Last Tuesday, as I stood sock-footed and beltless in the security line at Boise airport, I overheard this interaction between the passenger in front of me and a TSA agent:
Passenger (shaking his head and muttering): "This thing better not give me cancer." TSA agent: "I'm sorry sir, what did you say?" Passenger (louder and directly to the agent this time): "I said this thing better not give me cancer." TSA agent: "Sir, it delivers less radiation to you than an hour in front of your TV."
Prior to that moment, I hadn't been paying much attention. I'd been hastily answering e-mails on my phone, literally unpacking and disrobing for security, and mentally running through my to-do list for anything I'd missed. I hadn't actually noticed what waited for me while my belongings went through the X-ray machine: a full-body scanner. The kind that sees all kinds of stuff you don't generally want strangers to see.
I'd flown out of BOI just two weeks earlier, days prior to the full body scanners going operational. Until the moment the disgruntled passenger in front of me started complaining about radiation, I'd completely forgotten about them. I stepped into the machine, put my hands in the air as directed and cringed. Now, I'm no prude. So some security agent gets a glance at what I've got under my clothes. So what? I can guarantee he or she has seen more interesting things than what I have to offer. (I do rue the day these images hit the Internet, because though precautions have been taken to ensure maximum privacy, someone someday soon will figure out a way around the system.) Nor am I that concerned about radiation exposure. Hell, I figure I've been exposed to more harmful contaminants cycling to work on a polluted summer day in Boise.
But I do have objections. Full-body scans are supposedly optional; I wasn't given a choice. Full-body scans are supposed to eliminate the pat-down/wand routine; I still got the security grope. Finally, their use seems arbitrary. When I returned to Boise the next weekend, I briefly watched the security area, and the full-body scanners weren't in use at all. Maybe the line was too long. Maybe the threat level had been downgraded. Maybe it was just Sunday and six days of nakedness had already been enough.