Roberta Ling is a 73-year-old woman from Austin, Texas. Statistically, she’s likelier to be the next Miss America than a terrorist. But that doesn’t stop the TSA from harassing her whenever she flies.
Ling expects it. She has an artificial breast prosthesis, and is forced to make a difficult choice between a full-body scan and an uncomfortable pat-down when she’s screened. (Disclosure: I am opposed to the TSA’s current screening methods, and believe the choice between a scan and pat-down violates our Fourth Amendment rights.)
What Ling doesn’t expect is the hard sell on the scanner, which has sounded strangely similar lately.
First, they demand to know why I won’t go through the machine. Then they require me to listen to a lecture about the “safety” of said machine.
Then they tell me again that I should just go through the machine. It seems as though they are all reading from a prepared script.
Did she just say “script”?
I was intrigued by that. I wondered if the TSA is training its staff to effectively force us through the constitutionally-troublesome, poorly-tested full-body scanners.
The only way to find out is to try to refuse the scan myself and see if I get a scripted rebuttal. But the TSA has a well-known exception for families with young kids flying together. In order to avoid separating the group, they are all sent through the magnetometer instead of being scanned. (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)
So the last few times I’ve flown, I wasn’t given the opportunity to refuse a scan. Lucky me.
I decided to ask the TSA. But my media contact, who normally answers my messages promptly, even if to say he can’t answer, responded with silence. That was more than a month ago.
Ling is convinced the TSA is using their words as batons to prod us into the scanners.
“My recent experience has been that the security agents are becoming bully boys,” she says.
I think it’s possible that the TSA is beginning to train its agents to verbally pressure reluctant passengers like Ling to be screened by these problematic full-body scanners. But short of actually seeing a training manual or sitting in on a training session, I don’t think we’ll ever know for certain.