Refusing the puffer

albany airportWriting at a blog called Homeland Security Watch, Deirdre Walker -- a retired police officer from Maryland -- describes what happens when she refused the "the puffer" at ALB's security checkpoint earlier this year:

When notified by the cheerful screener that I had been selected for additional screening (the screener's tone reminded my of the announcer who tells the contestant that she has just won a TV on the Price is Right), I stepped reluctantly toward the machine and asked her quietly whether I had the right to refuse the search. I did not want to become a spectacle, or have to rent a car and drive back to Maryland.
The screeners face dropped and she appeared stunned, as if my question had been received like a body-blow. She asked me to repeat what I said, and I repeated my inquiry regarding whether or not I had the right to refuse this search, especially since it was my understanding that the equipment did not work. She responded defensively, "It sounds an alarm!"

[via @ToddHeim]


Sadly, the article and many of the comments that follow it are correct. TSA searches are, generally, not al that a) random and b) effective. In the two months post 9/11 I made 17 air trips, starting with one on 9/14/01, with a three inch lock blade knife lost in the lining of my suitcase before someone found it on an xray in late October. If I want to get subjected to secondary screening, I need only wear a black leather motorcycle jacket.

Post 9/11, when our current 'elevated security level' was enacted, I expected a return to the security process and level I saw as a teenager living in Northern Ireland, at least as far as air travel was concerned. Alas, it was not to be.

Upon entering a *grocery store* in N. Ireland, you could expect a high quality, effective pat down and a search of your pack, purse, shopping bag, whatever. The search we go through at the airport is meaningless in terms of actual security. The fact this happened in Albany is just dumb luck.

Think back to the days following 9/11. Remember your outrage? Remember the sorrow over the friends or acquaintances that were lost? Remember the fear? Kudos to the author for telling the emperor that he has no clothes. It's just to bad the Emperor is deaf.

The puffer machine does not bother me. But I will refuse to be subject to the millimeter wave screening that is now being put into place at many airports. If you haven't heard of this, do a google image search for millimeter wave and check out the images. It is an imaging technology that can essentially see through your clothes and gives startling images - you are essentially naked. Sorry, but only my boyfriend gets to see that, not some random TSA person. You do have the option to refuse the millimeter wave scan and will instead get a pat-down.

Do whatever you need to in order to keep me safe and allow me to have a safe flight.

If you don't like the process that the TSA implements, then don't fly.

@Megan: according to this "Google" thing, and "Images captured by the machines are not stored anywhere [...] The screening officer at the machine does not get to see the image; rather his screen shows only whether or not the actual viewer has confirmed that the passenger has cleared. The officer who views the specific image is in an isolated room away from the security checkpoint, so as to not see the actual person being scanned by the device"

See, it's more or less like the usual Saturday night with the lights off :)

ph, great reasoning, I'm on board.

Do whatever you need to in order to keep me safe and allow me to be safe on the road. If you don't like it, then don't drive.

Do whatever you need to in order to keep me safe and allow me to be safe on the sidewalk. If you don't like it, then don't walk anywhere.

Do whatever you need to in order to keep me safe and allow me to be safe in my home. If you don't like it, then don't... hmm...

@ B

People who have lived in terror-ridden countries (i.e. Ireland & Israel) understand the measures that need to be taken to keep their citizens SAFE. I think, to a certain degree, people have forgotten how they felt right after 9/11. The alternative to having to stand in a "puffer" or being scanned by a millimeter wave could be much worse.

You're right, there's a fine line between preservation of natural rights and fighting a war on terror, but people need to be a little bit more flexible.

ph, I don't disagree that some measures must be taken to preserve the safety of the public. That's one of the big reasons government exists, after all.

I do think the "do whatever you need to in order to keep me safe" line of reasoning is frighteningly dangerous, though. Relinquishing that much power to any entity is not safe in the slightest -- it's self-contradictory on its face.

All of the measures enacted under the banner of safety necessarily curtail freedoms. Again, this is not always bad. I am not free to drive drunk or punch someone in the duodenum when they pose no threat to me. I'm okay with those restrictions. But note that it's a lot easier to give up our freedoms than it is to get them back once the danger has passed. Of course, a nebulous danger like "terrorism" by definition never really passes, that's convenient.

Not trying to be a libertarian here, just afraid of the pendulum swinging too far in any direction.

True Odds of Airborne Terror

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

Recently on All Over Albany

NPR Family Matters at UAlbany

A crew from NPR will be at UAlbany next Thursday (October 15) for a series called Family Matters. Blurbage: Facing first-time loans as a college... (more)

On monetizing our assets

All this time and we didn't realize an economic opportunity was literally growing right in our backyard. A website called Ship Foliage launched this week,... (more)

Bikes and stop signs

Not local, but we thought this was interesting in light of the ongoing discussion here about ways to make places such as the city of... (more)

Saratoga International Flavorfeast

The second Saratoga International Flavorfeast is this Saturday, October 10. More than 30 restaurants will be offering $1 samples of dishes from a range of... (more)

Elizabeth Kolbert at Skidmore

Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert will be at Skidmore November 3 for a talk titled "We Are the Asteroid." It's free and open to the public. Kolbert's... (more)

Recent Comments

The Egg and The Joe - All the fabulousness of The Egg, but open on top to see the fireworks!

Drawing: Albany Barn Fusion 2015

...has 29 comments, most recently from alicia

On monetizing our assets

...has 2 comments, most recently from Cmaxby

Scanning the Capital Region's bid for half a billion dollars from the state

...has 5 comments, most recently from Rich

Alleged reckless droning

...has 3 comments, most recently from Ron

Degrees of difference between women and men

...has 2 comments, most recently from Julie