In UK, If You Opt Out Of Body Scanners, You Don't Fly

For all the scuttlebutt about full-body scanners and pat downs at the airport, at least we have a choice between the TSA seeing our privates or grazing their fingers across them. In the UK, if you decline the backscatter, you don’t get to fly.

The Manchester Airport told the BBC that 95% of passengers prefer the full body scan. They also pointed out that it only takes 25 seconds, while a patdown takes 2 minutes.

So we should really stop complaining, at least we get a choice of which invasive piece of security theater we get to star in.

Manchester Airport body scanners in all three terminals [BBC via Reddit]


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  1. bsh0544 says:

    The article mentions a metal detector (or similar device? I can’t think of something similar that I wouldn’t just call a metal detector.) as a pre-screening to decide who gets the full body scan. It’s not clear on whether the body scan is mandatory if the pre-screen selects you, or if the pre-screen is the mandatory step and you can still opt for a pat-down rather than a full scan.

    • Dover says:

      I think the article is pretty clear: If you are chosen to go through the body scanner, your choice is to comply or not fly.

      • JayCor says:

        Actually, I thought TFA was unclear, although I can see the source of the confusion.

        “Not every passenger has to go through the body scanners. At first they go through a “Smartgate” which acts like a metal detector.

        The passenger then either gets directed to the body scanner or to the exit. If someone refuses to go through then they cannot board their flight, an airport spokesman said.”

        I understand this to say that all passengers go through the “Smartgate,” then a subset gets to go straight to the gate (or whatever), while another subset goes to the scanner.

        The last line, to me, says that if someone refuses to go through the entire security array — “Smartgate” included — they don’t board. When’s the last time anyone walked straight from the parking lot to the plane?

      • bsh0544 says:

        “If someone refuses to go through then they cannot board their flight” doesn’t seem specific to me, since it just spoke of 2 items a passenger could be expected to “go through.”

  2. SimplyStating says:

    I am not so sure what the big deal is and why anyone complains about security measures in the first place? If you don’t have anything to hide, it should not present a problem. Sheesh we complain when security features fail but when they try to improve you have those that complain as well. A damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach.

    • Limewater says:

      What about your genitals? You don’t want to hide them?

    • balthisar says:

      Google “Security Theater.”

      • DanRydell says:

        I think you (and Ben) need a better understanding of what “security theater” means. A device that is effective at detecting weapons that are concealed on a person’s body is NOT security theater. Taking your shoes off is security theater.

        • EllieM says:

          The device is not effective at catching weapons. In fact, it is highly unlikely to detect powder explosives like the one the underwear bomber used. What it is good at catching are anomalies such as bra straps, Kotex, penile implants, mastectomy bras, etc.

        • Fallom says:

          Weapons like what? Ones made out of metal? I thought we already had a detector for that. Or are ceramic guns with ceramic bullets now rampant?

    • Ahardy55 says:

      Ug. What a terrible argument. Hey, since you don’t have anything to hide, can I look at you naked, or say, rummage through your bedroom? You’re not a terrorist right? So what’s the problem?

      • DanRydell says:

        You’re welcome to look at me naked, but the male body is not exactly attractive. In my bedroom you’d find condoms, lube, and some vibrators for the little lady.

    • dearabby says:

      I hope you’re being sarcastic.

      These measures are massively invasive. Usually I get to choose who gets to see me naked or feel me up. I get choices about whether a nude or nearly nude picture of me is taken or stored.

      I think we’ve reached a point where people are feeling that the increase in “security” is not worth the loss of personal rights.

    • steve6534 says:

      And the real terrorist that wanted to smuggle something past the checkpoint only has to hide it in a body cavity where the machine can’t see. These new machines do absolutely NOTHING to enhance security.

    • SimplyStating says:

      We all have genitalia. And would you rather them scan you for 25 seconds or feel you up for 2 minutes? It’s a choice per this article lol..

      • squirrel says:

        It all depends on what your personal kink is.

        Are you an exhibitionist? Like to be fondled? Usually you have to pay money and risk getting arrested to get your rocks off. Now you just need to buy a ticket on United.

      • athensguy says:

        Actually, a better way to put the choice is:

        Choose the line on the left to be exposed to significant doses of cancer causing radiation.

        Choose the line on the right to be assaulted.

        Either line you choose, know that the terrorists have won.

        • isileth says:

          I agree.
          They made us change our way of life significantly.
          They made our governments scared and paranoid more than they should.
          So they have won.

