National Opt Out Day … why I am not supporting it

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) new security procedures are ruffling a lot of feathers.  These procedures include the roll out of the new whole-body-imaging scanners … and for those who “opt out” of the scanners, the experience of an ‘enhanced pat down.’

These two options are upsetting airline passengers throughout the United States.  Many dislike the whole-body-scanners because the scanner depicts a complete ‘naked’ body image of the person in the scanner, with a greyed out image and facial details missing. Others are against the whole-body-imaging scanner because of the low dose radiation it emits. Some are against the scanner … well because they like to complain.

For those who wish to avoid the whole-body-imaging scanner, passengers have the right to say “I opt out” and then pass through a standard walk through metal detector, followed by an ‘enhanced pat down.’

The new ‘enhanced pat down’ is more controversial than the scanners, as it allows TSA screeners to physically feel passengers all over their bodies, with the front of their hands. This includes buttocks, breasts, genitals, inner thigh, and other sensitive areas. This is done over the clothing with a gloved hand.

For “National Opt Out Day,” on the 24th of November, activists hope to have travelers around the nation “opt out” at the 68 airports in the United States where whole body imaging scanners are in place.  The intent is to bring the message to politicians that travelers demand change.  For those looking at a calendar, the 24th of November is the day before Thanksgiving, the busiest travel day of the year in the United States.

Having passengers ‘opt out’ in protest has multiple down side, and in all likelihood will fall on deaf ears.

For starters, the news cycle on the 24th of November, the busiest travel day of the year in the United States is a day when many people turn off the news to drive, fly, get on a train, prep a turkey, prepare for guests and otherwise tune out.  The news stories the day before Thanksgiving tend to focus on fuel costs, packed airports, weather delays, football previews and ‘make the world a better place’ stories.   While National Opt Out Day would fall under packed airports, chances are news crews will be focused on other stories, since National Opt Out Day only impacts 68 airports … out of more than 400 airports under the TSA’s authority.

In the execution of National Opt Out Day, should thousands of passengers choose to ‘opt out’ in protest, they will add further stress to fellow travelers on the busiest flying day of the year by slowing down security lanes. A day when more families fly than any other day of the year, this could actually spark backlash towards those participating in National Opt Out Day … should it drive thousands of people to participate.

Additionally … by asking people to opt out of the scanners in protest, travelers will be subjected to being physically touched all over their body, in a way that is very uncomfortable for many travelers. Having asked dozens of frequent flyers their preference in whole-body-imaging scanners vs the enhanced pat down, not one preferred the enhanced pat down to the whole-body-imaging scanner.

If activists want to make changes, doing it while at the airport in the security lane is not the appropriate place.  The security lane is the front line of the TSA, where screeners have a job to do. If you refuse the scanner, then refuse the pat down, you’ll simply be denied access to the airport and miss your flight.  While it is all well and good to make a stand … you need to make this stand by consistently contacting your elected officials in Washington.  Write your Congressional representative, your two Senators and write to the House & Senate Committees that oversee the TSA.

I’ll reserve my opinions on the whole-body-imaging scanner and the enhanced pat downs for another post … but regardless of my opinion … I think National Opt Out Day is an ineffective and poorly timed protest of the current TSA policies in place.

In the United States you are free to voice your opinion, you have the right to speak your mind … but you do not have the right to refuse current airport security procedures and still board a flight … no one has that right anywhere in the world.

Happy Flying!



  1. I agree with everything you said right up until the last paragraph which devolved into a straw man argument. Nobody says we “have the right to refuse current airport security procedures and still board a flight.” But the traveling public does not find these advanced imaging technologies and enhanced pat downs convincing in the least. We all know it’s just a farcical security theater. As I commented on your earlier post, not one terrorist has ever been caught trying to board a flight since 9/11 domestically. The erstwhile security procedures in place, without the removal of belts, shoes, jackets, had and should suffice.

  2. Ben,

    AIT scanners are effective. While I disagree with the pat down and question aspects of the AIT scanner procedures, I’ve yet to see any documentation that they are ineffective.

