More on Diabetics vs the TSA

On TSA news in general, see Jeff Goldberg's latest post about a kind of high-end, ultra-polite, but firm campaign of resistance by American Airlines pilots against the newest TSA rules.

On this same theme, I mentioned recently a reader's experience when his son, who has Type 1 diabetes and wears an insulin pump, encountered the TSA's new "enhanced pat-down" procedures. Since then I've heard from a variety of people about similar experiences. Here are two. First, a woman based in the South writes:

>>Thanks for drawing attention to the fact that the new TSA pat-downs are more than just a hassle for those of us who depend on medical devices and travel frequently. I've lived with Type 1 diabetes for most of my life and wear a wireless insulin pump. After experiencing the new pat-down, I talked with TSA supervisors at the Atlanta airport about the situation.

Long story short, since my medical device cannot be removed, there is no alternative to these pat-downs when the new scanners are in use - I have to tell the screener that I have a medical exemption and submit to being touched by a stranger in ways that quite frankly I wouldn't allow anyone else to do before the third date. I also have to waste a minimum of ten minutes being groped and watch all of my carry-on luggage checked for explosives.

It seems to me like there's the potential for a discrimination case here. The TSA is singling out an entire class of people based on our medical conditions and treating us like we're criminals. They have NO plans for ways to deal with this (eg, setting up a pre-approval system or using doctor notifications to clear us without the groping).<<

Second, a male business traveler writes, with emphasis in the original:

>>I'm a Type 1 diabetic, and I wear an insulin pump. Though the TSA agents routinely claim that most pumps do not set off the alarm, my pump has set off the metal detector every single time I've flown since I've gone on the pump. I refer to the ensuing pat-down as my 'freedom search'. Insulin pumps are not approved by the FDA to go through the X-ray machine. Taking it off is not an option. In my mind, this is a good thing. My insulin pump is a life-critical organ, and I refuse to hand control of it over to anyone else... Though it's fine to be disconnected for short periods, I am sure there are situations where they wouldn't want to give it back right away--and not reconnecting in a short time frame is life threatening for a Type 1. In fact, I wonder if the pump manufacturers recommend against exposing the pump to X-Ray machines specifically to avoid loss of control to security personnel....

I flew last weekend, and I ended up going through the full body backscatter detector in both directions. On the way out, for the very first time since I've been on the pump, I did not get a freedom search. I was ecstatic. I made the agent double check when she told me to move along after going through the detector because the process has become part of my flying routine. I thought that finally, since they could see absolutely everything in this privacy invading scanner there was no longer a need for the farce of a pat-down. (They almost never even really check out the pump to make sure it's legitimate--even though that's the only thing setting of the alarm).

Sadly, on the return flight, even though I demanded to go through the back scatter machine (which thoroughly confused the agents--since most everyone was trying to avoid them), I got a pat down. All my hopes of breezing through security like a normal person flew out the window. I'm still disappointed. I thought: "at least if they can see my junk they don't have to go through with this ridiculous farce anymore."

What really gets me about this is the inconsistency of it: if my insulin pump is truly a threat that can't be fully analyzed by this kind of scanner--then why on earth did they let me through on the originating flight? Two completely separate security protocols were employed for the exact same situation just days apart. I'm fine with the conceit of invading my privacy, wasting my time, and wasting my tax dollars if we all at least pretend it's for security.

This is not even security theater--it's just madness.<<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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