Sunday, November 28, 2010

TSA security and medical privacy - where do we draw the line?

Two recent stories related to the new TSA security procedures have been on my mind recently. First, the story of Tom Sawyer, a 61-year-old retired special education teacher. He is a bladder cancer survivor who wears a urostomy to catch his urine. During a routine "pat-down," the TSA agent broke the seal of the urostomy, covering Sawyer in urine. "I was just so embarrassed, so humiliated," Sawyer also told The Detroit Free Press. The head of the TSA John Pistole apologized to Sawyer and Sawyer has graciously accepted the apology.

Now, what if that wasn't a urostomy bag? What if it was a colostomy bag instead? I'm sure everyone on the flight would have appreciated that.

Then, there's the story of Cathy Bossi, a flight attendant who has a removable breast prosthesis because she's a breast cancer survivor. During her screening, this is what happened:
She says two female Charlotte T.S.A. agents took her to a private room and began what she calls an aggressive pat down. She says they stopped when they got around to feeling her right breast… the one where she'd had surgery."She put her full hand on my breast and said, 'What is this?'. And I said, 'It's my prosthesis because I've had breast cancer.' And she said, 'Well, you'll need to show me that'." Bossi was asked to show her prosthetic breast, sticking her hand down her own shirt and removing the prosthesis from her bra.
Will we continue to hear more crazy stories from travelers who have a history of cancer?

Then there's the story of Amy Ascher Linde, an Atlanta mother and businesswoman who was born without a left hand and has worn a prosthetic since she was 11. For her to remove her prosthetic hand, she'd have to remove a significant amount of clothing.

Finally, there's the question of TSA agents patting down kids. Although some kids may not mind the pat down, others may have a history of sexual abuse and these types of pat-downs by strangers could trigger significant emotional trauma. I'm not sure what constitutes an "aggressive" pat-down vs. a regular pat down.

This holiday season, my wife and I were thinking about doing some traveling with our kids, but these TSA security measures have caused us to be less inclined to travel. I understand that non-metallic weapons will not get detected by metal detectors. I also understand the real threat of air travel. I just don't think the current full-body scanners and the pat-downs procedures are appropriate for the general public. I respect what the TSA is attempting to do. They're trying to protect our security. However, I hope the TSA will modify the current screening procedures based on the stories and complaints that have been raised.

1 comment:

  1. There's a long history of visualizing and scrutinizing the body via technology (e.g. see Lisa Cartwright's Screening the Body). But in the case of airport security, of course it's the state that grants authority to scrutiny via technology ad touch. Though there's a tendency to view such scrutiny as a breach of personal privacy, it's also, perhaps, as Lisa Parks puts it (Journal of Visual Culture 2007; 6; 183) emblematic of the state's inability to regulate the 'flow' of goods, materials and persons across boundaries and borders. So perhaps we should be asking whether such 'breaches' are the best way to police security in an age of globalization.