Even though complaining about the TSA is the new libertarian pastime, I had never gotten that worked up about it. Of course, I agreed with the intellectual arguments that the TSA and their policies were a horrendous violation of liberty that didn’t make us safer. But since I personally travel a lot for business, I took the road more traveled and went through the scanners. I even made a naughty joke about it to get fellow libertarians to cut me some slack.
I was wrong. Everybody should be opting out as a matter of principle.
I realized this when coming back from my recent trip to Galt’s Gulch in Chile. Since we were both performers at the event, musician Jordan Page and I happened to be on the same return flight. Jordan is, shall we say, quite vocal with his views. (For example, his guitar case has a sticker that says, “FLUORIDE IS POISON: Read the back of your toothpaste.”)
Anyway, Jordan was clearly opting out. I had never done it, so I asked him stupid questions like, “When do I actually tell them I want to opt out?”
I was amazed at what happened. Before we had given any indication of hostility, we were waiting in the line to the side to be patted down. The TSA guy working the scanner said, “You guys are opting out?” We said yes. He answered, “Good luck,” implying that we were doing something foolish. He then said, “C’mon guys through this, I got a two for one special!” Jordan said something like, “No thanks, I prefer liberty to tyranny.” The guy got really mad and said, “That’s not funny.”
Some of the TSA employees were sympathetic, letting us know it might be a few minutes before we could get patted down. But others were snippy. For example, I was standing exactly where the first guy had told me to wait, and then another employee needed me to step aside to get through the swinging door. She said something like, “Excuse me, but I need to, you know, go to work?” As if I were inconveniencing her with my selfishness.
The patdown itself was PG-13 bordering on R-rated, but it was an older guy who announced everything he was about to do and was clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation. (Unlike Jordan’s snarkiness, I was using the strategy of extreme politeness in the situation. I think both approaches have their pros and cons.) After it was over, Jordan congratulated me quite publicly, and then told me, “I’m so proud of you. You popped your TSA cherry.” (By the way, he gave me permission to blog all of this.)
Jordan then said, “Yes, this takes more time and is even more intrusive than the scanner. But if everybody walks through the scanner, then they win.” I now agree with him, and from now on will try to get to the airport with plenty of time to make sure I can opt out without missing my flight.
If you have never done it, I encourage you to get to the airport early and opt out at least once. Be completely courteous about it. The government claims it’s not forcing anyone to get the possibly harmful and embarrassing body scans. See whether they live up to that in practice, or if you get the sense that they are very disdainful of people who exercise what–we are told–is our option.
If everybody who objects to the TSA opts out, it would force the government’s hand to either discontinue the scanning or to drop the farce that it is “voluntary.” That’s why I will be opting out as much as possible in my future traveling.