TSA Travel in 3 Bullet Points

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Here are three things I learned about the TSA over the Thanksgiving holiday.

• TSA may not tell you you’re being scanned. In my case, an agent simply motioned for me to walk between two black panels and told me to raise my arms “for a few seconds.” He had not done this to the two passengers before me, and he did not tell me raising my arms was for a backscatter scan. I asked if this was for a scanner, which he confirmed. I decided to opt-out due to conflicting information on radiation levels.

• During my “enhanced pat down,” I learned the TSA does use new blue gloves for every passenger. Hurray!

• The TSA agent frisking me obviously hated conducting the search as much as I hated receiving it. While grimacing and frowning, she didn’t go so far as to touch my vulva with her hand, but she did get to my upper thighs. I was wearing a miniskirt, t-shirt, and flip-flops and the agent was annoyed about the skirt because it altered the procedure somewhat. In my defense, it was 80 degrees and humid in the airport, and I was quite comfortable (aside from the strange woman stroking my bare legs) while the agent was sweating through her TSA standard-issue polyesters.

Overall the pat-down wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. It was a bit embarrassing, and it’s sort of amazing the agent was able to pat me down without revealing my “assets” to the rest of the passengers, since I was wearing a short skirt. I did think about getting scanned, but a pat-down only lasts a few minutes and radiation is forever. But as recent news reports show, many people did decide to go through the scanners over the Thanksgiving holiday… just not nearly as many as the TSA would have you believe.

The TSA reports how many people opt-out of scanners, and the total number of travelers. So at LAX, less than 1% of all travelers opted out of being scanned. But as my experience is an example of, not every traveler is asked to be scanned. Nate Silver points out that this makes the TSA’s data presentation problematic: “TSA’s data is not really worth very much without knowing how many passengers had the option of opting out—meaning, that they were asked to pass through full-body scanners than metal detectors.” I would additionally be interested to know how many passengers are even told they are going to be scanned, or informed they CAN opt-out. As I found out this weekend, just because you do have a right to opt-out doesn’t mean your local TSA agent will tell you about it.

 

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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