Previously I wrote (link here) about the introduction of body scanners at U.S. airports by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The reasoning behind the decision was set out in this statement:
“…we suggested that, among other things, TSA introduce more aggressive, visible, and unpredictable deterrent measures into the passenger screening process at airports nationwide, to potentially include the implementation of enhanced individual search procedures (e.g., pat-downs and hand-wand screening) to detect concealed components; and continue to develop and deploy new technology to be used at passenger screening checkpoints that would be able to better detect concealed components.”
– from GAO Report on Aviation Security: Vulnerabilities Exposed Through Covert Testing of TSA’s Passenger Screening Process (GAO-08-48T, November 15, 2007).
The fixation that every citizen is a potential terrorist has gained so much ground in recent years that any concerns about implications for international travellers whose documentation might not match their gender presentation have been swept aside.
Now, via The Wall Street Journal Online (link here) I see that the paranoia about “suspected terrorists” has been extended to domestic air travel too:
Airlines this week will begin requiring some people making reservations for domestic flights to submit their dates of birth and genders as part of a screening process aimed at keeping boarding passes out of the hands of suspected terrorists, the Transportation Security Administration said.
The government’s goal is to vet all passengers on domestic commercial flights by early next year.
Of concern is that the TSA appears to be relying on the judgement of commercial airlines to make these decisions; and these decisions can also be applied to people who aren’t actually flying, but just accompanying a passenger to the boarding gate:
The TSA said it would be up to individual airlines or travel agents to decide how to collect the required information at the time a reservation is made.
People who receive gate passes, which allow them to proceed into secure areas of airports without boarding passes so they can assist other passengers, also could be required to furnish the additional data.
In other words, if the airline staff don’t like the look of you – or the friend who’s come to wave you off – you may well find that you miss your flight simply because you wore that comfy dress, even though the gender marker in your official documentation dictates that you should have been wearing a collar and tie. It’s absolute nonsense, of course – and trans-misogynistic nonsense, to boot.
The TSA said the additional data would make it easier for the agency to more accurately match prospective passengers with the thousands of names carried on the government’s terrorism watch lists.
Apart from my initial cynical response – didn’t President Obama declare the “war on terrorism” to be over? – I do wonder (a) how many passengers have so far been matched with the 700,000 names on the watch lists and (b) how many of those matches have subsequently been proved to have been planning terrorist attacks.
I doubt I shall never know the answers to those questions, but my point is that being required to provide information about one’s date of birth and gender seems unlikely to deter a committed attacker from hir objective.
It’s hard to see how this measure would have prevented, for instance, the attackers on 9/11 from boarding their planes – and, once again, the people most likely to be adversely affected are trans and gender variant people who, for whatever reason, provide documentary evidence which fails to gain the approval of airline staff who, in turn, are acting on behalf of the same government whose policies have caused the ‘no-match’ in the first place.
Curtsey to Stefani for the heads-up
Other, related posts about body scanners:
- Facial recognition technology for Heathrow airport next year (December 1, 2009)
- Psst… You want to see some dirrrty pictures? (October 20, 2009)
- Say cheese (April 28, 2009)