    Happy Flying!

  3. AIT scanners are slow. Many times slower than the WTMDs. People are going to be hung up on the 24th from the slow scan times, not folks opting out.

    I’m a frequent flyer and have opted out. I’m a cancer survivor and let me tell you I am not going to do anything that could possibly increase my cancer risk if I can avoid it. We have no idea what the ramifications of millions of people getting unwarranted radiation. MDs are trying to reduce exposure to radiation in medical procedures by ordering fewer of these procedures.

  4. “If you refuse the scanner, then refuse the pat down, you’ll simply be denied access to the airport and miss your flight.”

    According to something I read the other day, you can’t refuse both. You can face civil penalties if you don’t go through the security checkpoint. Unless that was total BS.

  5. Jack,

    If you refuse both you may be fined up to US$11,000 for interfering with security, under these rules –

    So far no one has been fined for being escorted out of security for ‘dual refusal.’ The man who left security in San Diego the other day may be the first to be fined … that will be for his comments to the TSA TSOs, not for the refusal.

    Happy Flying!


  6. Some days at work I look at the long lines, out the double doors, down the hall. I’m sure many passengers didn’t give themselves enough time to get a ticket, check bags, and go through TSA security. They ask to cut the line and are sent to the end, everyone is pushing time. I cannot look past the passenger I am screening right then. It is passenger responsibility to get there early enough to make their flight, TSA’s job to screen all passengers prior to allowing them to enter the secure area. So I won’t be stressed or effected on National Opt Out day when it is chaotic, and I have a line of passengers needing a pat down. I will treat each person respectfully, advise of the procedure for pat down. I will not be slow, but I will not ‘hurry up’ as I will be told over & over again. It just won’t be an effective campaign because it will not change the way you are screened. Congress has the power, the TSO that will perform your pat down after you opt out does not have the power. So do as you feel is right, have a safe flight, and enjoy your holiday with friends & family. I will be at work on Thanksgiving waiting for the mad rush of people returning home with full bellies and happy memories of their trips.

  7. Oh, right, contact our elected representatives. They listened so well when we did during the bail-out and Obamacare, didn’t they?

    BOYCOTT THE AIRLINES until the TSA is abolished. That’s right, abolished: it pulled this crap in 2004 after the Russian airliners crashed, and it will assaulting us until we drive a stake through its heart. Only slaves and serfs submit to sexual molestation and ogling as a condition of travel.

    Grow a backbone, people. Geez.

  8. Bea

    A) The majority spoke and elected those in the House, Senate and White House. If you don’t like it … then vote them out of office next time

    B) Boycotting airlines because your upset with the TSA is not an effective option. The airlines are just as much at odds with the TSA policy as flyers. TSA policy keeps many away from flying, which in turn means airlines are getting generating less revenue.

    C) The TSA will not be abolished, nor should it be. The TSA does however need a complete overhaul. The agency went from zero employees to more than 50,000 in about 6 years (it was created just under 9 years ago now) and the agency was formed in a way that was reactionary, not proactively … this causes major problems. The agency is spread thin, needs to streamline its organization and adjust its required budget and its budget allocation.

    Happy Flying!


  9. While we are at it we should also not buy gas on November 24 to teach those evil oil companies a thing or two about jacking up prices. We should then all promptly fill up on November 25 or 26 thus totally canceling any change in demand. That will show ’em!

  10. Your article incorrectly assumes that individuals who choose to “opt out” of the naked body scanners should be held responsible for “causing” any delays that may result.

    However, it was the TSA, not the passengers, who chose to implement the additional pat-down searches. Regardless of how many people choose to use one screening procedure over another, the unelected TSA bureaucrats are 100% responsible for any delays that may result from their new screening procedures.

  11. “I think National Opt Out Day is an ineffective and poorly timed protest of the current TSA policies in place.”

    Is the appropriate time to protest is when no one is around? The current head of the TSA doesn’t seem to care what people think, so a protest is definitely in order.

