Hate full body scanners? Here’s 10 things you can do.

Posted on
Nov 9, 2010

I feel badly. Yesterday I sufficiently freaked a lot of people out (I mean a lot of people. Thanks to everyone who retweeted the article) when I wrote about the invasive, privacy-violating, potentially-dangerous full-body scanners that are appearing in airports all over the U.S.

That’s not the part I feel badly about.

I feel badly because I told you about the problem, but I didn’t offer any solutions. And part of the reason for that was that I didn’t see that many viable ones. Unfortunately, the TSA and Homeland Security pretty much have full reign over this sort of thing, and can do whatever the hell they want (I mean, they have thus far). The other problem is that most people can’t avoid flying – a lot of us have jobs that require travel – driving or taking the train to our final destination just isn’t feasible. Still, there are a few things that you can do to make it clear to the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security that you aren’t going to stand for the full-body scanners.

1. Opt-out of the scanners, and select the pat-down option. You simply need to tell the TSA agent that you are opting out of the full-body scan, and they will give you a pat-down instead. Be warned that the pat-down is just as humiliating and invasive as the screens (perhaps more so). But it sends a message to TSA that the scanners are unacceptable. Give yourself a lot of extra time before your flight, since TSA officials have been known to keep people waiting for extensive periods of time. Their goal is to make pat-downs as unpleasant as possible for you (as it was for this blogger), in an attempt to force you back to the scanners.

2. Spread the word to your family and friends. Email them articles (like this one about the dangers of the radiation emitted by the scanners), encourage them to join Facebook groups, and do whatever you can to inform the people in your life about the b.s. we’re getting from the TSA.

3. Join my Facebook group. I’m trying to update the page with as much information as possible about the scanners and what you can do about them. And while you’re at it, why not “like” the ACLU’s Facebook page?

4. Had a bad experience with the TSA and the full-body scanners? File a complaint with the ACLU.

5. Write a letter to your congressperson. If enough politicians realize their constituents are concerned about this, something might actually happen. (Emphasis on the word “might.”) While you’re at it, you might want to send a letter to the major airline carriers that you use, as well as hotel chains that you frequent, letting them know that if the scanners continue, you’re boycotting travel.

6. Report any incidents that occur during pat-downs or body-scans with EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center). EPIC has currently joined forces with Ralph Nader and filed a lawsuit to suspend the body-scanner program, and they need all the evidence and stories they can get. (Also, if they’re successful, I just might forgive Ralph Nader. But I probably won’t.)

7. Send a letter or email to the American Pilots Association (which represents 11,000 American Airlines pilots) voicing your support. Recently, the APA’s president called on his fellow pilots to refuse the new full-body scans, citing the unknown dangers of the machines. He also notes how the pat-downs that pilots are forced to undergo instead of the scans are demeaning and humiliating (after all, these are folks on their way to work).

8. Write about your experiences. If you have your own blog, let me know and I’ll help spread the word. If you don’t have your own blog, consider submitting an article to any of the many awesome travel sites out there – including my own (I mean, my site’s kind of awesome, right?)

9. File a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, discriminated against in any way, or are forced to go through a full-body scanner even if you want to opt-out (yes, it happens), you can file a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP).

10. Watch this video by the brilliant (and pissed off) Nicole, a U.S. citizen (and vet!) who had a panic attack in anticipation of the “security” measures she had to go through before a Jet Blue flight. It deserves some attention.

If you’re looking for more ideas, check out blogger Kimberly Wilder’s list (which includes the ever-creative suggestion that you should fart while receiving a pat-down), and the Massachusetts ACLU’s list of your options and rights when you go through airport security. And if you have any suggestions of your own, please share them below.

Leave a Comment

  • Colleen

    This is interesting. I thought that the radiation in these scanners was so scant it wouldn’t make a difference. Then I read the post yesterday and found out it’s not even been tested. I am definitely thinking about opting out in the future, since I am only 27, and I do wish to have healthy children with the normal amount of limbs in the future.

  • (Blushing)

    Ummm….This is Ian’s wife Kimberly. I am the one who came up with the fart scenario. I blush to think of it. Though, since Ian thought it was a BAD IDEA, I hate to see him blamed for it.


    Thanks for the video. It is very profound.

    I guess the video adds to the point. When faced with utter humiliation, it is difficult for human beings to think of a response. The woman in the video was rendered speechless, so she made a video. I was rendered speechless, so I though about…um…making a noise without my voice!

    I guess my solution was less artistic.


    • Everywhereist

      Kimberly – regardless of whose idea it was, it is nevertheless brilliant. Both you and Ian should be proud. 🙂

  • Pingback: How do full body scanners make women feel? « OntheWilderSide()

  • Thanks for posting my video up there. We need to keep the momentum going. Has anyone seen a form letter that people can send to their congresspeople? If I draft one up, would this site publish it and help more people understand the atrocity of this crime?

    • Everywhereist

      Nicole – I was actually considering writing a template. I can post one – or if you want to write one up as a guest blog entry, I’d be happy to post it – just let me know (you can contact me directly: contact(at)everywhereist(dot)com). As I noted in the post, you can file complaints online, and I’d just discovered this site- http://wewontfly.com/question-tsa-risk. But there aren’t a lot of form letters geared towards this specific problem.

  • I’d like to add some suggestions. Yours cover how we can try to put a stop to full-body scanners, or what to do if we have a negative experience. BUT, as you pointed out, TSA rules the roost, so we may never see a time when full-body scanners aren’t the norm. To that end, my suggestions might make the current process a little more tolerable. You’ve probably still gotta fly, right? (Please note that some of the suggestions below are covered in the links provided by Geraldine. I think they’re worth emphasizing.)

