For the past five years or so, I've successfully managed to avoid the imaging machines at the airport (both the backscatter X-ray and submillimeter machines). I strongly believe that the TSA is using this technology in a manner that is an egregious violation of personal privacy and that they are effectively violating our constitutional right to freedom of movement (Privileges and Immunities clause). I also believe that the machines in use are ineffective, are an enormous waste of taxpayer money, and that their development and procurement was a particularly depressing example of political corruption (but I won't be getting into this right now).
Unfortunately, my streak of opting-out in defiance came to an end a few hours ago. I arrived at LAX sufficiently early, as usual. The security line was short, and I quickly sent my bags, shoes, and laptop into the X-ray machine. I politely informed the female TSA agent who was barricading the metal detector that I intended to opt-out of submillimeter screening. She directed me to the “opt-out floor-mat of shame” next to the imager entrance, and eventually started calling for a “male assist.”
So far this is pretty much par for the course. I do tend to get antsy here, because pretty soon my belongings will have rolled to the opposite end of the X-ray machine, and my laptop will end up sitting in the open for an indeterminate amount of time as random passengers are given ample opportunity to damage or steal it. I do realize that occasionally things get busy, and that I might end up having to wait for several minutes while suppressing my unease as much as possible.
Tonight I ended up waiting for over half an hour for a pat-down that never happened. It took every last ounce of effort and self-control to keep myself composed, but I think I did a reasonably good job given the circumstances. I did point out that I had been waiting an inordinately long time, but rather than the usual apology and continued unenthusiastic “male assist” calls, I was repeatedly asked “Why don't you just go through the machine?” “Did you read this sign about the machine?” “Don't you know that it's safe? That it's not an X-ray?” and other similar leading questions by a (male) passive-aggressive TSA agent who couldn't understand why someone would willingly take advantage of the claim that “use of this imaging technology is optional,” and an equally useless (male) supervisor who agreed with him.
Eventually the “male assist” calls stopped, and it became pretty clear that this wasn't going to go anywhere. After several dozen more passengers had gone through, and after three or four of them had induced mini-panic-attacks by lifting or moving the tray containing my laptop, I gave up and went through the submillimeter machine for the first time, feeling extremely defeated. I quickly collected my things, and continued on to my gate.
This is how we lose our rights. Not overnight in one fell swoop, but gradually, after getting worn down again and again, and after hundreds of mini-panic-attacks, and with ever-ratcheting procedural changes that effectively invalidate the assurances and safeguards that we're given.
I give up. The terrorists have won. I'm sad and I'm angry, but the perpetual wearing-down works. I won't be opting out again.