Monday, November 15, 2010

Opt out, while you still can: Airport security reaches new levels of absurdity

"Ask the Pilot", over at, has a great/sad illustration of the absurdity of idiotic policies and slavish adherence to these policies at airport screening: Airport security reaches new levels of absurdity - Ask the Pilot -

Over the past year, I've been "randomly" selected for the virtual stip-search about a half dozen times. Each time, I've opted out and have gone for the pat-down. I don't really have a problem with modesty and would probably streak through the terminal for a reasonable fee, but I do so just to make a point. The machines are pointless security theatre.

On my last trip to Ottawa, the CATSA screener guy directed me to the naked machine after I went through the metal detector. He didn't tell me it was optional. I said "I decline." And he was visibly surprised. When I opted out, he tried to sell me on the benefits of going into naked machine: "It only takes two seconds."

"No thanks. I opt out."

He was also the guy who got to give me the rub-down, and I'm sure I got extra-special treatment because I defied him.

A few weeks before, when I opted out to a woman CATSA person, she said I'd have to wait for a male guy. I said I didn't care if it was her, but I still had to wait. But she had to hold onto my boarding pass to make sure I didn't make a break for it (though I'd been through the metal detector). A few minutes passed and there was no male CATSA guy available. Obviously upset she was having to loiter with me, she quickly ran the explosive decting swab on my hands, gave me the all-clear and sent me on my way.

Does this make you any safer?

Body scanning, which started as random, is becoming de rigeur in the United States and I will not be surprised to see it make a similar change in Canada. It's the classic bait and switch: don't worry ... it's optional and we randomly choose people for secondary screening through the scanner. Now that we have them installed in all the airports, it's the scanner or the glove. Then it'll be the scanner or the train.

Recently, an American blogger wrote about his surreal experience in trying to opt-out at San Diego airport and it has garnered over 4000 comments so far.

Not surprisingly, this has led to a backlash. A number of groups in the US are calling for national opt-out day in airports on the busiest travel day of the year. I expect that it will have an impact on Thanksgiving travelers and will get some notice.


PGuy said...

Nice post DTS. I always opt out as well, purely out of principle as I would pay a small fee to be allowed to streak through the aiport. I always get asked why I opted out and I always answer, that I like the free massage. If only there were essemtial oils available. The process would be much more pleasant with some ylang ylang wafting through.

All airport security in the US is security theatre. Whereas in Canada I feel that they are being thorough in their checks, in the US it is a joke. Lots of articles on it too - security analysts testing checkpoints and getting guns and bombs through are well-documented but poorly distributed to the flying public.

privacylawyer said...

I found it interesting that in my three trips to the US this summer, the most thorough screening I got was in Canada. The Americans really didn't seem to pay much attention to me. Not that I'm complaining ...