      • aloria says:

        Pat down takes 2 minutes and is gone except for in the my and the screener’s memories. Body scan exists for as long as the agent running the machine decides to hold on to it. Policy states they are deleted immediately, but there have been incidents where TSA agents took pictures of the scans with their phones.

        • physics2010 says:

          Well yes and the fact that they keep the pictures on the computer too. They lied about them being deleted.

      • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

        Depends…what does she look like and do I have to give them a tip afterwards…

    • EllieM says:

      “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

      • EllieM says:

        At least as to our choice of security theater in the U.S.

      • alSeen says:

        I don’t like the pat down either, but using the 4th Amendment is an invalid argument.

        You have a choice. Comply with the screening or don’t fly.

        • EllieM says:

          It’s invalid in the UK. But why is it invalid in the U.S. Could the government set up this sort of “security” outside shopping malls? You have a choice, you don’t have to go to the mall.

        • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

          The 4th Amendment doesn’t have a “… but if you want to do something cool, you must submit to everything” clause. The way it’s worded is an absolute limit on government power.

          Open up those wallets for the ACLU, guys, the Supreme Court is sleepin’ at the wheel.

      • DanRydell says:

        What’s the name of the document that contains that paragraph?

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      Interestingly enough, the “I’ve got nothing to hide” argument has been around since the 19th century. This paper ought to be fucking required reading in every civics class in the nation.

      • bravohotel01 says:

        +1 – I read it when I saw it referenced on Schneier’s blog. Good stuff.

        I’d argue that it ought to be required reading AND the required subject of a paper in order to *graduate* any US High School.

      • FilthyHarry says:

        Technically its “If they’ve got nothing to hide…” People who use that argument generally mean it to apply to people whom they already think are guilty.

    • pop top says:

      So if any cop wanted to search your house or your vehicle at any time ever, you’d let them because you had nothing to hide? When does it cross the line from “security” into “violation” for you?

    • pinteresque says:

      Obvious troll is obvious. Need to work on your delivery, there.

    • Jack Handy Manny says:

      I do have something to hide….my junk….please don’t take a picture of it or grab it.

    • StaudtCJ says:

      Considering the amount of xray in use by these machines, my doctor told me to not go through these because of buildup from other medical issues. She told me that getting additional x-rays on my trunk would put me over the limit, and although I can have scans done of my limbs/head, I must avoid x-rays to the abdomen and chest. This makes the UK someplace I can no longer fly to, just in case. Sometimes, it’s not a privacy issue, it’s a medical one.

      • Crass says:

        You do realize you receive several orders of magnitude more radiation from flying at high elevation, than you do from a properly calibrated backscatter machine? Seriously, look it up. If the backscatter machine (roughly 0.009 milirems of exposure) is enough to push you over the limit. (depending on solar activity and your latitude, could be up to 5-10 milirems per flight)

    • David in Brasil says:

      Don’t feed the troll, people…

    • MuffinSangria says:

      I’ve got plenty to hide, but none of it is illegal or any of the TSA’s (or UK’s version) business.

    • Bye says:

      Owls hate you.

    • Concat says:

      Yeah guys, I mean, if you have nothing to hide, what’s the big deal if someone gives you a cavity search?

  3. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I’m flying to the UK next week. If they really want to see my 40-something-year-old lard butt, they can have a party with cake and streamers.

  4. Mama Mayhem says:

    I think its b.s that they make pregnant women go through these without having done proper testing.

    • rlkelley says:

      My wife recently refused to go through the scanner for that very reason. They insisted she walk though it to get to the pat down area, and we asked for proof it was off and they just said to trust them.

      The TSA guys where I picked up our bags said to me she should just go through and stop being difficult. I made a snarky comment back that I was surprised didn’t get me selected for some further inspection while she go the pat down.

      I heard from multiple people around that no one ever refuses the scanner, in fact BWI has removed the pat down screens, because they thought no one would need to be frisked in the future.

      • jessjj347 says:

        Actually, last time I flew I declined the scanner and the person right behind me did as well. I’m not sure if it was coincidence or if they heard me and realized they could decline…I like to think the latter :)

  5. Razor512 says:

    I use a more cost effective way to travel to other countries, simply kayak across the ocean. It is good exercise and cost very little and compared to all the delays in the airport, you get from point A to B faster.

    While everyone is busy waiting in line to be scanned, you can be at sea, having a nice conversation with couple of sharks that you just met.

