Over the past few years here in the US, there has been a severe backlash surrounding the usage of full body scanners and the resultant pat-down searches; for passengers who opt out of the body scan. Supporters of the body scans claim that they are necessary to weed out terrorists who might have dangerous materials such as plastic explosives that can’t be detected by the traditional metal detectors strapped to their body. Opponents counter that both the body scans, and the pat-down searches are both violations of privacy and of civil liberties (citing the preclusion of search & seizure without due process in the US Constitution).
Lending credence to the latter viewpoint are the spate of incidents in which the TSA patted down “8-year old girls” and “old grandmothers in diapers,” robbed passengers of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, and used the body scan images (which show the “private parts of passengers”) inappropriately. So it was under this backdrop that I received my first pat-down search at Munich Airport while on my way back to the States from Switzerland earlier this year.
In the United States, passengers are typically given the option of either passing through the invasive body scanners mentioned above, or receiving a pat down search. However, in Munich, passengers connecting to US flights must pass through a special second security checkpoint at the entrance to the US section of Hall H on the top level of Lufthansa’s Terminal 2. It was at this second security checkpoint that I received my very first pat-down search, ostensibly because Munich still lacks body scanners.
The security agent, in an admittedly stark contrast to the typical TSA agent, was courteous and professional, asking me the purpose of my visit (visiting family) and a few other questions such as citizenship and the like, before beginning to pat me down. He explained what he was doing at the beginning of the search, which put my (very slight) unease to rest, and then he actually patted me down. Beyond a little discomfort when he was searching my groin area, the actual search itself wasn’t too bad; I had experienced worse before when entering a federal building.
After me came my younger brother, and the agent was once again very kind, explaining in even more detail what he was doing (my brother is 12 for comparison’s sake). He went through almost the same routine for the actual search, but didn’t touch my little brother’s groin area, as he was a young(er) child.
And that was it; we collected our bags and went on our way. To be honest, I can’t really see what was so bad. Of course the trademark European “customer service” and professionalism, as well as the civilized manner with which they treated my brother had something to do with my apathy. I’m sure if a surly TSA agent did a truly full body pat-down on my little brother, or even on my 76 year old grandmother, I’d be a good sight angrier.
I see the validity of the arguments about violations of privacy, but ultimately this is something that needs to be done for safety reasons. The TSA is really stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one; they are criticized for the invasive pat-downs and body scanners, but what happens if they withdraw these tools and some terrorist uses the opportunity to sneak plastic explosives onto a flight and blow a plane out of the sky? My guess is that the TSA would be criticized even more than they are right now.
My experience is particularly relevant because Australia appears to be adding full body scanners to its airport experience without the pat-down opt out. Would the pat-down search as I described it serve as a more humane alternative?
Readers, what are your thoughts on body-scanners and pat-down searches? Have you experienced the body scanners yet? Please do let us know via a comment.