions or supposed-to-follow just don’t matter. (And apparently turned into a music video. Amazing.)

Second, we turn our attention to safety issues. Back in March we got this article, posted at USA Today, discussing the records of almost 250 machines at 38 different airports. Evidently: “…maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.”

I will pause for a moment… give you a chance to take a breath and then refocus your attention… and repeat that line…

“…maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.”

Now, of course the statements indicate the readings are an error… and of course even the highest readings aren’t dangerous levels… and of course no one is in danger.

Of course.

(I’m relieved. How about you? And I’m satisfied with the explanation. How about… well… let’s stay with this for a moment…)

We can’t get an agreement about cell phones and whether or not they’re safe. Let’s keep in mind… two packs of cigarettes a day and drinking a few martinis at lunch was considered glamorous and not exactly a health hazard not too long ago. This story isn’t even close to stopping me from travelling… but I do wonder about all the stuff floating around in the air. Cell phones… wireless internet… ten security scanners lined up at the airport…

And third… well, you know about radar detectors, right? I’ve told the story before about riding with a friend decades ago and discussing the evolution of radar detectors. Basically… long story short… a company sells a detector that can pick up police speed gun signals, the police in turn buy new speed guns that use a different system, so the company does some research and sells a new line of detectors, and then the police react to the new detectors, and the saga continues. It becomes a constant cycle of action – reaction.

Now apply that to the airport screeners. Eventually you wind up with someone wondering what it would take to get past the latest and greatest… and we start reading stories about surgically implanted bombs.

Again, I’m not even considering not travelling. And yet…

A few years ago, my wife and I were traveling some place. When we checked in and got our boarding passes, unknown to me a mark was placed on my pass. It was supposed to tell TSA I had been randomly selected for additional screening.

About two hours later, having waited for and now getting ready to board our flight… which was delayed in arriving and leaving… the agent at the gate asked me why my boarding pass hadn’t been cleared by TSA. When I asked what she meant… she pointed to the mark and told me I should have been pulled aside for additional screening. She needed to get someone to the gate to check me out before I could board.

Now stay with me… because this is where the story gets funny.

A TSA agent arrived at the gate and explained the process to me. It was simple enough… look through my bags… a quick wanding… no big deal. (Hey… I’m a supporter of airport screening, and I think overall TSA agents are good people under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress because of a thankless position. Few people appreciate these people that they feel are there to annoy them. Well… I appreciate them.)

I asked him if he needed to check all of the bags I was carrying, or just my bags. See… I was carrying my wife’s carry-on bag at that point. He said he only needed mine and didn’t need to look at my wife’s, and then allowed me to hand a bag to my wife.

If I have to explain the significant moment from my story to you… the element that shows not everything is caught… the giant loophole that just took place… then I don’t know what to tell you. Go back five paragraphs to the beginning of the tale and read it over again.

Technology is great and wonderful. But as the old expression goes… garbage in, garbage out. Machines and procedures are only as good as those programming them or carrying out the assignments.

Beyond that… funny how in life the unexpected and downright improbable so often has a way of becoming the reality. It isn’t you… it isn’t me… the odds are millions of millions to one… someone wins the interstate lottery.

The problem I have with all of the increased procedures and efforts isn’t that idea of the procedures and efforts. Instead I don’t like the games of what-are-the-odds that seem to show up all the time. Idiots want to strip down to bathing suits (or less) and stage some sort of pointless protest. Who cares? No one. Now… what are the odds the images will turn up again and actually were saved? …what are the odds the devices may turn out to be a health hazard? …what are the odds someone might be one step ahead of technology? There’s some material for the media to be more focused on.

I want to be safe when I travel. You need me to take off my belt? Fine. Done. Want me to open my carry-on so you can look through it? No problem. Heck… I’ll even throw out my bottle of water and pay extra to buy a new one on the other side of the security checkpoint.

Is it too much to ask something in return? That we’re sure of how things are being handled… that we know what is being said to us is true… is that too much?

Because in Australia, they are apparently ready to use stick figures on their scanners… with technology that doesn’t even show a body image if the person scans as being safe. (Heck… check out this article… that talks about radiation-free equipment. Worth at least noting.)

I’m just asking about this. I’m not looking for the scanning to stop. There will be no protests from me… nor complaints… even if I’m waiting in line. I just want to know that what I’m being promised is accurate… and the equipment being used appropriate.

And I don’t think that’s too much to look for.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at