OXFORD – Just when it seemed that America’s “Homeland Security state” could not get more surreal, the United States Transportation Security Administration has rolled out a costly Scylla and Charybdis at major airports: either you accept dangerous doses of radiation and high-resolution imaging of your naked body, or, worried about the health risks of cumulative radiation, you opt out of the new full-body x-ray machines (rapidly dubbed “porno-scanners”).
But if you opt out, you are now subjected, as I was last week, to an extraordinarily sexualized and invasive “pat-down” by TSA officials. “I will now touch your private parts,” a very uncomfortable female TSA official said to me when I flew out of New York’s Kennedy Airport. And, sure enough, I experienced the invasive touching of genitals and breasts that is now standard policy for US travelers.
Men report handling of their testicles and penises, TSA officials are instructed to open and peer down waistbands, and YouTube is now rife with videos of frightened children being – to describe it accurately – sexually molested, though this is the last thing most TSA officials wish to do.
Are we free not to be radiated or groped? We are not. Passengers who have refused to be patted down on their genitals have been handcuffed to chairs. Each new terror alert or high-tech innovation, it seems, makes new demands on our liberty in the name of security. But travelers’ recent experiences in the US should give security officials elsewhere good reason to avoid implementing similar policies.