I’m going to try to summarize the ongoing scandal erupting in the USA over the TSA policy of using enhaced body searches on passengers attempting to fly within the continental United States. It has deeply saddened me – but not really shocked or surprised – to see this ongoing harrassment of the citizenry over to what amounts to an attempt to justify the slow undoing of the contract between the government and the people, along with the abuse of power and the vast sums of money being exchanged between those who really don’t care about the abuses suffered by the populace.

I make this statement: I will no longer travel to the United States of America.

It is a shame that I find myself making this covenent with myself. I like Americans. The vast majority that I have either met or worked with have been some of the finest, most upstanding and fundamentally decent human beings I’ve met. (Perhaps it’s a coincidence that I have met them while they’ve been away from the USA – a sign of them being well travelled and hence perhaps a little more understanding of the rest of the world) I like America. I have been to the US once, on a Japanese tour to Las Vegas that lasted all of three nights. I count myself lucky that I’ve been able to see some of America’s more famous landmarks: Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. I still relish the memories of those places, along with seeing the start of Route 66, an Arizona sunset, and running around a truck stop taking pictures of real American cars. I was such a tourist. (I still am…) I feel a little sad thinking about how I will never see a Montana sky, the New York skyline, Yellowstone, Monument Valley, travel along a highway in a Chevy pickup while listening to right-wing talkback radio or have pancakes, apple pie and hot coffee at a roadside diner while country music plays on a jukebox. All my American dreams are going to remain that way as long as the TSA keeps its policy of treating passengers like criminals.

I’m going to link to as many articles as I can, so if you want to read them, be my guest. It’ll take a while.

The thing is, patting down passengers isn’t really going to stop terrorists. As many articles are stating, it forces anyone who wishes to blow up a plane to move the explosives into an area the scanners and hands can’t reach – namely inside the human body. I’m surprised no one hasn’t mentioned the Joker’s ploy to escape from custody in The Dark Night: surgically implanting a bomb into a stooge, to be detonated by remote using a mobile phone, but someone HAS managed to bring in a bomb implanted rectally and detonate it near the terrorist’s target. The new backscatter machines employed by the TSA won’t pick up those. (They can’t even pick up anything hidden in the folds of cloth) So I guess it’s a matter of time before we’re forced to submit to full torso X-rays or CT scans before we’re allowed to fly.

The horror stories continue to mount, and as Penn (of Penn And Teller) noted in 2002, this is nothing new. These procedures amount to sexual assault, and many people who’ve been submitted to this have said as much. This woman was touched without being informed by the TSA agent that she was going to do so. This man (who recorded the incident on his mobile phone – in the process becoming dubbed the Rosa Parks of the movement against the TSA) refused to be searched and was submitted to abuse after abuse. He is currently being sued for $10,000 by the TSA and I hope he countersues for the humiliation and violations he suffered. One woman was told by the TSA that she should leave her insulin pump at home if she didn’t want to be searched. Another woman had her breasts exposed by agents, who then laughed at her. She was then subjected to further verbal harrassment from TSA agents. She is suing. I hope she wins. The TSA agents don’t spare children either. It’s interesting to note that a TSA agent can touch a child in a way that should only be reserved for that child’s parents or doctor, but a teacher can be charged with child molestation for patting a child on the back.  Other passengers aren’t even groped through their clothes with agents putting their hands inside the pants of flyers. This comments thread from the Washington Post contains hundreds of stories of passengers being submitted to the most horrible of experiences perpretrated by agents either on power trips or suffering from the most amazing lack of knowledge of human anatomy or medical possibilities.

As for the TSA claims that pictures cannot be saved – don’t bet on it. Already Gizmodo has found hundreds of pictures taken from similar machines. The security videos of passengers being humiliated can be saved, duplicated and distributed. The mere fact that people have been subjected to verbal abuse by the agents as a result of these invasive searches should be enough grounds. It is also a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. I wonder if Obama has to endure such a search every time he flies Air Force One? (That a rhetorical question – of course he doesn’t… Oh, wait – once. I bet they didn’t touch his junk though.)

But the calls for the reversal of these policies, along with the abolishment of the TSA are starting to come thick and fast.

There’s a push to make November 24th (the busiest day of travel in the US) an Opt Out Day. The official website is a great source for up-to-the-minute info on the unfolding situation. Just today, Ron Paul has introduced legislation called The American Traveler Dignity Act. One bright spark has added to the idea by saying that all men should wear kilts when flying on the 24th, just to double the embarrassment for all concerned.

But, more seriously, the backscatter technology may actually be dangerous, with the odds of getting skin cancer put at the odds of one in sixteen million – but that’s per scan, so frequent travellers who have to go through these machines are faced with playing the odds, or getting sexually assaulted for their troubles. Pilots and flight attendants are starting to rebel against the procedures, which they have to endure along with passengers. Why pilots and flight attendants are assessed as potential terrorist threats is beyond me.

The other easy way to avoid all this is to simply not fly. But make a big song and dance about it. I am – in my own way.  

As the excellent Esquire article said, one of the big paradigm shifts we’re witnessing here is the shift from ordinary people being treated as innocents to being presumed guilty. Before the metal detector was enough. If you walked through without setting anything off, you were free to go. If you set it off then you came under suspicion. These backscatter machines and the intrusive patdowns presume you have something to hide, which must then be shown otherwise to be the case. It’s a big change in the thinking behind the way the powers that be treat the people, but if you read the news (and have been reading my blog for the past few years) you’d know that this is part of a continual process of America becoming what could be described as a police state.

As one US politician has made clear, money and favours are also a big factor in all of this. So as long as the rich stand to make more money out of selling this technology to a government ready to help out old buddies, as long as the American public go along with the charade that this is somehow making them safer, and as long as the USA continues down the dark path of fascism, I won’t be going to the USA.

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