I took part in National Opt Out Day at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with four other activists to inform passengers how they could opt out of the body scanners and protect themselves while undergoing the enhanced pat down procedures of the TSA. We were there from 10 a.m. until just after noon. From what I saw, the airport was not busy in the least. So as We Wont Fly‘s name might suggest, the event was a rousing success. Predictably, most of the passengers we talked with did not know about the body scanners and what they could do to protect their privacy.
Overall, the response was positive. Many of the passengers, valets and other who worked inside the airport gave us nods of approval. I only received two negative comments. One came from a lady who read our signs and said, “Take a train!” Well, that was kind of our point. If we want to put an end to these invasive procedures, the only option we have is to put pressure on the airlines to lobby against the TSA policies.
An airport employee told us that she supported the new body scanners. She evidently believed that the controversy was being aided by terrorists. “If there’s so much fuss about them, you know the terrorists don’t want them,” she said.
Within the first 15 minutes, we were confronted by airport police who asked for our permit. I had applied for both a literature permit (for passing out fliers) and a picketing permit (to hold signs) but was told that I could only apply for one or the other, but not both. I opted for the picketing permit since it allowed for more than four people to participate. Beyond a quick inspection of our permit, the police were very accommodating. When asked, the officer (whose last name was Barnes, if I recall correctly) said he did not mind us passing out literature as long as we “keep it civil.”
In all, we conducted seven television and print interviews during the course of a week. The media tended to paint the controversy as one of privacy versus security, despite our repeated assertions otherwise. We tried to emphasize that the privacy issue is what has caused so much outrage and shocked people’s sense of decency. However, more importantly, we do not believe the TSA is making us any safer, quite the opposite in fact. From the news reports I viewed afterward, that point was never aired. Only one of those reports even documented the fact that a majority of the airport’s body scanners were not in operation that day, so there was nothing to opt out of for an overwhelming number of passengers. The media almost exclusively interviewed Thanksgiving Day travelers at airports, who would already be much more likely to support the TSA polices, purportedly to get a sampling of opinions representative of all holiday travelers.
I am glad that we participated in the event, even if everyone’s mind did not change. We brought attention to the ineffective and disrespectful TSA policies. Thousands of flyers across the nation decided to opt out of flying altogether. Ultimately, the answer is to abolish the TSA and free passengers and airlines to decentralize passenger safety out of the hands of a single one-size-fits-all, lumbering reactionary bureaucracy. The TSA makes air travel more dangerous by cutting passengers out of the security loop and creating a counter-productive illusion of security. When it came to the underwear bomber and the shoe bomber, passengers have been the best line of defense. The TSA also prevents new safety innovations from being developed, instead favoring the wealthy lobbying of the same special interests who benefit from the government’s purchase of these machines.