(Long post after the jump.)
I'm not a prude or ashamed of my body. (That seems to be the go-to response to anyone who expresses discomfort.) But I'm really not comfortable with a naked picture being taken of me when I don't know who is looking at it and who else could look at it in the future.
The TSA claims the images "can't" be saved, but we already know that the scanners are required to be able to store and transmit images while in "test mode." There is no way for a passenger to be sure that the machine isn't in "test mode." And we already know that body-scanner images were saved at a courthouse in Florida, then made public under the Freedom of Information Act and published on Gizmodo. There's also no way to be sure that the TSA agent looking at the pictures doesn't have a cameraphone. Sure, they're not supposed to -- but they're not supposed to steal things out of passengers' bags either.
The image is supposed to be unidentifiable, with the person's face blurred out. However, reports indicate that the agent looking at the pictures is in radio contact with the agents sending people through the scanners. What's stopping them from repeating your name over the headset to the guy looking at your picture? Furthermore, that link goes to a report of the guy at the scanner sending a teenage girl towards the scanner, and saying over the radio to the guy looking at the pictures "Got a cutie for you." (Ew.) Which means it works the other way too: the guy looking at the pictures could be telling the guy standing next to me all the details. (Ew.)
Apart from the privacy concerns, some biophysicists have expressed concerns about the health effects of the X-rays used in these scanners. They say that since the radiation scatters off the skin, the dose should be computed for the skin, rather than being averaged over the whole body (which is what the currently reported dose numbers do). Other physicists think the health risk is really nonexistent, and the scientists who wrote that letter are engaging in bad science, thereby weakening the argument against these machines.
I'm not an expert in radiation dosimetry. My back-of-the-envelope calculations involving the ratio between total body weight and skin weight imply that the dose to your skin is about 20 times higher than the reported (whole-body) dose, but even the dose to your skin is pretty small. Jefferson Lab's yearly (whole-body) limit for radiation exposure for visitors to the lab (scroll down to section 7.3) is 250 times greater than my estimate of the skin dose, and 5,000 times greater than the computed whole body dose. Their yearly skin dose limit for radiation workers is 500,000 times greater than my estimate of the skin dose. So it probably only matters if you fly a lot. (I do wonder about how much exposure the TSA agents are getting, though, since they stand next to the scanners the whole time. How shielded are these scanners?)
The privacy issues are clearly bigger than the radiation exposure issues for the scanners. Either way, though, I'd like to opt-out. But if you opt-out, you get an "enhanced pat-down." This means the TSA agent rubs you with open palms. All over. And I do mean all over. Including your crotch, and if you're a woman, your breasts. They also feel inside your waistband, pull your waistband away from your body and look inside. In public, in front of everyone else in line at the security checkpoint.
This account almost made me cry. It's from a woman who had previously survived being raped -- who found herself getting one of the "enhanced pat-downs" and was very upset by the process. Despite the TSA's assurances that you only get patted down by someone of the same gender, she was patted down by a male TSA agent. Other women have reported being told that they would have to wait extra time for a female agent to become available (because there are fewer female agents), and encouraged to just let the male agent
You are allowed to request that the pat-down be done in a private area, but at least one person has reported that they asked for a private area and were told that the wait would be several hours. Several hours. That means, if you want to travel, you have to let them grope you in public.
They will also perform the "enhanced pat-down" if you do go through the scanner and the image is blurred, or they see something that looks unusual or unclear. So it is not just a matter of choosing the scan over the groping. You could very well get both.
I don't mind my doctor or nurse seeing or touching me -- but that's because I have some kind of relationship and trust with them. I also have an expectation of professionalism and privacy. My previous experiences with the TSA do not lead me to believe I can trust them to be sensitive and professional about any of this. Some individual agents may be, but I seriously doubt that most will. Most will be treating travelers as though they're prisoners. Who cares if this person is embarrassed and uncomfortable? Who cares if this woman is having a flashback to her rape? We don't have a choice; we don't have any control over the situation. If we don't comply with whatever they do, they can cause us to miss our flight -- effectively fining us in time and money -- and they can even have us arrested. They don't even need the flimsiest of probable cause.
Going through security was annoying before this. Taking off my shoes was annoying, not being able to pack liquids in my carry-on was annoying, getting wanded was annoying. But up until now it hasn't been humiliating.
So now, I won't fly unless I have no other option. If I can drive, or take a bus or train, I will.
When I have to fly -- if I really need to go somewhere and have to get there within a short period of time -- I don't know what I'll do. I really don't.