As we quickly approach the winter holidays, many of us will be making plans to fly to see relatives in other states or countries. But, hopping a plane is no longer a carefree experience for Americans. If you’re planning to fly with your children this holiday season, here are some important things to keep in mind about the mandatory Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checks at the airport.
Travelers only have two security check point options: walk through the scanners, or succumb to a extensive pat-down. Both “choices” are less than ideal, and while adults might be able to weight the pros and cons of both, and rationalize a choice (for the sake of their vacation), the stakes are much higher with children. I have significant reservations.
Scanners & Health Concerns:
- Imaging & Cancer Research experts at UCSF were so concerned about the level of radiation of these machines, that they wrote a letter to the Assistant to the President for Science & Technology, John Holdren, after the scanners were implemented. Read their concerns. They mention things like breast cancer, skin cancer, sperm mutation. Scary!
- The long-term effects of such machines cannot be fully known until many years have passed. But, doctors are advising pregnant women to avoid the machines. Many experts are very concerned about this x-ray exposure. And the risk is higher if the machines malfunction (which technology inevitably does.)
- A study done by Marquette University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering reported that the radiation levels met national standards, but that more independent study of the scanners is needed. The study’s author, Taly Gilat-Schmidt, does not allow her children to go through them!
- Children’s bodies are still growing, thus they are far more sensitive to radiation than adults. If researchers were concerned about adult exposure, imagine the impact on growing cells! So, while the TSA claims that scanners emit less radiation than a cell phone, they are trivializing a very real concern. Risking developmental damage is a terrifying notion. The proper level of radiation exposure for children is the lowest amount possible, which means NONE!
Scanners & Privacy Issues:
- We Americans take our privacy seriously, so much so that we may falsely think that the scanners provide more privacy than a pat down, since no one is touching us. But, consider this, the scanners produce a naked image of the person being scanned that is then viewed by a TSA employee. The image is not a blurry image. This concept causes hesitation even when it’s adults being scanned. But when it’s kids, there are other issues to think about (how closely are TSA employees investigated before hiring?). Who’s to say a pedophile isn’t sitting in the back room looking at the naked images? Creepy!
- Back in 2007 when the full body scanners were first introduced in American airports, walking through the scanners was not mandatory, but a random security check– TSA selected a traveler for further screening. (Yet, even then children were not eliminated as candidates; one Mother was furious and recalls her daughter’s experience.) Today, they are mandatory, unless you want to be groped instead. I believe this is an invasion of our privacy and a direct violation of our constitutional protection from illegal searches & seizures – there is no “probable cause” motivating the search. Succumbing to scanning is encouraging complacency by the public about our rights – a terrible lesson for our children to learn from us.
Child Pat-downs & Privacy Issues:
- Though the TSA claims that children receive “a modified pat-down,” this isn’t comforting. First, this only pertains to children under 12 years, so teens and tweens will be given the full pat down. Second, parental complaints exist that recall far too invasive child pat-downs of very young travelers.
- We painstakingly teach our children important lessons about “stranger danger” and “invasion of privacy” and then have to stand by and let a stranger pat them down?! Ridiculous!
- TSA’s Pistole lied to Congress about children 12 & under not being subjected to pat-downs. Refuses to change the policies in place.
TSA Horror Stories:
- Four year old girl traumatized in Kansas
- Wheel-chair bound boy searched
- Reporter’s daughter hand searched at airport
This is not common sense security. It seems TSA agents do not receive proper sensitivity training, or care about the emotional fragility of children. This is a real concern. What’s the solution? That is up to you. For me, choosing the pat down is better (even for children) because at least you are there to monitor the situation & know cancer won’t develop later on. But if you get a crazy TSA agent who goes too far, it could be a bad scenario.
Basically there is no good choice for parents to make when flying with children nowadays.What used to be an exciting and highly anticipated family experience, has now become a nightmare for many families. It is sad that travel has come to this. American citizens are being treated like criminals, shirking the “innocent until proven guilty” notion we are suppose to uphold in this nation. Under the guise of “safety,” our rights, and those of our children, have been stripped away. In my opinion, we have prostituted our morals for a brief sense of security (which, let’s face it, is just an illusion anyway.) Until Americans demand a different standard from the TSA/government, I suppose the only safe solution is to avoid flying. If you have the option of traveling by any other means this holiday season – train or car — it might behoove you to do so.
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