  12. Opting out is the solution. If no one agrees to the virtual strip search, TSA would have to pat down every passenger in the line. They don’t have enough resources to do this. Within a week, they will stop using these body scanners.

    Opting in is the problem. Weak-minded people like you walk agree to virtual strip searches for the greater good, while those of us who value our rights are felt up by the TSA .

    Meanwhile Rapiscan, Chertoff and the TSA cronies get a share of your airline ticket to ogle at your wife and molest your children.

  13. I’m not flying on the 24th, but this explanation of why you’re not participating doesn’t make much sense.

    First, the delay is not caused by the opting out passengers. It is their right. In fact, it is the only option given to those that don’t want the alternative. The delay should be no one’s fault but the TSA’s.

    Second, the choice of Nov. 24th was likely for exactly the reason that you don’t want to participate. However, it would not be a very effective protest if they did it on the slowest day. Increasing frustration and tension and discontent among even the compliant is surely one objective of the protest. But, again, it’s hard to fault the protesters. They’re exercising one of the two choices.

    Third, picking the more intrusive examination is punishment for all. It would also not be protest if you picked the less intrusive one. Let’s face it, the the pat down is given as an alternative hoping that most people won’t want it. It’s like asking a kid: you either have to eat one piece of brocolli or a whole bowl of cod liver soup.

    Finally, I think that you underestimate the news media’s obsession with this story. It’s got lots of legs because: 1) nudity! 2) sexual assault! 3) nudity! 4) kilts! 5) civil liberties… and 6) shared experience. Did I mention that they get to say “gate rape” and “naked body scanners” and “grope?” Good tv.

  14. Steven,

    I respect your voice of reason amidst all the incredible emotions these new TSA procedures have evoked.

    My family and I have visited the US each year for the last few years and have had wonderful times there, putting up with the unpleasant TSA security theatre because the benefits outweighed the disadvantages.

    Now, I see we have the following choices for flying to/from/within the US;

    1. Be body scanned. I don’t want to be X-Rayed every time I travel. I don’t want my 10 year old daughter to be X-Rayed every time she travels. Damage from X-Rays is cumulative.
    2. Be intrusively patted down. I personally don’t care about having this done to myself, but under no circumstances do I want my daughter to go through this. I believe she would receive significant psychological trauma from this procedure and it is my duty as her father to protect her from this. It is currently impossible to guarantee that she will be spared this molestation even if I allow her to be irradiated.

    Figures are hard to come by, but it appears that the risk of death from a terrorist attack is 1 in 20,000,000 or so, and the risk of death from cancer caused by scanner irradiation is around the same order of magnitude.

    i.e. The new procedures do not decrease my chance of death at all, just substitute one mode of death for another.

    Thus, the only conclusion I can come to is to not visit the US any more until these draconian measures are repealed.

    I for one hope Opt-Out day is overwhelmingly supported. TSO agents hate doing pat-downs. Ordinary Americans hate receiving pat-downs. Sooner or later the TSO agents themselves will begin to refuse to administer them (or resign), and the whole system will implode. Opt-Out day will bring that day that much closer.

  15. Dear Concerned Aussie

    I hope changes to the TSA are supported … but I’d like to see people throw their efforts into challenging previous court rulings that allow the TSA to work around the 4th Amendment and operate in a way that many feel is outside of the scope of U.S. vs Davis (1973). With an adjustment in the scope of the TSA, rather than just shout, which is what Nat’ Opt Out Day really is, put the effort into lobbying for change with the House & Senate who oversee the DHS and TSA.

    I’d like argument for change to be effective … not just to argue.

    Happy Flying!


  16. Fish, I think you’re wrong about the way the news networks will respond. They already salivate over the smallest morsel of travel-related news on holiday travel days; giving it a controversial spin will only make it tastier. In fact, I will be very surprised if the media doesn’t overstate the effect of opt-out day, by breathlessly reporting security delays at airports where there are no new scanners and asking, “Is this another effect of the protest?”

