Why you shouldn’t be concerned about airport x-rays and patdowns

There’s a serious backlash to the TSA’s recent airport security policies raging through the media this month, as more and more of the flying public learn what the real meaning of “until resistance is felt” is when security officers are feeling up unsuspecting passengers’ legs.

The new policies, covered extensively here at Gadling and at every other travel and news outlet across the web are the latest version of the Department of Homeland Security’s measures to prevent unwanted people and goods from entering the world’s airspace. One of the technologies has to do with new imaging methods that can see through your clothing, potentially to embarrassing detail. The other has to do with pat-down procedures in case you’re selected for advanced screening.

In both cases, privacy is the main issue. Concerned passengers don’t want to be subject to some random security officer getting an all-too-close look or feel at their private places, and the new polices now in force make that privacy seem thinner than ever.

As word of the new initiatives and potential implications grows, so has the online calamity. A group of activists recently stripped down and protested the changes at a German airport. Over the weekend, a Californian would-be-passenger flipped out and made national news while he recorded his angry conversation with the TSA. Reddit and a number of social medias have also jumped on the bandwagon by either virally or intentionally curating a river of stories, anger and discussion about just what’s going wrong.

The fact of the matter is, however, that these security measures are not as egregious as it seems. From deep within the trenches of everyday travel, I as the Editor of Gadling can tell you first hand: it’s just not that bad.In the past month I’ve been through dozens of airports from Mumbai to Bogota to Miami to Delhi. Of the hundred times that I’ve been through airport security, I’ve been scanned with the magnetic wand a dozen times, through the backscatter detector twice and patted down a handful of times.

Each time, I did my duty: spread my legs, raised my arms, pulled out my keys or turned in circles. And each time, the security officer did his: checked my pockets, felt my thighs and patted my back. After that? I went on my way and the officer moved onto the next person. No laughs, no discussion, no disrespect or question.

It’s true. The new security initiatives do give unscrupulous individuals the ability to abuse their power and see something that would make you feel uncomfortable. But these are the bad apples in a very very large bushel, and most are just doing their jobs and want you to be on your way. Just like someone can peek into your living room window in the middle of the night or a corporation can rifle through your Facebook account, invasions of privacy can and will happen — it’s a fact of life in today’s high frequency world.

So here’s some food for thought next time you’re passing through airport security. Most of you won’t encounter a backscatter or millimeter wave scanner at the checkpoint. They’ve only been installed at select, high-traffic airports around the country. Chances are, you’ll go through the normal magnetometer and carry on with your normal flight.

If you are subjected to advanced screening, there is no promise that you won’t absorb a few roentgens of radiation or that your personal privacy won’t be encroached upon. But those risks are minimal, infrequent, and should not sway the seasoned traveler. For now, your privacy concerns should lie beyond this pop-science scare — and if, in the slight probability that something isn’t ideal for the general public’s health, you can trust Reddit users and Congressional watchdogs to raise the real red flag. Until then, keep flying.

[flickr image via billypalooza]