National Opt Out Week: Speak Truth to TSA Power

Journalist Christopher Elliott is supporting National Opt-Out Week. Don’t go through the nude-o-scopes at the TSA checkpoint, insist on a good old fashioned full body run (pat down) instead.

Elliott’s reason for supporting the movement are that the machines aren’t adequately tested for dangers due to radiation (applies more to the backscatter machines than to the millimeter wave machines), that they are easily fooled (so don’t provide much security at all), that they are very expensive (so a poor use of security resources that could be better deployed elsewhere), that they’ve invasive (we give up our rights and the terrorists really have won), and that they’ve never actually, you know, caught a terrorist.

I don’t just opt out one week a year. I did go through one of the machines a year ago in the Bangkok airport, there was one line only for transfer security between the domestic and international pier. The machine there was almost always off in the past, but not when I was going through and in Thailand there’s no “opt out.” I don’t expect rights there. But in the States I do think it’s important to preserve both freedoms and dignity.

Personally I hate “assuming the position,” I find having to hold up my hands in surrender position when standing in the machine to be degrading. That bothers me more than appearing naked before TSA authorities.

I know some folks that try to preserve a small portion of control over their own lives going through the machines, ‘flipping the bird’ or ‘giving the finger’ to those looking at their naked images.

Me, I just don’t go through. When they direct me to the machine I simply announce, “Male assist!” And they come over to offer me a special pat down.

Sadly while two years ago there was a great deal of pushback against the TSA most everyone has simply gotten used to these machines. So I don’t expect much to come of ‘national opt out week’. But I certainly appreciate the additional attention that Elliott is bringing to the issue.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. After opting out 100 times in the past year, I finally gave up a couple weeks ago. The machime is much faster, amd you do NOT “appear naked”. Best decision I’ve made all year. Give up on the protest amd save yourself some time!

  2. I wonder if the politicians that insisted the machines be put in place own stock in the companies?

  3. I opt out 100% of the time when I can’t go through the old fashioned metal detectors. For me it’s about safety – I am not convinced about the safety of either of the two technologies being used at airports. It’s a timesuck at the airport -but such is life.

  4. I’m an old guy, so I don’t have to take off my shoes or, because I can’t raise my arms(cough, cough), I don’t have to go through the scope.

  5. I always opt out. Did so twice this week. For me it is purely principal against security theatre.

  6. So not only do they keep the security theater going, but also provide a safe and completely inconsequential outlet for folks who don’t like the security theater. Sounds like a win-win 😉

  7. @Chris M – a nude-o-scope is no more an intrusion of your freedom than the WTMD. It changes the methods used but your option not to fly is still available just as it was before. The “freedom argument” often used in these discussions is spurious at best.

    The real argument is that it is potentially damaging to health and privacy. If you are serious about fighting against the nude-o-scope at least use a substantive, emotion-neutral argument.

  8. There’s a good article in USA today from a few days ago. TSA is moving 91 of the backscatter machines to a storage facility is TX. I think it’s long overdue and I think all backscatter machines should be moved to out! They’re gone from LGA and JFK, ORD, LAX, BOS, CLT and MCO.


    They’ve been banned by the EU now and some other Asian countries around the world.

  9. Let’s see pre-check at every airport and they can keep the Security Theatre as long as they want.

    FWIW, I go through the machines because I hate needless hassle. Out of principle, my wife insists on opting-out.

  10. Part of their psychological treatment is referring to it as “opt-out” instead of “pat down”. Instead of approaching it as having two options they are insinuating you are excluding yourself from the primary option. Furthermore, they always yell it out to make you feel like a rebel.

    These are subtle but important psychological tactics that the TSA has engineered since they do it at every airport.

  11. I always opt out. For me, it was being told that the health effects of some of those machines were not well tested (i.e. cancer causing). Although I tried looking into it and couldn’t find much evidence one way or another. However, I figure since I go through airports a fair amount, better safe than sorry. Certainly there are other many aspects of my life that I could change to decrease cancer risk as well, but I figure this is one fairly small sacrifice I can make that might be beneficial down the road.

  12. I travel every other week from Florida to Nevada and both airports have the millimeter wave machine. When I am there and someone opts out, I just laugh. Either they do not know the type of machine that is used (even though there are signs that tell you which it is right next to them), or they are concerned about the “radiation”.
    Now, I do know that the answer changes with who you ask about whether the machine is safe or not but if you are so concerned about the radiation, maybe you should give up flying. At 39,000 feet in the air, the radiation is 64 times stronger than at sea level… and you are concerned about 3 seconds or so in a radio wave machine??? Cheers for cosmic radiation.