  6. Poisson Process says:

    You can always find someone else who is worse off. That doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for our rights. In fact, improving our own situation is the best way to help them improve theirs.

  7. Rocket80 says:

    “So we should really stop complaining, at least we get a choice of which invasive piece of security theater we get to star in.”

    I hope this is meant as sarcasm – the choice between the porno scanner and the genital grope is not one any of us should be forced to make. It’s disgusting. Thank god I don’t have kids yet because I’d never subject them to something like this.

  8. wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

    Nanny State. Not surprised. UK already gives up a lot of rights “for the better of society”.

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. -Ben Franklin

    I wish I could say I’d never fly again, but I can’t think of a quicker, more efficient way to get from Northern NY to Texas. I do drive to Alabama from here when it’s me and the husband. The costs of gas, food, and lodging average out to the cost of two plane tickets during the holiday season.

  9. CrankyOwl says:

    Meh, I don’t get what the big deal is either…Frankfurt airport has had patdown screening since the mid-90s. 2 minutes for a bored, disinterested security person to pat you down. And if you don’t go through it you don’t fly so it’s not like this is anything new. I’m pretty sure other airports in Europe have had this for years too.

  10. KrispyKrink says:

    Gotta make your child porn somehow.

  11. Im Just Saying says:

    I think we should all boycott by walking naked through the airport. Wont need the backscatter then.

    But no fatties.


  12. webweazel says:

    And how long will it be before they are mandatory here also? No alternate choice of pat down? All in the name of “safety” and “speed”? Wanna lay bets on that one?

  13. leprechaunshawn says:

    There is a simple solution to this whole issue in the U.S.

    1 In order to get on a plane, you will be subjected to a full body scan.
    2 There is a list of things that you cannot bring on a plane, please don’t even bring them to the security checkpoint.

    If you cannot or will not follow these simple rules, you are not flying.

    • c152driver says:

      Yes, and then when a terrorist attempts to bring an item on board stashed away in his rectum, we’ll all happily submit to body cavity searches, right?

      Such security theater. Busy responding to yesterday’s security threat and not today’s.

    • bravohotel01 says:

      Best place for an attack: the “security” lines in front of the scanners.

      Terrorist rolls up packing a bomb-vest, waits until she is in the middle of the throng, then lights it up.

      Security theater at its finest.

  14. physics2010 says:

    I’m all for these backscatter devices.
    “A person would have to be screened more than a thousand times in one year in order to exceed the annual radiation dose limit for people screening that has been set by expert radiation safety organizations (see below).”
    Think about it. At the dentist or doctor’s office the x-ray tech stands behind a lead wall to prevent them from being exposed. This device offers no protection to the TSA agents that use it a couple of hundred times a day. Any idiot stuck standing near the device day in and day out is significantly raising their chances for cancer.

    • rlkelley says:

      The x-ray tech also has extensive training in operating the device they are using (typically), the TSA agents are not often even ranked as average on the intelligence scale. They could screw up a setting, or not know that something is not working properly, and toast everyone who walks through.

    • msbask says:

      The type of radiation is also radical different, if I remember correctly, and much more concentrated on your skin. That’s why it reveals the outline of your skin, not a see-through your skin picture of your bones.

      You would begrudge a pregnant woman the option to bypass this?

      • physics2010 says:

        The estimates indicate that people in the area are on receiving 2% per use so it comes to 1000μSv per year for the operators, which magically is the yearly non-medical use exposure limit. Its a tiny number far outweighed by background radiation, however we can always dream.

  15. c152driver says:

    All this extra security theater is slowing down the screening process, resulting in longer lines. When someone sets off a bomb in the screening area, what will the geniuses at the TSA do next? Set up screening areas for the screening areas?

  16. verdegrrl says:

    It’s why I won’t spend my money visiting the UK, or flying on British Airways even when the fares/timing are favourable.

  17. evnmorlo says:

    The UK is the model for the 21st century police state. You might as well say we should stop complaining because we aren’t being starved and thrown alive into furnaces.

  18. catskyfire says:

    Keep in mind that the UK has a long history of major terrorism. At Heathrow, you can’t even find a normal garbage can: Someone walks around with a mobile one, to avoid bomb drops. Although it is true that the risks have dropped considerably (I’d still love to know what President Clinton worked out with the IRA), the memories are way too strong for most of them to take it at all lightly.

    • Willow16 says:

      I was in London and on the way to Harrod’s the day it was bombed. We couldn’t figure out why the underground stop was closed when we got there. London was a scary place in the 80s.

