By Susan Johnson
In the wake of hundreds of protests by airline pilots, flight attendants, travel associations, scientists, privacy groups, parents, Muslims and everyday passengers against extreme security measures subjecting people to what many see as dangerous radiation from Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) scanners, Nov. 24 has been designated as National Opt-Out Day.
It’s the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government’s desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an “enhanced pat down” that touches people’s breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner. As one father said, “You should never have to explain to your children, ‘Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK.’”
Who is objecting and why
It began with one pilot, Michael Roberts, employed by ExpressJet Airlines, Inc., based in Houston, who objected to being subjected to TSA scanners. Oct. 18, he was told he must pass through a TSA scanner although he had gone through the same line for four-and-a-half years without incident. When he objected politely, he was taken aside, questioned, and told that he must speak with an investigator. Roberts also objected to the pat down, citing concerns with his civil liberties. Roberts was suspended and his flying status put on hold. Following this incident, the Airline Pilots Association advised all its pilots to opt out of the TSA system. Then, the flight attendants union got on board, and tourism groups and others.
In a meeting with some of the objectors Friday, Nov. 12, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the scanning machines were safe and that pat downs were “discreet.” She added that, despite the objections of the groups raising questions about safety, the extreme security procedures would continue. The meeting was necessitated by the accelerating backlash against new TSA measures that have outraged the nation, publicized by The Drudge Report, Infowars and Prison Planet. Reuters reported, “Executives from the travel industry, including online travel sites, theme parks and hotels, were set to meet Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and [TSA Administrator John] Pistole on Friday to discuss their concerns that security is crimping travel.”
Geoff Freeman, an executive vice president of the U.S. Travel Association, which set up the meeting with the Obama administration, said: “We have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from travelers vowing to stop flying. You can’t talk on the one hand about creating jobs in this country and getting this economy back on track and on the other hand discourage millions of Americans from flying, which is the gateway to commerce.”
What scientists say
Dr. Michael Love, who works at the Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, stated, “statistically, someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays.”
Steve Watson, writing for infowars.com, said, “According to other numerous real ‘independent’ scientists who continue to speak out over the health hazards associated with the X-ray technology, the body scanners are far from safe.
“John Sedat, a University of California at San Francisco professor of biochemistry and biophysics and member of the National Academy of Sciences, tells CNet that the machines have ‘mutagenic effects’ and will increase the risk of cancer. Sedat previously sent a letter to the White House science Czar John P. Holdren, identifying the specific risk the machines pose to children and the elderly.”
Some problems reported by Watson were, “The scanners are similar to C-Scans and fire ionizing radiation at those inside which penetrates a few centimeters into the flesh and reflects off the skin to form a naked body image.
“The firing of ionizing radiation at the body effectively ‘unzips’ DNA, according to scientific research by the Massachusetts of Technology.
“The research shows that even very low doses of X-ray can delay or prevent cellular repair of damaged DNA, yet pregnant women and children will be subjected to the process as new guidelines including scanners are adopted.
“The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety concluded in their report on the matter that governments must justify the use of the scanners and that a more accurate assessment of the health risks is needed.”
Bloomberg reported, “The Committee cited the IAEA’s 1996 Basic Safety Standards agreement, drafted over three decades, that protects people from radiation. Frequent exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
Watson added, “Scientists at Columbia University also entered the debate recently, warning that the dose emitted by the naked X-ray devices could be up to 20 times higher than originally estimated, likely contributing to an increase in a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma which affects the head and neck.”
According to OptOutDay.com, the goal of National Opt-Out Day is to send a message to lawmakers that we demand change. We have a right to privacy, and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we’re guilty until proven innocent. This day is needed because many people do not understand what they consent to when choosing to fly.
Here are the details from the OptOutDay.com website:
Who? You, your family and friends traveling by air Wednesday, Nov. 24. Remember, too, as the TSA says, “Every day is opt-out day.” That is, you can opt out any time you fly.
What? National Opt-Out Day. You have the right to opt-out of the naked body scanner machines (AIT, or Advance Imaging Technology, as the government calls it). All you have to do is say, “I opt out” when they tell you to go through one of the machines. You will then be given an “enhanced” pat down. This is a right given you by the TSA.
Where? At an airport near you!
When? Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010. We want families to sit around the dinner table, eating turkey, talking about their experience—what constitutes an unreasonable search, how forceful of a pat down will we allow on certain areas of our body, and that of our children, and how much privacy are we willing to give up for flying? We hope the experience then propels people to write their Member of Congress and the airlines to demand change.
Why? The government should not have the ability to virtually strip search anyone it wants without cause. The problem has been compounded in that if you do not want to go through the body scanner, the TSA has made the alternative perhaps even worse by instituting “enhanced” pat downs. There are reports from travelers across the country about how the TSA now touches the genitals and private areas of men, women and children in a much more aggressive manner. We do not believe the government has a right to see you naked or aggressively touch you just because you bought an airline ticket.
How? By saying, “I opt out” when told to go through the body imaging machines and submitting to a pat down. Also, be sure to have your pat down by TSA in full public—do not go to the back room when asked. Every citizen must see for themselves how the TSA treats law-abiding citizens.
If you have experienced a problem with TSA when flying, use the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s incident report to lodge your complaint: epic.org/bodyscanner/incident_report.
From the Nov. 17-23, 2010 issue