'Opt-Out Day' Could Clog Airport Security Lines

Wednesday is one of the busiest travel day of the year. It's also National Opt-Out Day — when some air travelers say they'll opt out of the new full-body scanners at airports. If enough of them go through with that plan, things could get pretty complicated in those long airport security lines.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

On the day before Thanksgiving, the biggest travel day of the year, not very encouraging words for those traveling to be with family and friends. But today, well, it will also bring a protest that's been dubbed National Opt-Out Day. Some travelers say they'll refuse to go through the new full body airport scanners, and if enough people take part things could get pretty complicated in those long airport security lines.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE: Opt-Out Day is the brainchild of Brian Sodergren, founder of OptOutDay.com.

Mr. BRIAN SODERGREN (Founder, OptOutDay.com): I'm just a guy that was aggrieved and put up a website, you know, a one-day site. First time I've ever even done anything like that.

KASTE: Sodergren has certainly inspired Phillip Cardon(ph), a university student from a military family who's flying home to Texas today. He's going to refuse to be scanned, opting instead for the alternative, the new up close and personal enhanced pat-down.

Mr. PHILLIP CARDON: I've also actually ordered a shirt that has the stock image of the guy with arms above his head, but it's the image that would be taken by the machine with a big old No symbol over it. I'm just going to be wearing that when I opt out.

KASTE: But not everybody likes Opt-Out Day. Anti-scanner websites have been getting angry emails from travelers who don't want to be delayed. And then there is the media backlash. On Monday, Slate.com called the protesters, among other things, paranoid zealots, techno-libertarians, and Tea Partiers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MELISSA HYSON: That's funny.

KASTE: Melissa Hyson(ph) generally votes Democratic. She is also a mother of four who is going to avoid air travel for now. If she has to fly, she says she'll opt out of the scanner,

Ms. HYSON: Even though I'm never going to see the person behind that booth, it's kind of like, you know, I'm 40 years old and there's (unintelligible) places where I don't want anyone to see, so I guess I would go with a pat-down.

KASTE: For Hyson, it's about privacy. For others, it's about the radiation emitted by the X-ray version of the scanner. Still others object to what they consider security theater, expensive machines that make travelers feel safe but may do little to stop new kinds of terrorist attacks. They wonder why it is that you need to have a body scan or an enhanced pat-down now when neither was required just a few weeks ago.

Mr. GEPRGE DONNELLY (Co-founder, WeWontFly.com): This is the way the government operates. They don't leave people with a lot of choices.

KASTE: George Donnelly runs We Won't Fly.com. He's speaking on Skype because right now he's in Colombia with his family. They need to come home eventually, but he won't compromise.

Mr. DONNELLY: If we have to cancel our flight, I guess that's what we'll have to do. But there's no way that I'm going to submit my family to this nonsense.

KASTE: And this is where you see this movement's lack of a center. Brian Sodergren, creator of Opt-Out Day, is open to compromise. For instance, he's willing to consider scanners that are less explicit. Brian Callahan of Don't Scan.US, says the scanner opponents are what he calls a very vocal minority, but it's still a minority without a unified front.

Mr. BRIAN CALLAHAN: Everybody has a point where they'll say no. Whether it's the enhanced pat-down, whether it's the machine that scans you naked, whether it gets to the point where its body cavities. Where do we draw the line? And that line is different for every person.

KASTE: Yesterday, Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole said he was sympathetic to privacy concerns and he said the TSA will look into the possibility of a less invasive pat-down for travelers who opt out.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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