Full Body Scan Rebellion

I flew to Liverpool last week.

It was the first time this year that I traveled by airplane and therefore, I had not been confronted yet with the reality of full body scanners at Schiphol airport. It actually didn’t register with me immediately that those Star Trek-like large transparant glass cylinders were just that: full body scanners.

As usual when traveling by plane I was somewhat anxious with all the security stuff and the having to struggle to make sure all liquids and lipids were in the closed plastic bag on the conveyor belt and that my netbook was not only removed from my bag, but then also removed from its thin sleave (I really wonder why that is: it’s getting X-rayed!) and then to get my coat and shawl off…

Managed all that without dropping anything and hurried to the entrance of the scanner, but then I got shouted at: “Take your jacket off!”.

Well, I had already removed my coat and the light jacket I wore was more like a thick shirt that happened not to be buttoned down in front. I was wearing some flimsy sleaveless shirt underneath, not quite something I’d wear just like that in public.

So I said no.

They insisted that I had to. I said “Not at all. What I have to do is remove my coat, which I did, it’s right there on the conveyor belt. This,” I said, patting at my jacket, “is my normal clothing and I am not going to strip.” The two people at the scanner looked in exasperation at the guy at the conveyor belt, who started to object. I cut him short and said, “This is what I wear inside, and I am not going to strip here, where would you have me stop? Seriously, I am not doing it.”

Rolling her eyes at the other security guards, the big lady of the lot said, “Ok, but you will have to remove your boots.” Funny that the boots came into the equation only now, I mean, how often would they have made me run back and forth between the conveyor belt and that scanner in my flimsy sleaveless shirt? Duh! Anyway, sure, take the boots! Took them off, put them on the conveyor belt and stepped into the scanner.

The lady muttered that it was likely not to work, because two layers of fabric over each other are problematic. I said it wouldn’t be much of a problem, then, because since the shirt was sleaveless, there would hardly be any double layers. Puzzlingly, she then made me button down my jacket, all the way, not just two buttons or so. No! All of them!

Anyway, I was then instructed to put my arms above my head and to stand still while the scan would take place. So glad I had my jacket on! I am really not keen on showing my naked armpits to the world like that. And to have my bosom pushed forward in a flimsy shirt, which happens to happen with a pose like that, is not something that I am prone to do in any non-private setting either. Call me a prude.

When I stepped out of the scanner, the lady pointed at a screen and said crossly that the scan had failed. I could see that there were some blocks on some areas on a model of a body, that might represent my rump and my crotch. So she patted me down, whee! Well, when they still only used metal detectors, I got patted down a lot too, so that wasn’t much of a novelty, nor did I find it overly intrusive (have experienced worse).

I was clear, so I could go.

After having collected and reassembled myself with coat on and stuff properly stuffed in bag, I walked away and was rather puzzled at myself. Why on earth did I make such a fuss?

It is true that I have always been annoyed with the fact that men can problemlessly wear a T-shirt and a shirt over it and a tie and what not; they might occasionally be asked to take their formal jacket off, but those jackets are usually lined and so are a lot thicker than the kind of jackets they always make me take off. But I have always resented that, so I don’t know what made me be such a pain in the behind now, but it might have had to do with realising that this actually was one of those full body scan things.

I have taken an active interest in those things from the day they were considering to use those at airports after 9/11. I saw the original results and they were appallingly revealing. Later they changed what the security personnel would actually see on the screen (probably the stylised human figure that I saw with the blocks on), but the thing is, somewhere in the system there are still the data that show yours truly’s nooks and crannies. I just don’t like it, and I bet you that before this decade is over, we will find the revealing full body scan pictures of celebrities on the interwebz. Is so going to happen. Not that I think it will happen to me: who cares! but I still don’t like the idea.

Then came the post hoc justification: my scan failed, so there is no data of my nooks and crannies on any of the airport security systems! The lady patted me down, but that was a transient thing, she will probably remember that there was this middle aged bitch being a pain in the behind, but she will not be able to give detailed information about my curves and she will not have any information coupled to my passport number and such.

Another post hoc justification: the lady said that those scans tend to fail with double layers of clothing, right? So what about people wearing boxer shorts under their jeans? That is about the same kind of double layer that I was wearing, are they going to ask those guys to take their jeans off in the middle of a departure hall? I don’t think so! And apparently that doesn’t have an adverse effect on safety.

So yup, I feel good about my tiny act of rebellion.