Is National Opt-Out Day Going to Wreak Havoc With Your Wednesday?

In recent weeks, we've seen the TSA dispute catalyze and erupt from what started as a few accounts of bad behavior into a national uproar deemed worthy of a boycott, plus T-shirts and even body-scanner proof underwear. But here's the problem with an ethical issue that surfaces by way of mainstream media: It becomes, as we saw with the Park51 controversy, blown out of proportion to a nearly embarrassing degree and ends up causing far more confusion than necessary or appropriate.

As Thanksgiving week commences, the busiest travel days of the year also arrive -- and thus, so does "National Opt-Out Day." Calling for all persons traveling on the upcoming Wednesday to "opt out" of the full-body scanning procedure, the website states:

"The goal of National Opt-Out Day is to send a message to our lawmakers that we demand change. We have a right to privacy and buying a plane ticket should not mean that we're guilty until proven innocent. This day is needed because many people do not understand what they consent to when choosing to fly."

But what about the newest TSA procedures are people not understanding? As we all know, the following guidelines are now part of standard airport security:

1. Most airports across the nation are now equipped with full-body scanning equipment.

2. If you "opt-out," i.e. refuse to partake in the full-body screening, you consent to the pat-down procedure, same as if you had refused to partake in walking through any other screening mechanisms.

3. The pat-down procedure involves a TSA agent utilizing, you guessed it, their hands to search for prohibited possessions.

Of course there will be the occasional slip-up. But is a boycott really necessary? And even more so -- is a boycott that will, inevitably, cause drastic delays on one of the busiest travel days of the year, really necessary? Paul Ruden, a spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Agents warned against the body-scanner boycott, saying the following:

"Just one or two recalcitrant passengers at an airport is all it takes to cause huge delays... It doesn't take much to mess things up anyway -- especially if someone purposely tries to mess it up."

Perhaps instead of delaying travel by holding up security lines, the folks who are planning to "opt out" on Wednesday should consider the following: Don't fly. Upset the TSA has increased security measures? Why not try boycotting air travel in general. The rest of us have no problem with the TSA and would like our voyages over the holidays to be smooth sailing, just the way things were before the controversy started.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post/ABC poll says that two-thirds of Americans actually support full-body screening from the TSA.

[atimm@villagevoice.com]


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