opting in to airport scanners
For the past few years, I’d been opting out of the new airport scanners. Initially I had several reasons for this decision, but over time things changed, and after some reflection I realized the most compelling rationale I now had each time I opted out was “I opted out last time.”
Initially I was most concerned about the possible effects of the backscatter scanners. Maybe they’re safe or maybe not, but it seemed like an untested theory at the time. I’m comfortable with the millimeter wave scanners, but keeping track of what was what seemed like a chore. Easiest to say no to the entire category. Now that the backscatter machines are only installed wherever else, but not at airports, that’s one reason down.
I was also upset that the machines were rolled out without much public discourse, and so opting out was like a little protest. But it’s been several years now and the scanners are still in place. Whether that’s the will of the people or just our military industrial complex overlords, it’s disingenuous to claim that there hasn’t been time for a dialog. We had the dialog; we lost. We can still continue to discuss the matter and maybe improve things. As unlikely as that sometimes seems, I notice that the backscatter scanners were replaced due to public response. And while I have mixed feelings about the PreCheck program, it also indicates that things are changing, albeit slowly. I don’t think opting out is the best way to make progress.
Finally, I was curious to see what would happen after opting out. The internet told me that opting out was the most stressful, traumatic event that one could experience. It was enough to make a grown man cry. Literally. I remember a reddit comment from somebody claiming to be a grown man who broke down in tears at the airport because the humiliation was too much. My reaction: I have got to try this! I lost count of how many times I opted out, but never had a bad experience. One time the TSA agent encouraged me to go through the scanner because it would be quicker, but that was as close as anyone ever came to making me feel I had done something wrong. Nobody shouted, “Terrorist in lane 3!” The other passengers never seemed to care, even while I waited in the little penalty box. As for waiting, sometimes when the line was backed up, it was even faster to opt out and skip around.
Having run out of reasons to opt out, on my last trip I decided reverse my policy and opt in to go through the scanner like everybody else. It barely hurt at all.