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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TSA Body Scanners And Pat Downs: What Other Options Are Available?

Americans, conservative, moderate and liberal are all up in arms over the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) latest procedures to stop terrorists from blowing planes out of the air and killing innocent men, women and children.

Body scanning devices that allow for very little modesty have been garnering much attention and people that refuse to allow those scanners to scan them are required to get pat downs that recent news has shown to be very invasive, offending in many case and outright humiliating in others.

I see the discussions and cannot disagree with the outrage but I also cannot see many other options in guaranteeing that methods used previously, such as shoe bombs and underwear bombs, are caught before the person willing to die to kill innocents actually boards a plane.

(Underwear with plastic explosives in an unsuccessful attempt to bring down a plane on December 25, 2009)

The undisputed facts are as follows:

Fact #1- There are crazy zealots out there that want to kill innocent men, women and children and have already tried more than once.

Fact #2- The newly implemented procedures, invasive pat downs and graphic scanners, are offensive to many on all sides of the political spectrum and even those that have no political "side". (After seeing the update below, it appears that saying many" might be accurate but does not represent "most" air travelers)

Fact #3- Metal detectors do not detect plastic.

Those are the facts that are undisputed.

The question I have, a serious question, is what are the available options that would allow us to forgo those scanners and the new pat down procedure and still afford us the safety of knowing no other underwear bomber or shoe bomber is on the plane with us as we travel?

I am seeing a tremendous amount of ink dedicated to criticisms but not near as much ink dedicated to providing options, alternate methods to identify an individual who has plastic explosives sewn into his/her underwear.

Personally I am not willing to defend the procedures because they are so invasive, but I also refuse to condemn them without being able to offer another option to accomplish the same goal.

With that said there are certain products developed and implemented or in the process of being developed, such as The Explosive Residue Detection system - developed by Loughborough University, Morpho Detection Itemiser DX explosives scanners which can detect even a few molecules of explosive residue on passengers or in baggage, Explosive Trace Detection scanners are already used at some airports, as just a few examples.

Scanning each and every person prepared to board a flight will undoubtedly cause security checkpoints to be slow and annoying, but at least then complaints would be about inconvenience and not about graphic images and "touching our junk."

The complaints are real, the concerns just as real but to continue to criticize without offering up acceptable options is unreasonable.

PS- If I still traveled as frequently as I used to, I would find the body scanners and pat downs offensive, but you know what I would find more offensive... Death. I am not huge on death, in fact I have an aversion to it. Call me crazy!

[Update] Gallup with surprising results from people that travel by plane:

Despite a reported uproar about full-body screening procedures now in broader use at U.S. airports and calls for a boycott, Gallup finds that relatively few frequent U.S. air travelers are angry about the new procedures or inclined to cut back on flying as a result. The large majority (71%) of air travelers who have flown at least twice in the past year say any potential loss of personal privacy from the full-body scans and pat-downs is worth it as a means of preventing acts of terrorism.

The results are from a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Nov. 19-21, 2010, in which 23% of respondents say they have flown two or more times in the past year. The majority of Americans (62%) say they have not flown at all in the past 12 months, and 15% have flown once.

Gallup asked those who have flown two or more times in the past year about the full-body scans and pat-downs the Transportation Security Administration is now using at many U.S. airports as a means to prevent acts of terrorism. The majority (57%) say they are not bothered by the prospect of undergoing a full-body scan at airport security checkpoints. The same percentage, however, say they are bothered, if not angry, about the prospect of undergoing a full-body pat-down. Still, fewer than one in three frequent air travelers are "angry" about undergoing either procedure.

From all the attention in the media and blogosphere, it appears those that complain most loudly about the body scanners and/or pat downs, are those that don't travel at all or less than twice a year.

(Correction made to accurately portray the Gallup poll update)