domingo, 5 de diciembre de 2010


OPINION: Virtual strip search and rumors of cancer - TSA's new double whammy
By Gabino Iglesias

According to its own webpage, the Transportation Security Administration "protects the Nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce." In order to do so successfully, now your junk has to appear on screen for an agent to scrutinize. If airports didn't make you nervous before, add that morsel of information to the list of security hassles already in place and what you get is another reason to hate the airport.

Let me paint you a picture. Granny, the epitome of sweetness and decorum, is on her way to see the grandkids for Christmas. She gets to the airport and is forced to walk through a machine that exposes her to tiny amounts of unnecessary radiation in search of chemicals, weapons and bombs. On the other side of the security barrier, some TSA agent is inspecting her breasts and taking a good look at her colostomy bag. Pretty, isn't it?

That's what the new airport Backscatter x-ray machines do: they show your bits and pieces, the real and the added, to TSA agents. So, what for? Well, apparently the TSA hasn't been able to do its job effectively with the array of security measures already in place. Now, besides the usual scanners, lines, dogs, document verification, etc., you have to suffer through a virtual strip search. Along with your liquids, blades, and explosives, make sure you leave your shame, sense of privacy, modesty at home.

Maybe you don't care about the National Security Agency reading your e-mails, your bank knowing how you spend your dough, Facebook owning your pictures or Google knowing when you drink your coffee and go to the bathroom, but we have to draw the line somewhere, don't we? Maybe when the images of Granny's colostomy bag go viral? Keep in mind that the voices against the Backscatter were so loud and so many that they haven't been able to put it to work in India.

If the idea of some invisible agent giggling with his buddy over your (or your Mom's) fat rolls, incontinency pad, genitalia or prostheses is not enough to make you cringe, then just pay attention to the cancer rumors that have plagued the Backscatter machines since they hit the market a few years ago. According to and a plethora of other websites and publications, sources like The Mayo Clinic and The Radiological Society of North America report that ionizing (penetrating) radiation in any dose, no matter how small, is known to cause genetic mutations. The end result of that? Well, genetic mutation is known as one of the first steps toward cancer. X-rays, in case you didn't know, are considered ionizing radiation.

As you would expect, the manufacturer of the Backscatter machines, along with the FDA, have already said that the device is completely safe. However, and I'm no doctor, I thought the fact that radiation is bad was not in contention within the scientific community. In fact, it's a proven fact that even a single X-ray increases a three-month-old's chances of developing cancer later in life by at least 10 times. If you're a mom, maybe you want to take the optional pat-down and have a TSA agent run her hands all over your body. I'm sure it's a lot less shameful and very comfortable for you and your baby.

I'm not saying that you'll board a plane in Austin a healthy individual and land a few hours later in New York a cancer patient, but the cumulative effect of all those low levels of X-rays is still being argued. Think about it this way: do you really think the TSA would offer you an optional pat-down if the machine was absolutely, 100-percent safe and they were completely sure of it?

I guess I'm an idealist but I'd like to think that a hardcore public outcry could force these machines out of our airports before they become a staple at every single one. We should do it for Granny and for the babies. We still have time: are we going to do something about it, or take it lying down?

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