12 November 2010

On a side note... (TSA and Backscatter)

This has pretty much nothing to do with the normal topics for this blog (though I'll try to relate it in a minute). None the less, I think this is a really important issue and is something that needs attention. Sorry if it's "off topic."

I have one thing in common with most other consultants.
I travel a lot.
This is generally a part of the business of being in services - and especially true for consultants. In my case, as with most strategy consultants, as business has become more and more distributed and global my travel has become more and more frequent.

I have one thing in common with a lot of technologists.
I'm skeptical of governmental claims of safety when it comes to new and unproven technologies.

As a result - the TSA "backscatter" issue is something that concerns me greatly. As most of you know, TSA has begun a nationwide roll-out of the so-called "backscatter" full body scanners.

Various folks have raised concerns about the privacy implications of these devices; about their efficacy; and most of all about their safety. The pilot's union has suggested that all commercial pilots decline going through the devices due to the safety and health concerns.

After reading about these concerns, on a recent flight I found myself routed into a line with the backscatter device (against all my plans to avoid this). I chose to decline.

I'd heard stories about the "enhanced" pat-downs that would be required if one were to decline. These stories in no way prepared me for the reality. Describing this experience as "invasive" would be an understatement. If the "pat-down" had occurred in private it would have been uncomfortable and invasive seeming. As it occurred in public, in front of an audience of hundreds, it was instead what I would describe as deeply embarrassing and humiliating.

Since this experience I've read about the horrible experiences other folks have had with this pat-down option. I'd never thought about how much worse it would be if one were female - much less a victim of sexual abuse or rape.

This is unacceptable.

In a civilized society we should not be forced to choose between reliving a horrific, scarring experience causing psycho social harm - and taking potentially significant risks with our long-term health (and potentially our lives).


Inspired by a (fantastic) shared letter developed by Steve O'Grady of RedMonk, I sent off my thoughts on the topic to my elected federal officials. This isn't something I regularly do (in fact, it's something I've done probably less than 5 times in my life). But in this case I feel like it's entirely justified.

Since then, O'Grady has shared a (boilerplate) version of this letter as a Google Doc. In includes a link to a site you can use to find and contact your elected officials.

I'd urge you to at least educate yourself on the topic and the issues and would, in fact, plead with you to at least consider following suit and contacting your elected officials to express your outrage and demand a change to this situation.

Thank you.


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