Tuesday, November 23, 2010

National Opt Out Day

Will you Opt Out on November 24, 2010?

image courtesy of the TSA

The TSA has been deploying Advanced Imaging Technology since 2007.  Persons (including the pilots of the very aircraft the TSA is trying to prevent from being hijacked) can choose to be electronically denuded or they may "Opt Out" and be subjected to an enhanced pat down that includes an inspection of the groin, buttocks, and breasts.  TSA administrator John Pistole says the new procedures strike a "balance between privacy and security."

Some folks disagree and have decided to resist what they regard as an unwarranted intrusion on the privacy of the flying public.  They have designated tomorrow, Wednesday, November 24, 2010, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US and one of the busiest travel days of the year, National Opt Out Day.

The media, the blogosphere, and US politicians are divided (except perhaps those US politicians who are exempt from any screening).  Some lean one way or the other.  Some note that the Israelis don't use AIT.  Some writers are having their cake and eating it.  In This Junk Won't Fly: The idiocy of airport-scanner "Opt-Out Day" William Saletan argues we shouldn't opt out because doing so will cause inconvenience to all travelers.  Saletan wasn't quite so sanguine about the privacy violation back in his March 2007 piece title Digital Penetration: Invasion of the naked body scanners.

I'm traveling by car this weekend so I don't have to decide.  How about you?

Updated 23 November to add: Actually I do have an opinion...

The TSA has reacted predictably to every new mode of attack by implementing a more intrusive inspection regime. Al-Qaeda says "Boo" and the next thing you know the TSA is looking at naked pictures of our mothers, wives, and daughters? What happens when some unsuspecting trans-Atlantic drug mule fills his colon with Semtex instead of a heroin shipment? Will we all line up for preflight abdominal x-rays or opt out and submit to body cavity inspections?

Terrorism may seem like a big problem, but our collective fear of terrorism and the ability of others to profit or accrete power as a result of that fear is a bigger problem. We're going to stop over-reacting sooner or later, why not now?

Updated again on 25 November...

Initial media reports were that National Opt Out was a total bust.  Now, it seems that one of the reasons air travelers did not opt out much at all on Wednesday was because the TSA appears to have quietly turned off their AIT machines, eliminating the need - or the option - to opt out.  An interesting, if transparent (please excuse the pun) solution.  So, if the TSA is convinced we cannot fly safely without the AIT program, on what grounds, and on whose authority, can they choose to turn off the backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners on the busiest travel day of the year?

Nature Is Cruel, But We Don't Have To Be

Please, please, please, put Temple Grandin on your Must See list!

The HBO movie Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes, won seven Emmy Awards in 2010.  It is now available on DVD.  The movie is clever and heartfelt and is one of the best movies I've seen this year.  The performances, large and small, were spot on.  Danes became Grandin; if you close your eyes I'm not sure you could tell them apart.  I look forward to watching it again.

I first encountered Temple Grandin, Ph.D., when she was interviewed on NPR in 2006. She said her visual thinking let her experience the world as a cow does.  This caused her to develop evidence-based animal handling systems in which livestock experience much less stress.  Ironically, her explanation of how animals perceive the world has made me a better hunter.

Dr. Grandin is an outspoken champion of those with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  She invented the "hug machine" which is used to comfort and calm hypersensitive persons.  Grandin is a prolific author, penning a variety of books including The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's and Thinking In Pictures: My Life With Autism.  She gave a funny and poignant talk at TED 2010 where she said she felt right at home with many of the attendees who seemed to be operating somewhere on the autism spectrum.

And yes, she designs slaughterhouses...