Saudi Arabia/World – The Controversy of Body Scanners and Pat Downs

The 24th of November will be the busiest time of the year for air travel.  People around the world and especially in the United States will be eager to join with friends and family for the annual celebration of Thanksgiving.  As a result airports will be overcrowded and flights overbooked.  Thanksgiving arrives this year shortly after new security procedures have been put into effect at world airports.  The most noticeable change in security procedures are the full body scanners seen at airports around the world.

There is controversy on being subjected to a body scanner.  Some passengers feel violated on being submitted to a body scan and feel it is an infringement on their civil rights and privacy.  These same passengers typically believe that the body scanners do little towards enhancing their security while flying.

I flew this past week when I visited my eldest sister in Indiana.  In both Charlotte, North Carolina and Indianapolis, Indiana I had to go through a full body scan.  I found the procedure very similar to that of having an x-ray taken where it was important that my feet were positioned properly and my arms were raised above my head.

Both times, prior to the scan I informed the security official that I had a power port implanted in my body as I was a cancer patient in active treatment.  The majority of cancer patients will have the power port implanted in their chest.  However, in my own case, due to some complications, my chest port had to be removed and a new port implanted in my arm.  As I went through the scans at both airports I was told that due to the unusual placement of my port I would require a pat down in addition to the full body scan. The official needed to physically see the outer area on my body where my port was located.

That did not bother me as I had been through pat downs many times during my travels to many places around the world.  Pat downs have been in effect prior to the body scans and prior to many other security safety measures.  Yet there is new controversy arising from today’s travelers citing the pat down’s as equally or more invasive than a body scan, especially because a stranger is touching the body.

Each time I’ve ever been subjected to a pat down anywhere in the world there has been a female official for women passengers and a male official for men passengers.  Pat downs are commonplace for female travelers in Saudi Arabia.  Female travelers within Saudi Arabia will be wearing the loose fitting abayas over clothing.  Additionally a high percentage of the Saudi female travelers will wear a hijjab and niqab leaving only their eyes revealed.  Therefore when a female passenger is traveling by air through Saudi Arabia she will be required to go into a small enclosed area where an all female staff will conduct a pat down.  Depending on the female official, some pat down’s will be more intrusive than others.  I’ve had pat down’s in Saudi where the official loosely runs her arms and hands down the body and other times where an official conducts a thorough and precise pat down.  Generally these female officials will speak English in addition to their native Arabic.

Some passengers have the view that the use of pat downs and body scanners are more to reassure passengers of overt methods of security practices rather than being that effective.  That is a matter of individual opinions.  Myself, I have no problems with measures taken by officials which not only make air travel safer but openly demonstrate the seriousness given to security.

However, according to this video, there are those who have very strong feelings of security  procedures in the United States and the role of the TSA.



35 Responses

  1. I have serious objections to the body scan. From the research done on the effects of the scan half show no effects at all, but the other half show bubbles formed in the DNA. Which can have serious effect on gene and DNA replication.
    The long term health effects could be severe, I therefore categorically refuse the body scan.

    And I am one of those passengers who considers it a placebo for scary passengers. There enough ways to smuggle dangerous stuff into a plane left. It was not security who caught the guy trying to blow up a plane last year, it was a passenger.

    And as long as I see women with long sharp metal knitting needles allowed in planes, I am not quite convinced there is nothing to worry about.
    Not to mention that I had forgotten a kitchen knife in my flight bag last year which I wanted to give to a friend but forgot and nobody noticed it. I found it after I had arrived home and was emptying my bag.

    So I don’t see why I should be subjected to some dodgy new technology for the safety of the flight.
    Luckily ’cause that would have been a hard one to explain!

  2. I flew from Amsterdam to LA during the summer. They had these “body scanners” and next to it, as an alternative, they had security people patting you down.
    The full body scanner there was not like the one on the picture. It was kind of a bubble where passengers were entering into. They had to place their feet on a pad and their hands on the scanner plastic glass (pretty akward position in my opinion).

    I picked the pat down option because I do not feel comfy with people watching my body through a scanner for other than medical reasons BUT mostly because I saw that the body scanner procedure was followed by a pat down! That makes the full body scanner completely useless…!