    Never underestimate the ability of the 24-hour news networks to turn poor research into sensationalism.

  17. flyingfish – I’m not clear what you would accept as “documentation that AIT scanners are ineffective”.

    They’re obviously designed to catch some of the tricks that terrorists have used in the past. But then again, so far the terrorists have been quite successful in coming up with new tricks every time anyway.

    These scanners are clearly *not* designed to catch some of the standard tactics used by drug mules, or to smuggle contrabande in (and out) of prisons, namely hiding stuff in body cavities. I think this is a blindingly obvious tactic, and the AIT scanners are completely ineffective at detecting something like this – by design.

    So, what are we going to do if the next terrorist blows up a plane with two pounds of cemtex stuffed up his butt? Strip searches? Cavity searches? Full-body penetrative X-rays?

    (Not to mention the 24 ounce of liquid explosives in saline bottles you can apparently just walk through security – that makes the AIT scanners look like a heavy steel reinforced door, with a Kryptonite lock that you can pick with a bic pen, right next to an open window…)

  18. My congressional representative and my two senators are too busy working on being re-elected to consider my constitutional rights.

  19. I am appalled at the hypocrisy that I see from the American people and let’s be frank about this, mostly coming from the right wing conservatives/tea partiers who have been the talking points for this “outrage” with the TSA when really this is only an obvious attempt to keep the mantra of conservative/tea partiers that “this current administration is bad for you”.
    When the “underwear bomber” incident happened last Christmas it was the right wing conservatives that cried that the government wasn’t doing enough for the safety of Americans, (even causing Rudy Guliani to comment how Obama could not protect the American people”, but now this strangely has changed and now it is about the inconvenience about having to go through rigorous and “unjust” security measures at airports. What galls me as well is the talk about the privacy and liberties of Americans at stake with the TSA security. If privacy and liberties of Americans were really the focus then there should be many more people upset with the Patriot Act that remove so many more liberties to the American people than a million TSA agents could ever dream of, and the Patriot Act was all in the name of American safety.
    The inane threat level system was implemented years ago, which has never been green (and never will be), is in a constant flux between orange and red, so until that system shows a color that everyone can appreciate, I would expect that for the safety of people security may be necessary.
    I hear that people wish that there was more racial profiling happening at the airports and it leads me to believe that this is either a talking point, or people are very naive. Ask someone with brown skin, or with the name of Ali, or Surujbally if they have ever felt that they have been treated differently than others and you will get a different story than you are expecting. Many friends with a darker color skin get stopped every time for enhanced searches whether in an airport, or crossing a border in a car.
    The other talking point that I hear is that the TSA hasn’t stopped a single terrorist through searching in this manner. You cannot measure how many people have been stopped knowing the deterrent that lies ahead of them. This is a ridiculous argument, and again shows the hypocrite in those who believe in say….capital punishment….is that not a deterrent to violent crime…would anyone think twice about the death penalty while committing a crime…of course they might, but because you can’t measure it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work.
    Honestly, do people really believe that the granular images that come from a full body scan is really allowing people to see your “junk”? Get over yourselves, no one wants to see your junk, but I can tell you that everyone on the plane wants to see if there is an explosive device in your pants!
    Get a life, and use your brains, along with a little common sense that doesn’t allow these types of things to get blown out of proportion. I may be asking too much I guess though from people who use the term socialist, Marxist, or communist, or Nazi, without truly understanding what those terms really mean.
    Use your brains to figure out what is real and what is not from the Hannity’s, Limbaugh’s, and Beck’s of the world and come to a logical conclusion.
    Try to remember as well that it is not your right to board a plane, and the option can always be to find another mode of transportation that best suits you.

    So please try to think rationally that you or someone you love could be on a plane, and if it goes down and you lose them…who will you be upset with…the TSA or the government for not doing enough, or to yourself for wanting to just make it easier to get on a plane, or because you don’t want someone looking at your junk in a grainy image…..?

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