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New media and the TSA pat-down controversy

Posted by Rob Anderson  November 24, 2010 12:51 PM

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Millions of holiday travelers will experience new airport security measures first hand today and decide for themselves if they support the new body scanners and "enhanced" pat-downs implemented by the Transportation Security Administration. But even those not traveling this week can get a sense of what is going down in airports across the nation. The Globe, for example, is featuring a stream of live tweets from Logan Airport on its homepage. From the looks of it, things are running smoothly there so far:

Teddyaki: Airport security wasn't bad... No body scans or anything. I feel like Logan is practically empty.

DefytheBox: going thru security at Logan airport was a breeze. no body scan or pat down and the TSA agents were AWESOME

McShay13: Logan airport in Boston is empty. I'm shocked -- and borderline pissed that I'm early for once

If you are, however, looking for TSA-inspired drama, there's a site for that.

MyTSAHorrorStory.com is a collection of reader-submitted blog posts, including one written by this self-described "57 yo, 100 lb. grandmother of three":

A female security guard told me she would have to do a full body search and could take me to a private area if I desired. I felt safer having it done in public. It was as thorough as you can get and bordered on molestation. Hands going up and down me, up to my crotch and under my breasts. “Now I’m going to check your underwire of your bra,” she sadi [sic]. I told her I didn’t wear bras with underwires. It didn’t matter. Then I had to turn around and she felt up my legs up to my butt crack. I think I blanked some of it out because it felt so intrusive.

From the other side of the spectrum: One of the more interesting things to watch over the past few days has been the TSA's own blog. There, Blogger Bob has been fighting criticism of the new procedures, including rapid-response posts aimed at deflating supposed scandals popping up across the Internet. For example, when the video below was uploaded to YouTube a few days ago, people were rightly outraged:

It really does look like the TSA is strip searching that little boy. But Blogger Bob's response to the video situates it in its proper context, and makes the incident seem much less problematic:

On November 19, a family was traveling through a TSA checkpoint at the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC). Their son alarmed the walk through metal detector and needed to undergo secondary screening. The boy's father removed his son's shirt in an effort to expedite the screening. After our TSO completed the screening, he helped the boy put his shirt back on. That's it. No complaints were filed and the father was standing by his son for the entire procedure.

It should be mentioned that you will not be asked to and you should not remove clothing (other than shoes, coats and jackets) at a TSA checkpoint. If you're asked to remove your clothing, you should ask for a supervisor or manager.

The site is a great example of government using new media to speak directly to people without relying on the media to explain its side of the story. And, as long as the information Blogger Bob is sharing remains credible, it should go a long way toward defusing the anger and confusion surrounding the new measures.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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