Touched by the TSA

Summary:Time was when having "the talk" with your kids meant the birds and the bees. Nowadays parents also have to be ready to explain shoe- and underwear-bombers, molotov toothpaste, and the touchy-feely TSA.

Touched by the TSAStop the security line, I want to get off. And I'm taking my kid with me.

It was bad enough while he was a baby. I wouldn't take my glands, and thus my child, through an airport scanner while I was lactating. Pretty basic stuff: you do your best to keep tequila, tobacco, and tachyons away from your child and this elixir he's drinking that's supposed to be nothing short of the Water of Life. (Hold your talkbacks, I don't actually think body scanners involve tachyons, but accuracy must sometimes be sacrificed on the altar of alliteration - not to mention loading a single sentence with both Star Trek and Dune allusions.) So we're no strangers to "we'll take the pat-down" interludes at airports, at least in the good old days that involved a wand and a sticker for the little guy if he managed not to bolt from the area.

As he got older, he began to notice the inconvenience and ridiculousness of padding through the scanner area in stocking feet. And you can bet when something is both inconvenient and ridiculous, my kid wants answers. Did I thoroughly explain why we must bid adieu to our footwear? Um, no. My son still flees the room in terror when Snoopy rises as the Great Pumpkin. He is simply not equipped (yet?) to handle the notion of being surrounded by potentially lethal Skechers.

Then there was The Sunscreen Incident. It coincided with that stage, around three years of age, when kids start to get really possessive and particular about Their Stuff. Of course it was all my fault. It was a return flight, and I was either trying to streamline things by not checking bags this one time, or I'd simply forgotten there was a nearly-empty spray can of sunblock in his carry-on. Out it came, away it went, and I'll wager that day's entire TSA shift is wistful for when they used to have eardrums. "Why mom, why did they take my sunscreen?" I have a hard enough time getting him to use the stuff, not to mention shampoo and toothpaste - so no, I did not go into great detail about the foiling of the UK Liquids Plot. (Though as I write this, I realize that if he thought he could whip up something explosive with his various hygienic, protective, and cleansing liquids, my child might actually take a shine to them. Hmm, some rethinking could be in order.)

Though my days of toting bodies and bottles full of breast milk through airports are well and thankfully over, given the new AIT scanners, to the extent I choose to fly at all any more, I will be opting out of them and for the new, more invasive pat-down - but that means so will my kid.

Terrible timing, TSA. One of the first things the little guys have to learn in Cub Scouts these days is a whole mess of process and procedure about "dangerous situations" and "inappropriate touching." Per the Cub Scout Tiger Cub Handbook,

It's your body and you have the right to say no to anyone who tries to touch you in places covered by your swimming suit or to do things that you think are wrong.

Given that my child tends to take these things pretty literally, and to append "AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS" to any assurance he has the right to say no, I feel terrible for the poor TSA agents who draw us on our next trip. I may bring along cotton batting for their ears - assuming that's not a banned substance by then. Just today TSA announced a "modified pat-down" for travelers 12 and under, but I haven't found any description or account of how that will work. Let's hope it leaves swimming suits completely out of the conversation.

Another thing no one warned me about when I became a parent: that you either have to explain to your kids about people who want to blow them up, and others who want to (or are paid to) feel them up, or else be reckless and irresponsible with their safety, and unresponsive and unhelpful to their curiosity. There should be a "none of the above" option there, but sadly, there's not.

At least while we're waiting to see how much patting goes down, I can take solace in the fact I chose that option. Apparently, for families with kids who simply can't stand still long enough for the AIT scanners to work, the choice is made for them.

If you're a car dealer or auto mechanic, you've seldom heard such good news. For the rest of us? Not so much.

More:  Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Body scanner saved 35,000 'naked' images

Update:  We delved further into this topic today (11/19/10) on This WEEK in LAW, with panelists Lisa Borodkin, Evan Brown, and Venkat Balasubramani.

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(Image by anja_johnson, CC Attribution-2.0)

Topics: Security

About

Denise Howell is an appellate, intellectual property and technology lawyer who enjoys broad industry recognition for her expertise on the intersection of emerging technologies and law. For further details please see her professional background and speaking schedule. Denise's career is characterized by her passionate engagement in intell... Full Bio

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