Small Town Airports and the Coming Loss of Privacy

My brother-in-law, whose work takes him to many small towns, pointed out to me yesterday that the current concerns about backscatter scanner machines at airports will only get worse when the technology arrives in small towns (which it must, else airline security will be a joke because bomb-carrying terrorists will just board in Podunk instead of Paris).

Currently, the machines are in major cities through which millions of travelers pass anonymously each year and the TSA and airline staff members number in the thousands. But in small towns the airline employee who staffs the ticket desk then walks over to do the security line, and s/he’s someone you know because s/he lives in the same town as you do. Any TSA employees looking at the nudie photos will also be locals. In a town of a few thousand people, the TSA employee will get a gander eventually at his ex-wife, the local preacher, the police chief, the high school beauty queen etc.

But at least the TSA guy won’t describe the naked pictures to the airline employee who greets you at the desk, allowing the images to be associated with specific individuals. I know that’s true because I grew up in a small town, and we small town folk never, ever gossip.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

6 thoughts on “Small Town Airports and the Coming Loss of Privacy”

  1. There is zero security on commercial puddle-jumper planes between small airports like Hyannis, Martha's Vineyard, New Bedford, and Nantucket, served by companies like Cape Air and Island Air. Like, not even a metal detector. (There is a metal detector when boarding the larger planes that service these airports to bigger destinations like BOS and NYC). In fact, you sit in the copilot's seat during the flight with a control stick between your legs, there's a piece of paper asking you to please not touch it. They do ask your weight so they can balance the plane properly, so maybe by lying about how much turkey you ate you're endangering the flight.

    Granted, there are only 10 people and an occasional dog (uncaged) per plane, so a terrorist would cause more casualties by stealing a semi and causing a multicar accident on the highway, but I'm still somewhat surprised. Maybe it's because of the kind of people typically flying between MV and ACK who would be inconvenienced.

  2. Oh, and the middling-to-big airports? Thanks to airline loyalty programs and fixed schedules there are plenty of frequent-enough travelers who are recognized by everyone from the ticket desk forward. If only there were some way, oh, I'm going out on a limb now, that all that information could be used to judge how much of a risk well-known travelers posed.

  3. Right, and then the same ticket agent/security person also loads your luggage and finally stands out on the runway signaling the pilot where to turn for takeoff. Unless he's also the pilot (and I'm not joking).

  4. I'm part Scot, so next time I fly I'm going to wear a kilt. And no underpants. And I'm going to insist on a pat-down, not the scanner. Make them pay!

    “There yah go, lad, you put your ‘and right up there. An I’ve a ‘undred fellow Scots on the next plane, too, so yah better ‘ave lots of extra gloves.”

  5. Ahem. Those of us who enjoy small airports don't go around in public explaining why we enjoy them so much and why we dislike large airports in the states. Please cease and desist this conversation before you ruin it for everyone.

    That is all. Carry on. (or not and check your bags).

  6. My view (I wish) is that the images be dithered a bit so everyone's body image appears like that of Brad Pitt or Mrs Brad Pitt. I'd even be open to giving the scanner viewers a choice of celebrity body image setting to keep them most engaged in their detailed examination of what not.

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