An ExpressJet pilot recently reported to work at Memphis International Airport and touched off what has turned into a firestorm of controversy.
The pilot, Michael Roberts, refused to go through one of the TSA’s new full body scanning machines, reports the Baltimore Sun. The machines, which are being introduced in select airports around the country, use advanced imaging technology to produce a rather revealing picture of a passenger’s naked body — and they’ve sparked debates about the importance of individual privacy versus safety in the air. The health risks of the machines, which emit low levels of radiation, have also been questioned. (The TSA claims the radiation is well within acceptable limits.)
Roberts — like all airline passengers — was permitted to opt out of the full body scan. However, he also refused his second option, a manual pat-down. “I’m not onboard with federal agents putting their hands on me every time I go to work,” he tells the Sun. Because he refused both the full body scan and the pat-down, he was denied access to the airport and sent home — and now his job may be in jeopardy. He is planning to file a lawsuit against the TSA.
Many travelers are celebrating Roberts’ protest as a heroic struggle for privacy and civil rights. But the TSA defends itself in a recent blog post (which coyly does not mention Roberts by name), stating that everyone — including flight crew and TSA agents — is subject to airport security, and that “security is not optional.”
While I’m hardly one to defend the TSA, I’m not so sure I agree with Roberts either; is a pat-down really that big a deal? But then again, I haven’t yet had to go through one of the new full body scans. Readers, what’s your take — do you think a pat-down is a reasonable alternative to the full body scan, or is Roberts justified in standing up to the TSA?
–written by Sarah Schlichter