    1. Read up right before you fly. I recommend checking tsa.gov as well as the site(s) for the airport(s) and airline(s) you’ll be using. Know what’s happening in the airports now, and be prepared. If you know what to expect, you can better advocate for yourself.

    2. Your last blog mentioned a horror story of a woman being gawked at by male bystanders during a pat-down. Per the TSA Web site, you may request a private area for a personal search [pat-down] at any time during the screening process. If you opt for a pat-down and you’re concerned about being touched in front of potential gawkers, take them up on this option. And, if you want any kind of hygienic considerations (fresh gloves, a paper drape), ask for it.

    This goes back to my first recommendation: Be prepared, and speak up to receive considerations that may make the process better for you (check this page out: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/editorial_1567.shtm). If the first TSA employee doesn’t know what you’re talking about, ask them to refer you to someone else. Print out the important policies from the TSA site and keep it with you if you’re worried you won’t get what you need.

    3. Expect to be treated professionally and with respect. I don’t want to sound like a self-help book, and I’m not talking about projecting good energy at TSA. But, if you enter the airport wanting to grind an axe with the first TSA employee you encounter, you’re probably not going to be greeted with a respectful attitude. If you do or ever have worked in a service industry, remember what it feels like to have to enforce policies you didn’t create and probably don’t agree with. (I doubt those TSA employees want to touch you any more than you want to be touched.) I’m not saying you should put up with disrespectful and unprofessional employees; just give them a chance to treat you right first.

    • Everywhereist

      Awesome, Pinguina – thank you for, as usual, a well-balanced, well-thought out, and non crazy reaction to my TSA drama. I love you (and if you kids want to read more about my adventures with Pinguina, you can find them by just searching for “Pinguina” on the blog).

    • Julzerator

      The link to the TSA site above does not work.

      • If you copy and paste the link, it should work. Or, just go to tsa.gov and search for “private area.” I made the page come up that way.

        Good luck!


  • I had to go through one of these yesterday in Boston. The guy waved me through and it and I said that I’d rather not go through it. He said I didn’t have a choice.

    There was a woman manning the machine and I told her that he had told me I didn’t have a choice but to go through the machine but that I understood that in fact I *did* have a choice. She said something snide like “well, then I’m offering you the choice now if you’d rather have a pat down”. I said, no the point is that he told me I had no other choice than to let you take pictures of me naked when I asked if I had any other options, and most people wouldn’t know then that they did after being told that.

    She again got fixated on the wrong point and started arguing with me that in fact *she* wasn’t who saw me naked; it was people in a different room. At that point, I decided to just let the porn begin rather than continue arguing. It was sort of like when I went through security the other day and the woman said I had to remove my iPad from my bag and when I told her that the TSA blog said that I did not, she replied “what’s a “blog”?” in a rude voice.

  • In the UK there has been a lot of talk in the press saying that the security measures that have been implemented are totally excessive. Full body scanners, taking your shoes and belt off, and getting laptops individually investigated are some of the many security measures in place at all the UK airports. Ironically many of these security measures are in place because of the United States so the big UK airlines, such as British Airways and Virgin are calling them over the top. The question is would you like to preserve your dignity or save your life? I personally would rather put up with all the crap just because it makes me feel safer, even if in reality it does not.

  • Pingback: The Everywhereist » Blog Archive » My experience with the new TSA screenings()

  • Nancy

    I would like to bring out a point about the new airport pat down procedures and my experience during a recent flight from Atlanta to Ft Lauderdale and return to Atlanta. I’m 72 and have an artificial hip. Since 9/11 I have had to undergo the full security check because my hip sets of the alarm, every time, 100%. Up until this trip in Nov, I have never objected. They used the wand and only touched where it indicated (my hip and sometimes the metal on my bra straps). I have gone through security about 60 times during the last 10 years. My husband has never had a pat down in those 60 trips through security. My Nov experience with TSA patting down and touching every part of my body, including breasts and crotch, and putting their hands in side my clothing at the neck and waist, was the most traumatic and humiliating events of my life. I’m still having nightmares. I came to the conclusion from my observation that they are discriminating against the elderly with replacement parts. We get the extreme pat down 100% of the time beuase we always set of the alarm. I would prefer the body scan any day (the lesser of two unnecessary evils). My only choice is never flying again and never seeing my family who live in other states far from me and can’t travel. Very sad.

More from The Blog

On Instagram @theeverywhereist

  • Wonderful show with the most handsome man in the world. #osf
  • The meals that my beloved is able to make in tiny AirBnB kitchenettes never ceases to amaze me.
  • It begins! So excited, @osfashland!
  • Take note: if you ask your husband if you can move to NYC roughly four dozen times, he will start to cave a little.
  • Incredible reading by the love of my life to a packed room at NeueHouse Madison Square. So proud of you, @randderuiter, and the amazing emcee work by @michaeliconking.
  • Re-posting this photo that @wilreynolds took of us and his youngest near the beach outside of Lisbon. We're back home now, and I can't decide what I miss more: this little guy and his brother, or Portugal. Actually, scratch that. I know.
  • This place looks like a damn fairy tale.
  • Lunch with a view of the water, and some of the best seafood of my life.
  • The entire drive from Sintra to Lisbon looks like this. It's just miles of blue sky and rocky beaches.
  • No filter. This is just what Sintra looks like.

All Over The Place

Buy my book and I promise I'll never ask you for anything again.