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Nov. 08, 2010
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The largest union of airline pilots in the world is urging its members to boycott body imaging machines currently being rolled out in airports all over the globe, citing dangers of excessive exposure to harmful levels of radiation during the screening process.
The president of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 11,500 pilots, many of whom work for American Airlines, has urged members of the union to revolt against the devices.
Captain Dave Bates voiced the union’s concerns in a letter published by The Atlantic late last week.
Bates asks that members be aware “that there are ‘backscatter’ AIT devices now being deployed that produce ionizing radiation, which could be harmful to your health.”
The move follows the detention and suspension of an American pilot who refused to be scanned.
Captain Bates suggests that pilots refrain from being put through the scanners and if necessary opt for a pat down by TSA officials instead.
“We already experience significantly higher radiation exposure than most other occupations, and there is mounting evidence of higher-than-average cancer rates as a consequence.” Bates’ letter states.
Earlier in the year, scientists warned that the machines constitute a potential health risk, noting that the radiation given off by the devices has been dangerously underestimated and could lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.
Despite these fears, the blatant violation of privacy laws, and the consistent lies that the authorities have engaged in over capabilities of the machines, Janet Napolitano, head of the DHS, recently announced plans to expand the full-body scanner program even further.
In the U.S., travelers can refuse the body scanner and opt for the pat down, however, this option is not offered by the TSA, rather the traveler must declare that they wish to “opt out”.
A recent New York Times report describes the humiliating turn of events should airline passengers exercise this right, with individuals being singled out and prodded, probed and poked by TSA agents in front of everyone else queuing in the security lines.
New pat down procedures have recently been instituted by the TSA, allowing agents to use their fingers and the palms of their hands to feel around breasts and genitalia. Previously agents were instructed to brush the backs of their hands against these areas.
The APA president, Captain Bates, acknowledges how humiliating the new pat downs are in his letter:
“There is absolutely no denying that the enhanced pat-down is a demeaning experience. In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot. I recommend that all pilots insist that such screening is performed in an out-of-view area to protect their privacy and dignity.” he writes.
The new pat down technique has even been likened to “foreplay”. An American Civil Liberties Union spokesman has called the new security procedures a choice between a “virtual strip search” and a “grope.”
“Travelers are being asked to choose between being scanned 'naked' and exposed to radiation, or getting what people are describing as just a highly invasive search by hands of their entire bodies.” Chris Ott, a spokesman for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said.
People traveling out of the UK and other areas of Europe don't even get the choice -- they are forced to go through the scanner if asked and cannot refuse or they are banned from traveling. This policy seems to be slowly extending into the U.S., however, given recent reports from airport workers in El Paso, Texas who say that everyone is now being forced through the machines.
Privacy group Big Brother Watch has backed the APA’s advice to pilots, with director Alex Deane, noting “Scanners are dangerous. There's a reason that the nurse stands behind a screen when you get an x-ray at hospital. Radiation is potentially harmful, even in small doses, and the regularity with which frequent flyers are exposed to potentially cancer-causing radiation.”
“If pilots aren't going to be scanned, why should members of the public?” Deane added.
“This stance from a professional group, the world's leading association of pilots, must shake the government out of its absurd position on scanners.”
The TSA has a regularly updated list of which American airports are using AIT full-body scanners here.
Alex Jones’ recent analysis of this issue and an interview with an employee who was subjected to the new TSA pat down procedure has so far been viewed by almost 200,000 on You Tube after the top rated news aggregator The Drudge Report linked to the video:
APA president Captain Bates’ letter in full: