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Working In These Times

Thursday, Nov 18, 2010, 11:31 am

Pilots’ Unions Say ‘No’ to Invasive TSA Airport Scans

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

A volunteer stands inside a 'millimeter wave' scanner during a TSA demonstration at Ronald Reagan National Airport in December 2009.   (Photo by CHIP SOMODEVILLA/Getty Images)

The nation's largest pilot's union, the Allied Pilots' Association, urged its 11,500 members to boycott the TSA's whole body scanners, which use x-rays to render a very lifelike nude portrait of the subject. The TSA installed new "Advanced Imaging Technology" scanners in 65 more airports earlier this month.

For those passengers who refuse to play a nude bit part in the security theater, the TSA has launched a new line of more invasive body searches in October, Consumerist reports:

"To call it a pat-down is a euphemism," said a spokesman for the ACLU in Massachusetts. "They really go for it."

He says that -- unlike the antiquated pat-down, which required TSA screeners to use the back of their hands when searching sensitive regions of your person -- the enhandced pat-down allows them to use their palms and fingers to feel and prod passengers.

Dave Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association, told ABC News that pilots are already exposed to high levels of radiation simply from flying. Radiation exposure is cumulative. The union is concered about the potential consequences of piling even more raditiation into their day-to-day routine.

The unions point out that pilots fly an average of 15-18 days each month and may face two or three scans each day. The radiation exposure from a scan is about 1/2000th the amount of a chest x-ray.

The alternative isn't appealing to pilots, either. In a message to his brother and sister pilots, Bates described the "enhanced" pat-down as a "demeaning experience."

"In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot," he wrote, "I recommend that all pilots insist that such screening is performed in an out-of-view area to protect their privacy and dignity."

Captain Mike Cleary, head of the US Airways Pilots Association said that one of his member pilots was so traumatized by a body search that he was unable to function as a crewmember. Clearly said the man was so anxious about going back to work and facing the TSA again that he vomited in his own driveway.

Unionized flight attendants are also pushing back against invasive searches. Deborah Volpe, Vice President of the Association of Flight Attendants Local 66 told ABC News that the union doesn't want its members being patted down in public. Flight attendants are being advised to request a private patdown and demand a witness. "They actually make contact with the genital area," she added.

The new "enhanced" pat-downs seem more like a threat to force reluctant flyers to use the TSA's wildly unpopular but expensive new toys. The AIT program will cost $219 million in its first year. How many additional weapons do they really expect to find stashed between testicles and inner thighs, or tucked between labia?

The new machines were funded by the Recovery Act. Nude scanners and TSA junk-jiggling makes for a lousy stimulus.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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