Medical Opt-Outs & TSA Shoulder Syndrome – Why The TSA is Security Theater That Violates Our Natural Rights

The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a governmental organization implemented by the George W. Bush Administration that sits within the Executive Branch of the United States Government.  Technically it falls under the Department of Homeland Security.  It was passed by both the House and Senate before President Bush signed it into law.  The government implemented it in a bid to keep us safe from terrorists during air travel after the September 11, 2001 attacks.  According to Wikipedia,

The agency’s proponents, including Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, argued that only a single federal agency would better protect air travel than the private companies who operated under contract to single airlines or groups of airlines that used a given terminal facility.

Regrettably, the facts demonstrate that it has made us less safe from terrorists, has actually caused more travel related deaths due to people substituting out of air travel into more casualties per capita road travel, and is ineffective government-at-its-best  “security theater” as demonstrated by my experience with Medical Opt-Outs.  Additionally, through the process, various natural right personal freedoms Americans are entitled to enjoy by the Constitution are violated and taken away.  When will those that govern us give us these freedoms back?

First off, what are these medical opt-outs and what is TSA Shoulder Syndrome?

When the TSA first started screening passengers, they used walk-through metal detectors (WTMD).  These machines detect a critical mass of metal as you pass through a detector.  This was presumably to guard from guns, knives, and any metal explosive devices.  This is an established technology that is still used at sports events, court houses, government buildings, and at private organizations all over the world.  This has been established as a reasonable search.  The WTMDs are what passengers were used to pre-TSA.

Over the last couple of years, the TSA has rolled out millimeter-wave detection machines and backscatter X-Ray machines.  The TSA summarizes the difference between these two methods with their self-serving language here.  In their own language, millimeter-wave detection (MWD) operates through:

Beams of radio frequency (RF) energy in the millimeter wave spectrum are projected over the body’s surface at high speed from two antennas simultaneously as they rotate around the body.
The RF energy reflected back from the body or other objects on the body is used to construct a three-dimensional image.
The three-dimensional image of the body, with facial features blurred for privacy, is displayed on a remote monitor for analysis. The image is not saved – once it’s off the screen it’s gone forever.

And the backscatter x-ray (BX) detection operates through:

A narrow, low intensity X-ray beam is scanned over the body’s surface at high speed.
The technology relies on the X-ray radiation that is reflected back from the body and other objects placed or carried on the body, where it is converted into a computer image, embedded with a modesty filter and displayed on a remote monitor.
Passengers will walk up to the backscatter unit, assisted by a transportation security officer and remain still for several seconds while the technology creates an image of the body.
Images will be deleted immediately once viewed and will never be stored, transmitted or printed (the passenger imaging units have zero storage capability).

Within both of these detection methods, a traveler at a commercial airport walks into the detector and “assumes the position” (hands above your head, legs spread) while the machine scans you for 3-4 seconds for abnormalities.  The TSA gets to decide the definition of abnormalities.  Since they ask you to put your wallet, keys, boarding pass, belt, identification, anything other than your clothes through a separate x-ray, they assume you will have no abnormal object that can be a threat to transportation.  However, both of these machine implementations contain violations to your natural rights:

You have the natural right to travel freely as long as you are not infringing or trespassing on others.  The U.S. Constitution made this clear, and made it unequivocally clear in the 4th amendment which states:

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.

We seceded from England because the King violated many of our natural rights.  One was that his soldiers could write their own warrants to barge into your home or as you traveled and search you for items they did not want you to have.

