Today, Wednesday 24 November, has been dubbed 'National Naked Scanner Opt-Out Day' in the USA in protest at the new full-body scanning devices now installed at airports across the country. Travellers crossing the States on one of the busiest travel dates of the year - tomorrow being Thanksgiving - are being urged to refuse the scanner and opt instead for the even less pleasant invasive pat down.
Essentially, the public's agreement for the intense security measures employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is being withdrawn and the issue is leading, slowly but surely, to a withdrawal on the part of the public of the TSA's 'licence to operate' - in short, it is a real public relations crisis.
Having been travelling the last few weeks, crossing the USA, UK, Europe and finally Hong Kong, the issue of airport security and the way in which it is handled has been much on my mind. Although I had my share of adventures, I did not experience anything like the search suffered by the six-year-old boy in the YouTube video below. Social media is being used as the catalyst to encourage people in the USA to take part in the 'opt-out'. How effective it will be, I really don't know - fear plays a part for travellers who are loathe to do anything that might draw attention to themselves, not because they are plotting some ghastly event, but simply because they don't want to undergo the humiliation, rudeness and downright nastiness displayed by some of those responsible for 'heightened security'. It is interesting to see that the 'fear' barrier so cleverly and effectively erected by the powers-that-be since 2001 is now being dismantled as people lose patience with a system that tags them as 'suspects' and subjects them to humiliating and very personal scrutiny just for heading off to visit Grandma.
What has happened, I believe, is that the balance has been lost. Security in Auckland is tight but polite. We understand the need for vigilance but nobody is treated like a criminal just because they are travelling - something which is, unfortunately, often the case at USA airports. In Hong Kong, Zurich and Geneva again, security was tight, but passengers were treated with courtesy and responded with cooperation, a match which, if anything, speeds up the whole process.
Somewhere along the line, the powers-that-be in the USA have got so absorbed with the implementation of security measures, they have forgotten the purpose - to catch the baddies, not harass the travellers. Even Hilary Clinton has been added to the list of those unhappy with the process. The sad fact is the real 'baddies' will find ways through even the most ingenious and stringent security measures as they have proved in the past. Meanwhile the rest of us suffer indignities, delays and humiliation or, as is the case with the organisers of Opt-Out day, work out a way to redress the balance and have their voices heard.