I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the new security measures involved in domestic and international air travel, about body scanners and enhanced pat-downs, and about the reasons for them, and the reasons I want to object to them. If you’ve flown in the past few months, or even if you’ve just kept up with the news, it’s likely you’ve spent at least a little time reading, listening or watching the debate about the body scanners currently being implemented in airports across America and around the world. And if you’re a regular Go Girl reader, chances are this debate and its outcome affect, or will affect, you, perhaps even quite regularly, throughout your life. If you’re a traveler—specifically an air traveler—it’s hard not to care about this, hard not to be concerned, and hard not to come down on one side or the other, either.
Or at least, that’s the way it feels to me.
But a large part of what I’m worried about, actually, is that people–or at least most people—won’t give this issue more than a passing glance. The rapid pace of today’s media coverage doesn’t help this any–an issue is practically passe before it’s been fully fleshed out, as demand for new information is both impatient and insatiable. In the face of this, I’m afraid that today’s travelers, from those who rarely fly to those who commute by plane almost daily, won’t take the time to decide how they feel about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new security measures, but rather will choose to occupy the middle ground of apathy, by allowing what seems inevitable to happen with as little fuss as possible. But apathy is a swamp, a morass of inertia, and by choosing not to care (as so many of us choose not to vote), we will allow these (and, other, future) measures to be instated without our approval, simply letting them glide over the silence of our non-objection.
After flying from Boston to Seattle and back just before Thanksgiving, and witnessing body scanners in use in SeaTac I decided to research the issue by reading as much about it as possible, from as many different perspectives as I could find. What I discovered was a mess of differing opinions, contradictory statements and statistics and radically opposed ideologies. Pretty much what you’ll find when you research any polarizing political issue.
I read an ACLU post found through a college Professor’s facebook page arguing that the health risks of radiation exposure during body scans are not as negligible (or at least, haven’t been proved to be as negligible) as the machines’ creators insist, especially for women (particularly those who are pregnant). I read Kelly Kleinman’s article on The Huffington Post titled “Full Body Scans Are A Feminist Issue” and I read a Los Angeles Times interview with Peter Kant, the executive vice-president of a company that created one of the scanner models being used today. I watched fierce debates take place on CNN and in the U.S. Senate.
I was particularly concerned by Peter Kant’s answers to questions about public outcry against body scanners, and his use of the phrase “vocal minority” as a negative, dismissive term. He emphasizes that “a vocal minority is just that—very vocal, and a minority,” as if to be both vocal and to be a minority somehow makes a group’s opinions less valid, and less valuable. What I, perhaps a bit paranoiacally, see happening is those in power allowing the “vocal minority” to be eschewed for the “silent majority,” while simultaneously twisting that silence into approval for whatever measures they wish to implement.
Silence is not approval. Apathy is not permission. The government should remember this, but we should too…it is our apathy and our silence which we allow them to use so easily.
Though I’m strongly opposed to the use of body scanners in our airports, I realize this isn’t purely black and white. There are many things I’m still uncertain about, many issues on which I have trouble deciding where to stand.