Both the MWD and BX detectors violate your natural right to travel, and the constitution, because the TSA is doing these searches day-in and day-out without a warrant, with no probable cause, and without describing specifically who or what will be searched.  The image displayed to a TSA screener in another room is a nude image of your body.  They can see what kind of underpants you are wearing, your choice of menstrual control, and how you groom yourself.  In addition, what is worse is that the BX machines emit a low, but cumulative amount of radiation.  Yes, when going through a BX machine, the government forces you to receive from them a cumulative blast of radiation.  That makes frequent flying slightly less glamorous.  Recently, the TSA has discontinued use of the BX machines and only uses the MWD machines.  They did this not because it was a violation to the Constitution and to your natural rights as a free person, but because they found they weren’t very effective.  The current MWD machines still do a detailed scan of your body, but without the cumulative radiation.  However, “assuming the position” and having a nude image of you, even if they now use a “human animation” and not your actual body to display “abnormalities,” performed without a warrant, reasonable suspicion, and without specific declaration of what they are searching about is unconstitutional and immoral.  They are a violation of your natural rights.

At each TSA checkpoint, there is a WTMD and a MWD machine.  The WTMD is roped off and only opened during busy times or for special classes the TSA doesn’t require to “assume the position” in the MWD.  These include pilots, flight attendants, airline employees, the elderly, children, or those with certain medical conditions.  As a frequent flier, or general passenger you are not exempt from the MWD unless you formally request an “opt-out.”  To “opt-out” lets you pass through the WTMD.  However, you must receive an enhanced pat-down from a TSA agent.  Additionally your luggage is swabbed for explosive residue.  The enhanced pat-down is a very intrusive procedure.  It is something that most people don’t ever receive except from their spouse, significant other, or doctor.  A stranger literally rubs all the areas of your body, including going up your leg.  They go up your leg until they reach your “resistance.”  The TSA uses verbal smoke and mirrors to describe what this means, but for a man it means on the outside of your clothes you get your penis and testicles rubbed by a stranger, and for a woman you get your labia and butt cheeks rubbed by a stranger.  They check your hair, your arms, your chest, your stomach, your butt, everywhere they hand-check you for abnormalities.  And all because you don’t want to go through the MWD.  You can’t just go through the WTMD.  You have to do this unconstitutional song and dance every time you fly.  Either MWD and “assume the position” or “opt-out” and get a stranger to brush your balls from the outside of your clothes.

Now, I highlighted in the paragraph above that certain medical conditions make one exempt from the MWD so a person can just go through the WTMD.  This is called a “medical opt-out.”  One of these conditions is not being able to walk through the MWD and “assume the position” for 3-4 seconds.  In my case, I am unable to because of a shoulder injury.  Usually it is my left shoulder, but sometimes both shoulders.  I have a hard time holding my arms over my head long enough for the TSA to obtain a satisfactory scan of my body.  I think this is the result of frequent travel and lugging and stowing suitcases all the time.  Regardless, when I arrive at a TSA checkpoint and the WTMD is roped off, my shoulder really starts to hurt, and right before I am directed into the MWD I tell the TSA agent, “I can’t lift my <left> or <right> or <left/right> shoulder above my head.  Out of doing this the last 9 times I have been confronted with the MWD, it has worked 8 times that the TSA agent calls over a colleague and they unrope the WTMD, allow me to walk through it, and I am on my way.  No “enhanced pat-down,” no judo chop to the labia, no stranger going through my hair.  Just presto my shoulder hurts and I can enjoy the WTMD and be on my way.  It is really that easy!  I have friends who also have suffered recently from TSA Shoulder Syndrome and have successfully, without exception, used the roped-off WTMD instead of the MWD as a “medical opt-out.”  There are countless accounts of others with TSA Shoulder Syndrome receiving “medical opt-outs” and bypassing the MWD.  My personal experience, and others’,  with TSA Shoulder Syndrome demonstrates the TSA’s ineffectiveness and their petard.  Other knocks against the TSA’s existence:

  1. The TSA makes us less safe from terrorists.  Achmed Durka Terrorist and his band of terrorist miscreants could use TSA Shoulder Syndrome to bypass the enhanced detection of abnormalities of the MWD and just go through the WTMD.  All the while, the general population of Americans are stripped of their civil liberties by dictate and forced into the unconstitutional MWD.  And it is not very hard to even get contraband that the TSA is afraid of past the MWD with a sewing kit!  We have a false sense of security because of the TSA.  If terrorists were hell bent on harming Americans, they still could do it.  Easily.  Why hasn’t there been an improvised bomb, a hi-jacked plane, or a string of grenades by a suicide bomber detonated at a NASCAR race, college football game, 4th of July parade, etc?  Have we been so lucky?  Why haven’t those arenas required the TSA and the MWD and the enhanced pat-down?  Please answer me that one.  Could it be that the terrorist threat is not as grave as the government makes us think?  Why is there TSA at Louisville airport but not the University of Kentucky football game?
  2. The TSA has caused more travel related deaths than occurred on 9/11.  Yes, it probably sounds bombastic and sensational, but it is not a glittering generality.  That is real.  You see, the TSA has made security lines longer than they were pre-TSA.  There are more hurdles to clear than before.  Your carry-on liquids are restricted to 100ml bottles in a 1 quart bag.  Up until one month from now, you can’t bring your wiffle ball bat for your kids birthday party through a TSA checkpoint.  Because of the delays at the security checkpoint, and the inconvenience of having your possessions taken from you because the TSA thinks they are a threat, people inherently substitute away from flying and into driving.  This is particularly the case for short- to medium-range destinations.  I now drive on business trips from my home in Charlotte to places like Jacksonville, FL (5.75 hours drive) or Atlanta, GA (3.5 hours drive) because of the hassle and headache of the restrictions imposed by the TSA.  Driving is exceptionally riskier than flying.  According to the University of Michigan, 65 times riskier.  Cornell university found (emphasis mine):

    There is lethal collateral damage associated with all this spending on airline security—namely, the inconvenience of air travel is pushing more people onto the roads. Compare the dangers of air travel to those of driving. To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to analysis published in the American Scientist. Researchers at Cornell University suggest that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month—which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day. They also suggest that enhanced domestic baggage screening alone reduced passenger volume by about 5 percent in the five years after 9/11, and the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid security hassles over that period resulted in more than 100 road fatalities.

    Yes, literally a thousand or more people per year would have flown but because of the hassle of flying, particularly from the delays and unconstitutional search and seizure by the TSA, have driven and were killed in an auto accident.  These are real statistics and real deaths!  Why is the media not calling out the TSA for this?

  3. The TSA is Security TheatreJason Riddle lays out the case beautifully of the ridiculousness of TSA Security Theater. One of his highlights:

TSA is the perfect example of government program that doesn’t have to answer to customers. If the naked body scanners and full-body groping really were good ideas, we would probably see these practices implemented at schools, shopping malls, and sporting events. (Don’t get any ideas government. I’m not saying it is a good idea.)

For what it lacks in effectiveness, the TSA makes up for in creating jobs for tens of thousands with pensions and full benefits, creating an entirely new class of bureaucrats who depend on politician fiat for their salary and ingraining in new generations of Americans who weren’t around for pre-9/11 travel security checkpoints the false sense of security from the government.  If the government convinces us that we cannot live without it “protecting us,” we will continually vote for it to participate in our lives.  And don’t forget, the TSA gets its money from legal plunder from us.  With every federal tax we pay, the government takes from us at the point of a gun (or threat of imprisonment) and gives away in our name to the causes it wants.  One of these is the TSA.

To my readers, my questions for you:

  1. To what extent is TSA Shoulder Syndrome immoral?  Or is it a moral form of civil disobedience?
  2. What are ways that private companies, like the airlines, in handling security perform it better than the government?  Do they have a vested interest in their reputation for traveler safety and the safe return of their very expensive airplanes?
  3. Will the government ever abolish the TSA?  We lived without it for almost 200 years.
  4. Can the government protect us from every risk in the world?
  5. Maximum security prisons, which have the most stringent security protocol of all, still have weapons and drugs smuggled into them.  If the US Government Department of Homeland Security made our entire existence a maximum security prison, would we be 100% safe?