  19. YoungGod says:

    Relatively speaking, there are few ‘required’ to use airline travel out of all airline passengers. Most have a choice, but still cling to a bourgeois sense of entitlement to the ‘luxuries of station within the empire’. However, the system has been put on pay-for-play, wherein if you have the electronic digits, you can pay for express entry past security or you can just fly privately with no security whatsoever. There are still legions of baby-boomers in line at the airports who just now getting righteously indignant, whereas they’ve been willing to concede to all violations up to this point.

    These would be the same people who don’t quite understand the difference between ‘consumer’ and ‘citizen’, and often confuse ‘civil rights’ and ‘civil liberties’; not quite realizing yet that the US is under UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) rule and not Constitutional rule. But I digress.

  20. ClaudeKabobbing says:

    If someone wants to look at my fat nekkid body in a scan go for it.

    The only problem with the scans I have is they are still an X-RAY,Sure they say there are no long term health effects association with back scatter scans, but they also said that about Cigarettes and a host of of other things. Do we really trust the government to be honest with us about these things.

    That said, I only fly when driving is not an option.

  21. Anjow says:

    I’m in the UK and I don’t fly often, so there I was laughing at the Americans for their ludicrous security theatre and thinking “at least it doesn’t happen over here”. But it looks like I was wrong.

  22. Bob Lu says:

    I was going to make a “in soviet Russia” joke but couldn’t come up with a good one. Any suggestion?

  23. hattrick says:

    I’m sure if these TSA employees saw the same pregnant woman they’d just bullied through the scanner sit down at the bar and have a glass of wine, they’d be appalled and talk about what a monster she was. Even though the science showing 1-3 glasses of liquor a week are fine for a fetus is WAY more solid than their claims these machines are fine for a fetus. (Not to mention, that glass of wine is certain to give only the dose of alcohol printed on the bottle–can they say the same about the calibration of their machines?)

    I also expect that you would never see a bartender pushing a pregnant woman to have a drink. Never, ever. Kind of amazing that the liquor industry has more professional integrity than the TSA.

    And kind of amazing that as a preggo I’m blithely expected to give up a boatload of the things I enjoy (a nice beer, a glass of wine with dinner, sushi, unpasteurized cheeses, cold deli sandwiches, pate, coffee, decongestant for my allergies, advil or tylenol for my aching back), because these might potentially pose a tiny risk to the fetus. But if it’s about making the life of a TSA screener easier, then by all means, let’s just ignore that tiny risk to the fetus! Or, apparently, you are some kind of paranoid high-maintenance snooty unpatriotic monster who doesn’t understand science or who doesn’t want to do their part in the war on terror.

    Freaking unreal.

  24. erratapage says:

    Seems to me, the founding fathers decided that England wasn’t all that great at protecting civil liberties. I expect more out of the U.S. than I do from England. The medical risk has the potential of denying life; the lack of choice in the transportation system combined with the mandatory nature of the scans compromise liberty; and the whole process is inconsistent with the pursuit of happiness. There has got to be a better way.

  25. ianmac47 says:

    Who do we get to file a suit against in a decade when we realize full body scanners will become the number one preventable cancer death?

  26. BartClan says:

    “So we should really stop complaining, at least we get a choice of which invasive piece of security theater we get to star in.”

    Security theater? Well, I’d rather not be a performer in that play. As an American military member, I have given an oath to lay down my life for freedom, not for security. While freedom has great rewards, it also carries great risks–risks that we as a population are afraid to accept. We need to grow a pair, and work to find solutions to passenger screening that are effective and not “theater.” The TSA needs to stop implementing these half-baked ideas, work to radically train their staff to be professional security, not “rent-a-goons” and to take the appropriate actions to screen passengers based on the threat and not on a “one size fits all” method.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  27. Jennlee says:

    What if you medically can’t go through the scanner (can’t raise your arms over your head due to paralysis or whatever)? You just can’t fly then?

    By the way, Wednesday the 24th of November is National Opt Out Day: Opt out of the scanners in protest!!! Although apparently if you’re in the UK then you’ll just be stuck I guess, since you can’t opt out.

  28. dush says:

    So 95% of passengers prefer getting scanned vs being denied the use of the ticket they purchased? Incredible.

  29. gman863 says:

    Being gay, I’ll opt for the manual pat-down.

    If the male TSA agent is thorough enough, I’ll even tip him an extra $10 for a “happy ending”.