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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

TSA and Plastic Gloves

The TSA's new practice of forcing air travelers to choose among the lesser of two evils (naked body imaging versus having one's genitals touched by strangers) provoked my absolute astonishment when I was first told about it by privacy activist Katherine Albrecht at a recent New York City Bar Association symposium on privacy, technology and regulation. Almost as if by coincidence, the news has been flooded ever since with new daily revelations and outrages.

Least among the concerns is the prospect of cross-contamination. That is the activity by which pathogens and other icky things are brought from their original location to a new location. Ordinary situations we always encounter involve touching any contaminated surface; think of a public restroom's door handle as the perfect disgusting example.

The TSA groping involves screeners wearing plastic gloves to touch multiple people in or near parts of the body which secrete fluids. Add in the transporting power of perspiration and the partial wicking of moisture away from clothes (and hence to the outside of one's garments), and even an over-the-clothes touching can result in host-to-glove transmission of nasty bugs like fecal coliform. That same glove may then be touching you.

The gist of the dilemma: You just don't know where that finger has been.

TSA workers may prefer you shower before flying. You should be advised to take a shower the first thing after flying.
Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer, privacy rights activist and political consultant. Mr. Dixon has practiced law for 16 years since graduating from Yale Law School in 1994. Mr. Dixon handles strategic analysis, crisis management and lawsuit stress management counseling for clients. He is available for consultation or comment on the record at 917-696-2442 and via email at

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