    As for the video, I have to add that one day when flying from New York, my boyfriend and I were sitting next to a 50 years old lady who was in NY to take care of her mum who had just been admitted to the hospital. Apparently, TSA was so great at the time that they did not realize that in her hand bag, she had a big pairs of scissors that she used to cut the flowers her mum was receiving at the hospital…! TSA is out of control.

  3. I heard a funny comment the other day regarding the body scanners… they felt it would assuredly cure the TSA issue of having to worry about bringing bombs on board. It could be used anywhere in the world on any potential person who might be concealing explosives.

    It was proposed that instead of making the scanners xrays make them so that each person intending to fly steps into the scanners for a moment. The scanners are set to activate any explosives a person may be carrying…if you are clean you step on out cleared for flight…if you are not…problem solved. The thought of a muffled “boom” and some smoke coming from around the door tickled me no end. Imagine…safe skies for all no matter where you are going to or coming from!!!

  4. Additionally, the Muslim world has been a bit silent… for me personally I find it a HORRIFIC violation to have some man or anyone look at my naked body. If someone was a Muslim how could this be in any way ok???!?

    I would rather die than have some weird douche bag looking at my body. abd I know people say, well he doesnt SEE your face he is behind a wall..but so what? Does the violation make it any less real becuase that pervert doesnt see my face? no thank you.

    So if, god forbid, it ever happens to me I will insist on a pat down, with a woman. In fact I have had a pat down before due to my underwire in my bra going off and they wanted to pat me down in public, yeah so all the other pervy guys in line can watch a free show! again hells to the N-O! So I insisted on a curtained off area. At least I can look at the woman in her eyes and she can see my humanity… and not some cattle, a disembodied body in a conga line.

    It goes down to the dignity of me and everyone else as a human and I will NEVER trade that because of some nebulous fear.

  5. I remember I had quite a thorough patdown by a female security guard at the Medina airport. She grabbed and squeezed both of my boobs! I was nursing at the time, so I said, “Na-na- fe, bes.” I was trying to convey that there was only milk, nothing else 🙂

  6. While traveling through Jordan’s airport I had a pat down that more resembled a breast and thigh massage by a Jordanian airport employee, a female. She so enjoyed it the first time that before I got out the door she insisted on doing it again cause she felt she hadnt been thorough enough. Huh?

    I would tell those who find a problem with it, write to your local congressman to pressure Washington to do away with all invasive body pre checks…then when you get on an airplane you still take your chances with a terrorists bombing your plane…but at least you die with dignity intact.

    It’s just a band aid fix and all would be terrorists out there are back slapping and high fiving each other over our increased paranoia, our constant fear, and our wholesale abandinment of our privacy in favor of the govt. intruding into every aspect of it…all in the mistaken belief that we can actually stop them.

    In every recently foiled terrorist wasnt a machine that stopped the attack…it was another human being…and most of those were Muslims informing on other so called Muslims.

  7. This is one of those topics recently that has really got me going, and for so many reasons.

    – I think about the effects of accumulated radiation on the body and how many diseases/cancers we may not even know it’s causing yet.

    – I think about the violation of having someone looking at me without my clothes or putting their hands when they aught not be – regardless of whether they can see my face, and regardless of whether it’s another woman or not. Either can be defined as molestation.

    – I also think about the effects on children (under age 18). No one has any business looking at any child naked or inappropriately touching any child – both are categorically illegal here and liable to send one to prison. The occasional doctor or nurse visit notwithstanding. On the other hand, if I’m a terrorist, then wouldn’t it make better sense to stick the bomb on a child because no one would suspect/check them?

    – I also worry about the rights of the passengers to not be humiliated. Most checks occur out in the open where all can see. There have been articles recently about breast cancer survivors being harassed because of their prosthesis, and a bladder cancer survivor whose stoma was tampered with by a TSA agent. He arrived at his gate soiled and humiliated, but at least they know he wasn’t a bomber.

