Airport Body Scanners: Will You Opt In or Out?

Organizing a mass "opt out" of new TSA body scanners and screening procedures is foolish. Here's why.

Woman Using Airport Security Scanner
(Image credit: Thierry Van Biesen)

You know what sucks?

Traveling during the holidays.

You know what I personally am afraid might suck even more?

Traveling during the holidays when a bunch of rabble-rousers plan to intentionally back up security for what could be hours by organizing National Opt-Out day, a protest of new TSA security procedures (opens in new tab). The group organizing the protest, which calls itself We Won't Fly, is encouraging everyone flying the day before Thanksgiving to "opt out" of the new, controversial, electronic body scans.

Let's get a couple of things straight first: No, increasingly invasive, privacy-blurring TSA screening procedures are not fun. No, we sadly have no guarantee that the procedures are going to protect us against terrorist attacks. Yes, it's sort of embarrassing to think about someone — even if it's someone in another room who can't even see your face — looking at a scan of your sorta-naked body. Yes, I'm sure that for some people, these screenings are hugely difficult to handle psychologically. And yes, of course everyone has the right to opt out if they really want to. (In fact, if you so choose, check out these National Opt-Out Day details (opens in new tab).) As they say, it's a free country.

But, in my opinion, unless you have a really good personal reason, just opt in.

First of all, opting out of "backscatter" x-ray machines will almost certainly force you to go through a much more invasive full-body pat-down. If what you're worried about is people checking out your goods, you should definitely be MORE worried about the full-on groping you're going to receive in the pat-down (the days of avoiding boobs and crotches are mostly over, sorry to say).

Secondly, are you really worried that the anonymous person in the other room looking at your faceless X-ray scan is going to get their jollies from your out-of-focus image? Or that the poor TSA woman who has to poke and prod at every smug jerk who opts out of the scan is enjoying it? If so, please read this post from Flying with Fish where TSA officers discuss what it's really like to feel up people who hate you (opens in new tab).

And on that note, let's think about this for a second. We gladly let nurses and doctors look at our bodies, touch our breasts, and even put their hands inside our vaginas (have you gotten your Pap this year (opens in new tab), by the way?) — because we want to stay healthy. Many of us also gladly let ladies we've just met slather hot wax in and around our private parts and rip it off — because we want to feel confident. Though there are exceptions, of course, it almost never crosses our minds that any of them might be, uh, "enjoying" the experience. So why on earth would we think that an overworked, underpaid, verbally abused TSA officer might "enjoy" the pat-down and naked-bod-scanning parts of their jobs? Let's treat them with the same respect we do the other professional men and women we trust with our bodies — because we want to fly safely and confidently, too. And it's simply their job to make sure we do.

Finally, take your other passengers into account. None of us like it, either. But we all want to get home to our families in peace. And without waiting in the security line for three hours.

Am I totally wrong? Overlooking some extremely compelling reason to participate? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Anna Maltby is an award-winning journalist and editor and was most recently the executive editor of Elemental, Medium’s in-house health and wellness publication. She was previously the deputy editor at Real Simple magazine and a deputy editor at Refinery29, and also held staff positions at Men’s Health, Marie Claire, SELF, Fit Pregnancy, Natural Health and Condé Nast Traveler. Her writing has appeared in such outlets as The Wall Street Journal, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, O, Family Circle, Fitness, Redbook, Vogue.com, TeenVogue.com, MensJournal.com, CondeNastTraveler.com, FastCompany.com_ _and Brides.com. She received her BSJ and MSJ from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Anna is also an American Council on Exercise–certified personal trainer and functional training specialist, a certified prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist, and a certified mat Pilates teacher. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two children, and two tuxedo cats.