Laurie Toby Edison

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Airport Screening, Privacy, and Penis Size

Debbie says:

Until today, all the conversations I had heard about the full-body scanners being used in airports were about invasion of women’s privacy. (Do I have to say I think that’s an important issue? I think that’s an extremely important issue.)

But this story points out a disturbing variation.

full body scan photographs

Screener Rolando Negrin’s private body parts were observed by his Transportation Security Administration colleagues conducting training on the airport’s full-body imaging machines.

Months of [daily ribbing about the size of Negrin's genitalia] culminated on Tuesday night, when Negrin attacked a co-worker in an employee parking lot, according to an arrest report.

Negrin “stated he could not take the jokes any more and lost his mind,” said the report.

Let’s take this story apart:

First of all, in the process of training on the machines, TSA workers, in effect, see each other naked. Being seen naked by strangers when you come through the screeners is bad enough, but being seen by the people you work with every day is even worse. People have all kinds of reasons to keep their “private parts” private from their co-workers. (See this post for just one take on work and genital privacy.) I’m betting that the TSA provides little or no trainings on the complications of opportunities to see co-workers naked; anyone want to take the other side of that bet?

Second, they not only see each other naked, they (in this case at least) know exactly who they are seeing. If all the rest of the exposure is completely inevitable (which I do not believe), it should still be possible to do full-body screenings of all the identified men in a work group and then show those screens in a randomized order to all the identified men, and similarly with all the women. But clearly, no one bothered to do that here.

Third, the harassment. While I can’t defend Negrin’s attack, I can’t defend what was done to him either. I want to know why he was subjected to “months” of mocking. This speaks to an environment in which he didn’t feel safe going to his supervisor; in fact, the supervisor may have been among the harassers. It also speaks to an environment in which no one stood up for him, or told his co-workers to shut their mouths.

Finally, the meat: first, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with having a small penis, and no man should ever be teased about it, let alone repeatedly and viciously. Sometimes, a small penis can be evidence of an intersexual condition or other medical condition, but most often it’s just small. What’s more, flaccid penis size has very little to do with erect penis size, so whatever the harassers saw doesn’t even have the implications they were mocking.

I respect and defend the TSA’s zero-tolerance policy for assault. At the same time, I stand very strongly for better ways for victims to protect themselves from concerted vicious campaigns. I stand for everyone’s right to physical and genital privacy, our rights to managerial protection from asshole co-workers. This is yet another case of a nasty systemic problem treated as if it was the individual’s problem. Negrin may be guilty, but he’s not guilty in a vacuum.

Found via Arthur D. Hlavaty.

6 Responses to “Airport Screening, Privacy, and Penis Size”

  1. vesta44 Says:

    It’s not just penis size that those screeners will be seeing. What about men who have ED, and have penile implants of one kind or another? Those will also show up on those screenings, and I don’t even want to think about the comments that will be made about that, not to mention the humiliation of being pulled out of line to be strip-searched to prove that it’s an implant and not parts of a bomb.
    Women have already faced that humiliation – with breast implants and reconstructive breast surgery, so I don’t see that it’s going to much easier on men with penile implants. Paranoia sees bombs everywhere, whether they actually exist or not.

  2. Ana Costa Says:

    I was horrified by this story.
    These body scans are a total invasion of privacy and are NOT the right way to go!

    This poor man shouldn’t have been arrested because he had the right to defend himself from his co-workers mocking him. The person he “attacked” was asking for it and deserved to be punished. He was attacked for months and only reacted to the attack. Arresting him isn’t the way to go either.

  3. Marlene Says:

    Good thing for me I like the old school pat-down. (heh)

    I have a hard time getting riled up about this technology, but then my expectations of bodily privacy in airports is pretty minimal (and I try not to fly much). I haven’t flown without a pat-down in as long as I can remember.

    I wish I could say that I was shocked at the treatment Rolando Negrin received, but I am not. From what I have heard, this is pretty typical of the TSA work environment.

  4. WereBear Says:

    So we have a bunch of immature jerks in charge of our airport security… which isn’t based on what works, but on the Outrage of the Day… while passengers get not so much as a pretzel crumb or a carryon bag.

    We are a vast and varied nation, and this is the best we can do?

    I hope it’s not so. I hope it’s simply that we really aren’t trying.

  5. Adrian Says:

    I’m appalled at the workplace abuse Negrin experienced, and wish it could have been stopped without violence. This kind of story ratchets up my fear that TSA workers will abuse their power over me–the ethics and training of those workers, and the rules constraining them, concern me a lot more than the technology they’re using during a particular trip.

    I can sympathize with travelers who are upset about being seen naked, or specifically upset about being photographed. At the same time, I don’t think pat-down searches for all travelers are a better approach. I find it vastly more distressing for somebody I don’t trust to touch me than to look at me naked. (Though either is pretty damn distressing.) Different people are sensitive to different things, but I don’t believe I’m the only one to be triggered by making myself available for strangers to grope.

    Even if most TSA workers usually try to touch travelers in impersonal, nonthreatening ways, travelers are required to stand there with our hands out of the way to let them be as rough or intrusive as they want. With a bored and indifferent TSA worker, it’s uncomfortable. With a suspicious and hostile one, it can be terrifying.

  6. Bree Bielefield Says:

    Security is necessary but there are obvious breaks with the effectiveness of specific air-ports. Items mistakenly get left in handbags etcetera and never identified by screeners and other big mistakes that might ended up costing our lives! We’ve got politicians requesting restrictions on the number of people that receive pat downs and verification, of which accomplishes next to nothing! It ought to be all or none of them! It appears to me the old method had been functioning, exactly why did these people change it out!

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