    – There are certain rights guaranteed within the US Constitution that all Americans (used to?) hold dear. What happens when we allow our own government to slowly start chipping away at them? Where is the limit? I can choose not to fly if that is an option, but what about other places, like courthouses in Florida and other states? I can’t exactly choose not to go there if they decide it’s my turn for jury duty. Since when was flying or fulfilling one’s civic duty “probable cause” for search and seizure?

    – As a final point, I would also like to point out that these scanners and pat-downs don’t make me feel even an iota safer than before. I myself can think of quite a few ways someone might be able to get past these measures, anyone else?

    Jenna, I also have noticed the rather loud silence from groups like Muslims or others who might logically have an objection. For any of those currently in America, what are your thoughts? I (not muslim) am absolutely horrified and dread having to undergo these measures just for myself. When I think of the way they may treat my niece or my future children, or even my Saudi the next time he comes to visit I feel furious and sick.

    Sorry guys, but one-size-fits-all security just isn’t going to cut it anymore. We’re not animals or machines; we’re people, with all the terrible wonderful differences and idiosyncrasies that entails. There has got to be a way to preserve our dignity and integrity while still guarding against those who seek to do us harm. We can do so much better than this, and we need to.

  8. One thing we do have to keep in mind amidst all this is that safety is never guaranteed, much as we would like to make it so – something that has been brought home to me this last week especially. My Saudi was minding his own business when he was involved in a serious car accident while visiting his mother for Eid, and could be in the hospital – where I cannot see him, get to him, or even hold his hand – for an extended period of time. My point is that regardless of who we are or what we believe in, there are no guarantees for tomorrow. All we can do is live while we can, with as much dignity and respect for ourselves and others as is possible. What kind of life are you giving yourself or your children if all you feel is fear?

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Sorry if I went on a little long.

  9. I have used the body scanner before about a year ago in an airport in the UK because my shoes set off the alarm. This was before I had heard anything in the media about it, and it didn’t seem like a big deal to me at the time. This was an additional procedure after I received a pat-down.

    I do wonder, though, about Aafke’s comment about it potentially messing with DNA. However, many people hold cell/mobile phones next to their ear practically every day and/or use computers so I don’t see how it’s all that different from these every day items in that respect.

  10. Most travelers from Arab countries or some other countries which are predominantly Muslim usually receive more scrutiny than Western passengers, particularly those flying in the US. As a result, I think that some security officials in the Arab world may take delight in showcasing their own security measures to Westerners who are traveling, ie the “extra thorough and extensive” body search a woman may receive by a female official.

  11. Up till now the official recommendation was that there is probably no ill effect from a single use of these machines.
    That is a bit too vague and a bit to unrealistic (only once in your life?) for me to feel comfortable being subjected to these machines.

    Strange one, if you take the trouble too look it up (Google) you will find that there is is some difference to using a cell phone and being subjected to the teraherz bombardment of these machines.
    But by all means, you are welcome to step into them as often as you like!

    Bedu, I don’t want you to use them! Your body is challenged enough as it is, no need to subject it to any unnecessary stress factors.

  12. @ Afke. Indeed, I have seen passengers on planes with sharp instruments, after we were all inspected.

    My last flight from Abu Dhabi to Chicago there was not body search but a lot of security, especially non US citizens. One of the passengers who was sitting next me made a comment that made sense. ” Gosh, they make us go through all this security, yet here is knife for your food”.
    Another time was a flight from Miami to Frankurt. There was a passenger next to me who got his duty free item, a bottle of whisky, opened it and proceeded to drink the entire bottle. Excuse me, one the duty free item must remain in sealed bag and two, it was glass container which is hazardous and three he was drunk as a skunk. I am sure this still happens.

  13. As a muslim you should object those scanners Bedu .
    But the worst is who assure those scanner pics won’t be in net like the one’s of this link:

  14. oby, my problem is long term health effects. Although being virtually strip searched in a lost effort to make us believe flying is safe definitely ranks a close second to my objections.
    I am not convinced, after reading the research done on this technology, that these machines do not have serious long term health effects when used regularly.

    And I don’t see where the safety effort comes in, if a would-be suicide plane bomber wants to smuggle explosives on board he can always stuff them up his a** where they will not be detected.

