Blood, Safety and the TSA

When do the new TSA “security” scanners and searches go too far?

Many of you will by now have heard about a recent incident with a woman who was wearing a GladRags cloth pantyliner and was subjected to an invasive and highly traumatic groin search as a result of the “unusual” appearance of the pantyliner in the scanner. I very much appreciated GladRags’ response which was; rather than warn women not to wear their GladRags on flights, to instead encourage them to do so, as a means to educate TSA personnel that menstruating women wearing cloth pads is in fact perfectly normal, and not “unusual” at all.

For Pete’s sake, what are women supposed to do? Not use anything when they’re having their period and traveling by plane?  Makes you wonder how disposable menstrual products show up on these scans, or what response a DivaCup would elicit for TSA security folks? Think about it… what percentage of women are bleeding at any given time and could be affected by this?

There are a multitude of personal care/hygiene products out there, ranging from disposable incontinence underwear, colostomy and ileostomy bags to birth control devices such as IUDs and silicone cervical caps. What sort of education or training is in place to help security personnel be able to correctly identify legitimate personal supplies? For all that I support GladRags stance, I certainly wouldn’t want to be subjected to a search of this nature, even in the name of standing up for an issue so near and dear to my heart.

But rather than wade into the fraught debate of personal privacy versus group security, the aforementioned incident has drawn my attention to a couple of tangential, but important and interesting approaches to the subject that are also worth sharing.

First (and arguably foremost), how safe are these scans in the first place, regardless of what they bring to light? A group of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, in a letter to Dr. John Holdren, the President of the United States’ Assistant for Science and Technology, write that:

Similarly, there has not been sufficient review of the intermediate and long-term effects of radiation exposure associated with airport scanners.  There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations. We are unanimous in believing that the potential health consequences need to be rigorously studied before these scanners are adopted.  Modifications that reduce radiation exposure need to be explored as soon as possible.”  Is the notion of  “personal safety” being honored?  As if we needed more reasons to be freaked out about this stuff!

On a lighter note, the Cargo Collective is offering 4th Amendment Underwear (pictured above) as a means to make a point as you traverse the scanners. As a refresher, the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution 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.

What’s your take?

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  • Just another reason to boycott air travel until this invasion of privacy and civil rights is done away with.

  • If you look at the examples of what the scans look like (the legit ones released by the TSA themselves, not the fakes, mockups and those courthouse scans that were leaked which are different) it’s unlikely that internal products like Diva Cups would be visible, let alone IUDs. The particular style of x-ray involved here is not designed to see further than beyond the clothing and underwear.

    What I don’t understand is how a cloth pad could appear all that different on the scan from a commercial plasticized one, except maybe in shape, and why it was considered odd in any way that a woman might be scanned with an extra layer of cloth, whether plastic-backed or otherwise, in her panties.

  • Sue

    Having a relative with an ostomy bag, that was one of the first things I thought of — but I was concerned with the patdown. Hopefully, they have the decency to ask people if they have any medical conditions before patting them down.

  • Emilor

    I am concerned about the long term affects the radiation might have on passengers and the workers who are repeatedly exposed to it. I seriously hope they aren’t creating another future health problem.

    I do however appreciate the seriousness with which they are taking airport security. I haven’t flown since the new scanners have been implemented, so I am not speaking from experience here, but I feel that most people are willing to go through a more rigorous and invasive security check in exchange for a higher degree of safety. It’s important for both passengers and security personnel to approach the security checks with both patience and respect. Passengers should be cooperative and let the security personnel to their jobs, and the security personnel should keep the passenger’s dignity at the forefront, especially in the event that they have to undergo a more thorough search. Ideally unnecessary searches wouldn’t happen, but clearly the process is complicated, and even with the kinks worked out over time, it would be unreasonable to think that searches of innocent passengers will never happen. It’s part of the process, and if it happens to us, we should be mature and cooperative. We’re adults and they are just doing their job. If we are unfortunate enough to find ourselves in this situation opposite some disrespectful punk, the best thing we can do is remain calm and try not to get fined. If you have a medical condition which requires you to lug around some hardware (please excuse the colloquialism) then I think it would be wise to get to the airport earlier than usual and warn the security personnel checking you.

  • Amanda Z.

    I read this article before I flew last week but I chickened out by wearing Lunapanties and my diva instead of the PIMP I had packed. A lot of smaller airports still have just the metal detectors and so no body scan anyway.

    Even when I am at airports with the full-body scans, half the time, I just get shunted through the metal detector. Funny, though, four of the five trips I’ve taken this year, I’ve had my period for at least going or coming.

  • As usual, eloquent words saying smart things. Thanks, Madeleine.

  • Bonnie Pingler

    All of this talk is ridiculous. We are in a war people! Don’t you folks get it? All the officers from the TSA are doing is trying to keep us safe.