  13. I don’t understand opting out…especially when the concern is “freedom”, “dignity”, or “privacy”.

    Being felt up in public by some random stranger, or having some boxes pop up on a screen that has a diagram of a person on it.

    Tough choice.

  14. @David – You want me to be emotionally neutral? What am I… Borg? I get fired up when forced to pose like a criminal for the nude-o-scope. Or when my junk meets firm resistance from the gloved-up hand of the state. If you were required to go through TSA screening checkpoints in order to walk down the street in crowded areas, would you still feel that it is not a freedom issue, but merely an issue of the health effects of the screening equipment used?

  15. @David – And by the way, I agree with your argument that there may be health concerns with the screening equipment used. To me though, that argument is merely a leaf, on a tree that is diseased all the way down to the roots.

  16. I’d love to participate but no plans to fly this week. I am not sure a protest at the airport is as pertinent as a letter to your Members of Congress, however. They are the only ones who would have the ability to insist on a change, but are too dysfunctional and gutless to do anything – unless they hear from lots of constituents that we really don’t believe the TSA is wonderful.

  17. I will defend rights of others but typically waive my own. But really now, is it necessary to hold opt out week, which will strain resources, during a kettle-heavy time period? This seems almost passive aggressive and not the right time to make a point.

  18. Guys,

    Your freedoms have been robbed a lot more than just by the backscatter x-ray machine. I’d be more concerned about the inability to have free speech. That’s a much larger concern of mine.

    Slowing the security line down is just going to make everyone more frustrated at the whole system. Besides, don’t you find a pat down more invasive? I do.

  19. those who would trade essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security – ben franklin

  20. The TSA is just part of what Romney correctly called all those handouts to minorities that swung the election. Just look at them, we all know those kind of people who work for the TSA and how they hate us. They have contempt for the private sector job creators, they are wealth haters and you can see it in their eyes.

  21. Opting out is a protest on every level. Yes, it costs you time but usually it’s time you’d otherwise just spend waiting in the takeoff lounge. In exchange, you send a message, one person at a time, that there ARE certain things you will simply not do, just like Olaf. The undignified, unhealthy system that has been foisted on us will only get worse unless there are more people willing to give up a little time in exchange for maintaining their dignity and their health. Yes, there are sheep amongst us but I am always amazed at how many sheep there are.

  22. A basic radiation safety principle, “ALARA – As Low As Reasonably Achievable”. During the past century, it was a widely accepted practice for a medical doctor to look directly into an x-ray beam while diagnosing a patient… because it was considered safe. I don’t have the exact statistics, but I am fairly confident that some of them didn’t make their full life expectancy.

    Continuing to support my current freedom to “Opt-Out” every week with the knowledge that I am getting the most efficient use of my tax dollars by giving the TSA something useful to do with their time.

  23. unfortunately, with two knee replacements, it’s much “easier” for me to go through the scanner than to be “patted down” – sometimes very rudely (although not overseas…just in the good old USA)…It may be a cop-out on my part, but I find having to unsnap my jeans, a wand up to my crotch,and those fingers feeling around my bra to be much more invasive (I’m a woman BTW,,,LOL!)

  24. Sorry, I just don’t get how being felt up in public by some obnoxious mall cop is in any way an affirmation of my rights as an individual in a “free” society. Back scatter machines are likely dangerous, but I’d prefer they keep their hands off my body, thank you very much!

  25. Some of the TSA guys give decent massages.

    I always opt out on the reason of safety. And I have already been proved right, as a type of these scanners is already banned in multiple countries.

    Radiation gives you cancer. Once you get it you’re on your own, as the government won’t help you. Google downwinders to learn more about other activities the government reassured people were safe.

  26. I always “opt out” when I am asked to go thru a scope. My biggest beef is that the scope’s block my view from my items going down the belt. So the argument begins when they tell me that I have to wait for a pat down specialist. If I truly can’t see my belongings on the belt, I immediately ask for a supervisor. This greatly speeds up the process.

  27. What’s less degrading about sticking your arms out for the pat down? I’m a libertarian, but no matter what they are going to search me, so I don’t care between a pat down and machine. I do the machine because it’s faster.

  28. Looks like some of the pro-scanner responses are from the 30% that would submit to a cavity search to board a plane. remain submissive and your mandatory cavity search will be assured a few years from now.

  29. Like many others, I opt out every time. Then I take it a step further and complain to TSA, my congressman, both my senators and the White House. I am a million mile flyer, and I have had it up to here with TSA. My request is simple: Withhold all funding for TSA until they start showing some respect for the Constitution and the traveling public.

  30. And thanks again to our Israeli dual citizens and traitorus US Congress for their role in the defining event of the century 911.

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