    Jaycee, Oh yuk! What a bad trip you must have had!
    A Dutch reporter smuggled a bottle of mild explosive on a plane in a bottle from the duty-free and sealed bag to show it can be done.

    I don’t believe they can really stop anything bad coming on board. Mothers can bring baby milk, are they going to take a sip to see if it is really baby milk? You can take injections, special diet food, etc. Of course you can. It would be insane if you couldn’t.
    I am not nervous at all when flying, I like it! But I don’t believe nothing potentially dangerous can ever be taken on the planes.

  15. Carol,

    Like you I have no objection to pat-down search or the body scanner. However, I wish there was a curtain of some sort (or a curtained booth) for females. I’m amused that counties like India would have a curtained booths at airports (even smallest airports) while in US they will pat you down in front of the crowd. I wear a hijab and abaya, so I wish such searches were a bit mindful of person’s sense privacy.

  16. Zahra,
    As a muslim you should be the first to be scanned.
    Can it be that Zahra has been away from the solar system for the last 10 years?

  17. Every time some breach of security happens, the scanning gets more intrusive. So the terrorists really are winning. We are living in fear, we are losing our privacy, we are being subjected to potential health risks (especially for those who fly a lot) yet some gladly trade this for, well, life.

    I wonder if more bad stuff gets sent or more bad people smuggle things on planes if we eventually will get to the point where we will all be stripped naked and airport security will very carefully have to dress us and absolutely no carry ons. Can you imagine how fun the future of flying will be?

  18. I do not wish to go through one of these body scanners. I believe the effects of rays can be cumulative. I do not have a cell phone, I rarely go to the doctor, so don’t say it is similar to those, which would only be upping the accumulation anyway. If worst comes to worst, I prefer the public pat down. I do not want to be patted down in a private room. At least one can look the person in the eye.
    I mistrust their affirmation that the images will not be stored. If they find something on someone, won’t they need the images for in court? What kind of job is that for a person, to spend their days looking at others bodies in an impersonal way? Do you really think they will not get up to any monkey business?

    I have had several objects confiscated from me. I am a woman, in my fifties, a peaceful grandmother, but I am not allowed to crochet on a plane.

    Not flying is not an option for me, my family is on two different continents. Unless they build a bridge over the Bering Strait?

  19. I do not fly in and out of the USA. I don’t visit the USA and I have no intentions of going there. I do not want to deal with their travel stupidity and examiners on power trips.

    There was an article on BBCNewsworld by a group of doctors who say that the scanners are harmful. We are being subjected to more and more radiation and it is known to be very harmful. Carol, I’m surprised you’d go through a scanner!
    I won’t go through one and I don’t get upset about a pat down. I have that happen in every Muslim country I go to/through.
    The whole thing in my opinion is to ensure people remain frightened. I don’t think the scanners prevent anything. It’s like the ink cartridge thing now. Not allowed on a plane. I really chuckle at that. The terrorists have “been there/ done that/ won’t do it again”!!!

  20. You are not allowed to crochet? But I see women with huge knitting needles on planes!

    Cellphones use radio waves, completely different from the millimeter wave scan.
    Nothing is known of the long term health effects.
    No independent safety data exists. I really think that everybody should refuse being processed by these machines.
    Revolting as it is, to be seen naked, (And breaches of privacy have already happened), getting cancer from the concentrated radiation is a lot worse.

    * Alexandrov and co have created a model to investigate how THz fields interact with double-stranded DNA and what they’ve found is remarkable. They say that although the forces generated are tiny, resonant effects allow THz waves to unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication.

  21. Aafke, that sounds scary!! If I hadn’t already been convinced, I’m pretty sure that would have clinched it. God knows modern life has enough adverse effects on us as it is – no need to go messing with an increased probability for cancer, and certainly not with our DNA!

  22. djd….

    “What kind of job is that for a person, to spend their days looking at others bodies in an impersonal way? Do you really think they will not get up to any monkey business?”

    Yes I think it is possible to see so many that the thrill is quickly gone. Try being a’s not titillating in the least.

