Dec. 8 2010 10:28 AM

The pros and cons of full-body scanners

As the date for my yearly holiday flight to New York approaches, I’ve been wondering: By which method will I choose to have my privates persecuted? Will I elect to be fondled by a highly trained genitalia inspector, or allow agents to take a radioactive close-up of all the cysts that have emerged in my rectum since I first got in the security-checkpoint line?

I recently read that two-thirds of the population favors full-body scanners. Even I will admit that the caveman cowering in the sub-terrain of my brain feels an iota safer about flying now that we have them. So, I don’t begrudge the public’s support of the new measures. I do, however, begrudge some of the ignorant, reactionary arguments used to justify that support—such as the oft-repeated position that it’s better to tolerate a little indignity than be killed by terrorists.

“If you don’t want to die on the plane,” remarked a caller on Sean Hannity’s radio show recently, “you should be saying, ‘Scan, baby, scan!’”

And blogger Henry Blodget titled his article about the subject, “Sorry, Folks, We’d Rather Be Body-Scanned than Blown Up In Mid-Air.”

What horseshit. The choice is not between getting scanned and being “blown up in midair.” It’s a choice between scanning and the minute possibility of being blown up. Actually, since no security scheme is foolproof, the choice is between the minute possibility of dying in the air by terrorism and a slightly higher possibility of dying in the air by terrorism.

So, the questions are: How much higher is that possibility? Is it mitigated by the new security measures? And is the difference sizeable enough to justify the myriad physical, emotional, financial, chronological and libertarian costs of it?

“The people who are making a big deal about the airport security just need to grow up...,” wrote a commenter to

Oh yeah, commenter to Well, suck my cyst! This is a big deal. I am grownup! In fact, this is what grown-ups do: We weigh our options and consider consequences.

“If these new machines prevent one plane from being blown up over the next decade, they’ll have been worth it,” wrote our boy Blodget.

Really? One plane in 10 years—about 300 people—is worth all that time, money, energy, restrictions on movement and invasion of the privacies and personal spaces of—well, let’s see, at least 1.5 million flyers a day, multiplied by 365 days per year, multiplied by 10 years, is roughly 5.5 billion passengers. Sorry, but 300 casualties are perfectly acceptable when weighed against the impact on 5.5 billion people.

And, yeah, I know, we’re supposed to find the notion of “acceptable casualties” to be distasteful, but it’s a common configuration of life. Take the speed limit. In 1987, there was a debate over whether to increase the national maximum from 55 to 65 mph. Everyone knew that the increase would cause between 5 and 15 percent more traffic fatalities, but we raised it anyway.

Same is true with air travel. Forget terrorism; if we really wanted to save more lives, we’d demand the airlines retire their planes five years sooner. We’d make them triple the pilot’s salary, quadruple inspections and make them put a parachute under every seat. So, spare me your ignorant hostility and blind allegiance to the illusion of safety. How about we have a non-reactionary, well-considered, grownup debate about the pros and cons of employing full-body scanners at the airport? I’ll start.


1. Better odds: The odds of being blown up in a plane during a terrorist attack will be reduced from a one in 10.40894 billion chance, to a one in 10.40895 (or so) billion chance. Yay!

2. Job creation: The full-body-scanner industry is booming!

3. Social advantages: Can catch up on all your texting responsibilities while waiting to be frisked or scanned.


1. If it ain’t broke…: There have been no successful, airborne terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001. Why the sudden need to increase security?

2. Radiation: Experts are conflicted as to whether body scanners emit safe levels of radiation for some people. Until we have an extensive, independent report on the subject, it’s not right to implement them.

3. Slippery slope to Orwellian apocalypse: People think you’re nuts for suggesting such a thing, but do the math. Body scanners are peering under our clothing like back-alley perverts. Optical scanners are becoming more prevalent. Parents have begun embedding microchips in their children. Cameras track your offenses at intersections. And the GPS in your cell phones can track you everywhere else. Isn’t it obvious where this is all headed?

4. Drug transportation: Oh, how I long for the day when flying with drugs was as easy as stuffing a baggy in your ass and walking funny for a bit. Now I have to find an unsuspecting mule in the food court, slip the baggie in his or her food, then fish it out of his or her caca on the other side. Thanks, full body scanners!

5. Costs (time and money): At $150,000 per scanner, per gate, per airport, the impact should be obvious. And since time is money, you have to consider the millions of lost man-hours of all those people who’ll be standing in line longer instead of inventing gizmos, curing cancer or developing new porn sites.

6. The terrorists win: As much as I detest that phrase, it’s never been more relevant. By definition, terrorists seek to keep us in a persistent state of fear, which reduces our quality of life, depresses the economy and causes us to make irrational decisions about our security—such as over-focusing on air travel and under-focusing on everything else.

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