I'm sure I've ended up on some watch list by now, but my critiques of the US Transportation Security Administration are old news. Fortunately, I'm not alone, so if I am on a watchlist, I'm in some pretty badass company - like Brian Doherty of reason.com, Christopher Elliott of Fortune, Bruce Schneier of generally-being-awesome, and more. And because I'm a major privacy advocate, whether you're having your blog posts monitored or your...uh... bits... jabbed in the airport security queue, I both assume I'm being watched and plan to make it a party if so.
Anyhoo. What prompted today's piece was a recent article that came out about the TSA getting sued over not setting rules around the use of body scanners in airports. I've always had an intense distrust and general squick feeling about the scanners, because they create such charming images of the average unassuming air traveller, as well as emit only questionably safe levels of radiation, and because not only do children bypass them (presumably because of that whole questionably-safe thing), but so, too, do the adults they travel with... confirming my theory that it's just a pile of security theater, designed to make travellers feel safe rather than actually increase safety.
Essentially, the TSA was told by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011 to draw up rules for the use of these machines in commercial airports, and four years later, they haven't done it. This is despite multiple warnings from the court on fourth amendment grounds, and years of operating in what essentially amounts to total secrecy. The National Center for Transgender Equality is one of the co-petitioners on the suit, as trans travellers experience a particular brand of stress, sometimes even trauma, when they go through TSA screenings.
It's the cloak of secrecy that really gets me, though - the TSA, a publicly-funded and theoretically -regulated government body, gets more privacy than the average citizen. If I flouted a court order for four years, I know exactly where I'd end up - prison.
I think one of the strangest things is that, in researching for this blog post, I Googled the phrase "TSA sued" to find some more sources, and came up with this. Go ahead, click - it'll show you numerous private suits filed in just the last few months alone by travellers who found their rights violated by the officers charged with keeping us safe. I think my favourite has to be the one where a man's energy bars and watch looked like bomb fixin's, so he was detained and then arrested for 20 hours because he wanted to file a complaint. You sue, boo, you sue.
On my last journey, from Boston to London in June, I somehow ended up in the elite security queue. I didn't mean to; since I'm so big on privacy, I haven't joined any of the zip-through-security clubs that would require biometric data. As I went through, none of us had to remove shoes, open bags, take off jackets... any of the usual faff. It was quick and orderly and no big deal, which was great - but remember, I wasn't actually signed up for any program that should have let me through. So it appears the TSA is alternately aggressively searching people (with that lovely $7.4 billion budget they've got), and letting total randos (hello!) through without a word.
If that isn't theater, I don't know what is.