  23. I flew several months ago and on the way out I was asked to stand on an outlined spot with my hands in the air…I didn’t realize it was a scanner as there was nothing that I entered or any box around me and nothing in front or behind…I got a pat down from the woman who was attending the screening…but weirdly enough only on one side…I even asked if she wanted me to raise my left arm…there was another woman with her instructing her…I am now wondering if it was practice sessions that they were doing and I happened to be the guinea pig!

  24. There are two types of scanners – millimeter wave and backscatter x-ray. Both are claimed to be safe with some claims that they may not be in the long run, but the backscatter x-rays have many more potential issues even with the claims of it being a low dosage of radiation such as calibration issues and how we’d know if it were emitting too much in a malfunction. They say the radiation only goes to the skin but in images you can see shinbones so who knows. The millimeter wave machines are like tubes while the x-ray ones have the passenger stand between two big boxes/walls.

    Frankly I find it horrifying that passengers are being shuffled into these machines with no information that a photo is being taken and the technology used to do so. That information can be of the utmost importance for certain people such as cancer patients and those already at higher risk for cancer, especially skin cancer. And what is the radiation doing to the workers standing by the machines all day? Unlike radiation-emitting machines in medical settings these have no solid walls around them to protect workers and passengers not being screened at the time.

  25. I believe when it comes to global safety and security there should be no objections to the measures taken. There should be no exceptions for global citizens/global travelers regardless of faith practiced.

    Thanks to my port I’m not sure if only a pat down would suffice. Does anyone have any experience or knowledge of this?

  26. Carol, I want to see all staff who have access to an airplane searched and patted down before servicing, cleaning, loading any flight. There are so many ways explosives could be concealed on a plane and there is no way security can second guess what could happen. Once something’s been done and tried it’s over. Short of invasive strip and total body searches these exercises being practiced now are futile. I think they may make some people feel more secure but it’s a joke IMHO. I realize all of the work you’ve been involved in over the years with various US Gov’t agencies but really …. it’s getting to be waaaay too much and way too invasive. I truly think it keeps people afraid so the gov’t can go ahead and do what it wishes in so many different ways. I could go on but there’s no point.

  27. well, I’m looking forward to the evening news at 11pm. A teaser said that a breast cancer patient had to remove her prosthesis. I am very curious to know where and the circumstances behind this one.

  28. Waw, that’s offensive! HAving a breastcancer patient remove her prosthesis.
    Carol, these machines have no value, their long term health effect is not safe. Read the link I added. The Israelis apparently do not have them because they say they are useless. Children and pregnant mothers should not use them. That shows there is doubt about their safety. I refuse to go through them, I do not see why children and pregnant mothers should be shielded and I should be exposed.
    The Pilots are advised not to use them.

    In Schiphol the flight personnel is checked like every body else, more so; they have to remove their shoes while ordinary passengers do not.

  29. I too believe the system, government, uses whatever it can to maintain an atmosphere of fear so that they can then show us how necessary they are. This will never get to the root of the problem which is human beings. The only true answer is for us to change and change the world.

  30. I think there is a higher threat level than what is being publicly announced given the intense security measures. I watched the interview with the woman (breast cancer survivor) who had to remove her prosthesis and found she was also a flight attendant. She did not like the request but complied and did encourage others to comply with regulations. I’m just glad I’m staying put over the holidays period.

  31. Well, she basically didn’t have a choice but to sanction what happened. It’s too bad. It’s very sad really.

  32. Carol…

    With your experience what makes you think that the threat is high? Is it just a gut feeling?

  33. It is gut feeling followed by reading from various sources and observing the actions put in place at various locations. Last of all it is following world news too. This is also one of the prime times for attempts given the season and volume of travelers. However that does not mean the security guard should ever be lowered or relaxed. This is a fact of life one deals with in today’s world.

  34. These scanners violate basic human rights and are also dangerous. I guess conservatives missed the whole thing about those who give up essential liberty for temporary security will get neither liberty nor security. Stop being scared by the liars in DC and on Fox News. Police murder more Americans each year than terrorists. An onboard terrorist has NEVER blown up an American airplane with a bomb. Grow a spine and stop bowing down to the criminals in DC, cowards.

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