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TSA Opposition Goes Viral on the Web

Privacy advocates are calling for November 24th to be “National Opt-Out Day.” But are their protests coherent?

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Opposition to the Transportation Security Administration’s new full-body scans (“pornoscans,” in the parlance of the angry) has reached a fever pitch–and gone viral on the Internet. One of the more popular sites is calling for November 24 to be “National Opt-Out Day,” meaning that travelers on one of the busiest days of the year should decline to walk through the scanners, opting for a manual pat-down instead. 

Other websites with similar missions have proliferated: StopDigitalStripsearches.org, DontScan.us. The Drudge Report posted a photograph of a pat-down of a nun, declaring, “THE TERRORISTS HAVE WON.” (For some of our background coverage on the TSA and its scanners, click here.)

James Babb, one of the co-founders of the group WeWontFly.com, told CNET how the strategy is supposed to work: If enough people opt-out, “the theory is that it’ll bog down their bogus security theater…We don’t think they have the manpower to put their hands in everyone’s pants…The American people aren’t going to do it. They’re not going to be irradiated and they’re not going to have their kids felt up.”

As civil disobedience goes, it’s a little less stirring than the Greensboro sit-in. Granted, the TSA’s scanners are a tad unsettling, and people have a right to voice their opposition. But the message sent by “Opt-Out Day” is just as incoherent as TSA chief John Pistole’s first calling his procedures “invasive,” then dialing that statement back. Is opting for an invasive pat-down a real victory over opting for an invasive scan? And assuming the TSA employees are still being paid during the time wasted by these privacy crusaders, who’s really bearing the brunt here–the latex-gloved TSA employee, or the families with screaming children at the back of the longer-than-ever line?

These protests, though motivated by real privacy concerns, simply have too many opportunities to backfire. Consider the man who told a perfectly cordial TSA employee, “if you touch my junk I’m going to have you arrested.” CNN reported that the man faced a potential $10,000 fine and a civil suit.

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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