Chris Calabrese of the ACLU seems to think so:
TSA has "always done pat-downs," but until recently they haven't been so aggressive, says Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the ACLU in Washington, D.C. "The pat-downs never used to go up a woman's skirt."
"It's become troubling," Calabrese says. "You've got these controversial naked strip search machines that they're rolling out at airports across America. And if you choose not to go through the naked strip search machine, you're subject to this (level of intrusive physical contact). It seems punitive. It seems designed to drive you to the naked strip search machine."
Having been the subject of the TSA's new "enhanced" pat-downs myself (after refusing to go through a full-body scanner), where an agent reached so far down the front of my pants her hands brushed up against my pubic hair, I can't argue with this characterization.
But if my choice is between being molested or subjected to having my chromosomes rearranged by a poorly trained non-union worker operating an unproven piece of irradiating machinery, I'll pick molestation.
Every. Single. Time.
The fuss over pat-downs seems to have displaced the fuss over the full-body scanner images that can show more than TSA agents really need to know about passengers.... Yet the true worry may not be an invasion of privacy but chromosome damage and cancer.
Last April, four scientists at the University of California-San Francisco sent John Holdren, Obama's top science adviser, a letter declaring their "concerns about the potential serious health risks." The four scientists -- a biochemist, a cancer specialist and two X-ray experts -- noted, "This is an urgent situation as these X-ray scanners are rapidly being implemented as a primary screening step for all air travel passengers." They maintained that that the dose of radiation delivered by these machines would appear to be safe "if it were distributed" throughout the traveler's entire body. But, they contended, because most of the dose "is delivered to the skin and the underlying tissue ... the dose to the skin may be dangerously high."
This quartet of scientists said that "real independent safety data" about these scanners "do not exist." They insisted that the devices could cause breast cancer in a "fraction of the female population," damage white blood cells, induce cancer within HIV and cancer patients, and cause "mutagenic effects" -- that is, chromosome damage that could lead to cancer, particularly among older travelers.
They also asserted that men are "at risk for sperm mutagenesis." They added, "The risk of radiation emission to children and adolescents does not appear to have been fully evaluated," and they suggested that pregnant women could be at risk. The four asked, "have the effects of the radiation on the cornea and thymus been determined?" And they raised the possibility of a glitch in the scanner's hardware or software causing "an intense radiation dose to a single spot on the skin."
The administration responded by publicly posting an FDA/DHS response seven months later - after the issue had gone viral.
These agencies essentially said, no problem. They claimed that "the issue had been studied extensively for many years" by federal agencies and that the dose to the skin is "at least 89,000 times lower than the annual limit." But John Sedat, who leads the four UCSF scietnists, says this response is in "error" and based on "many misconceptions." Sedat and the three other scientists are preparing a response to the response.The UCSF scientists aren't the only ones with concerns.
David Brenner, head of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research, recently aired his worries before the Congressional Biomedical Caucus.
"There really is no other technology around where we're planning to X-ray such an enormous number of individuals," Brenner told the caucus and congressional staffers. "It's really unprecedented in the radiation world."
Brenner's name carries some clout, because he served on a small group of experts convened in 2002 by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements to write guidelines for the security scanners. He now says he wouldn't have signed the report if he had known the X-ray scanners were going to be used on virtually every air traveler.
Nearly 400 body scanners deployed at 68 airports. In a year, that number will jump to a 1,000 machines. Two-thirds of travelers will be screened by these devices.
Or groped if they care about their chromosomes.