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Millimeter Wave

Started: 2011-02-03 08:12:25

Submitted: 2011-02-03 08:33:58

Visibility: World-readable

The last time I flew out of Denver, on the second week of January, it was Sunday night in the middle of a snow storm, so while the concourses were packed with people trying to get to their destinations amid canceled and delayed flights, the security screening checkpoints were relatively quiet. (Of the available strip-search-machines, Denver uses only millimeter wave radar to undress passengers, not x-ray backscatter, so the only hazards are to one's dignity and civil liberties, not ambiguous doses of ionizing radiation.) I carefully surveyed the checkpoint to figure out if I could avoid the full-body scanners without explicitly declining the scan and saw that the open lanes had both full-body scanners and metal detectors. When I got to the front of my lane, after pushing my hand luggage onto the x-ray belt, the full-body scanner was right in front of me (the obvious choice) but the also-apparently-open metal detector required a bit of backtracking. I casually walked back a meter to the metal detector, waited for the TSA agent at the other side to wave me through, and passed through without further incident. I didn't have to decline the full-body scanner and submit to a full pat-down to prove I'm not a terrorist. (Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano dismisses complaints about the pat-downs as passengers not being used to "full law-enforcement-style pat-downs", though I have to say I'm not used to be treated as a criminal except when proven innocent.)

At the end of my week in San Diego, I flew home on the last flight of the day for Denver. The airport was practically deserted at 19:00 on Friday evening; there was no one in front of me in the security checkpoint queue, and the way I could avoid a virtual strip search was to opt out and get a pat-down. This was my second enhanced pat-down; both have been in San Diego, famous (infamous?) for the "don't touch my junk" reaction to an 'enhanced' pat-down. After passing my government-sponsored massage, the agent turned to me. "You must fly a lot," he said. "I don't blame you." I gathered my belongings and continued down the concourse trying to figure out what he meant, and whether I had any remaining options for getting through security with my dignity intact.

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