Wednesday, December 1, 2010

TSA and Reason, Pt. 1

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. 

Back around the time my world was getting sloshed around, there was this quiet little announcement on the TSA website. It was evidently really an opening salvo presaging a new stage in the battle between security (or so they call it) and personal privacy (what some might say that Franklin intended with his term 'liberty'). 
October 28, 2010
"TSA is in the process of implementing new pat-down procedures at checkpoints nationwide as one of our many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe. Pat-downs are one important tool to help TSA detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives. Passengers should continue to expect an unpredictable mix of security layers that include explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams, among others."

In recent weeks there have been myriad concerns voiced by doctors, pilots unions, flight attendants unions and regular citizens about not just body scanners, which some say pose risks for frequent travelers and TSA employees themselves (due to substantially more ionizing radiation than originally stated) but also just merely invasion of privacy. After all, if you don't go for the groping pat down, we now know that in contrast to their stated policy that there is evidence the federal government does indeed save the images they capture from the body scanners. As a result, the ACLU issued a petition calling for respect of privacy. You can see it here. Anyway, I posted it on my personal Facebook page:

And I got an eyeful from a FB friend:

FB Friend:

IMO, if you don't want to be searched don't fly, simple easy.
17 November at 18:59 · 


And just so practical for people whose jobs require travel....
17 November at 20:42 ·

FB Friend:

Take the bus, drive, get a train. Or how bout not have a job that "requires" travel if one has such a problem with airport security to begin with. No one forces people to get on planes. Entitlement and privacy are not the same, IMO. If your on that plane solo, do as you please but your not so...
17 November at 22:36 · 


"Or how bout not have a job that "requires" travel if one has such a problem with airport security to begin with." Can you really believe that? I think it is very naive in the present economic climate to suggest that someone just get a diferent job, XXXXX, I'm sorry. I'm thrilled for you if you have that kind of marketability yourself, but certainly many people do not.

The erosion of privacy and civil rights in this country is a worrisome trend. It is not clear that these losses have any correlation with greater safety of our citizenry at all. History shows that escalating restrictions on the liberties of a country's citizens are, in fact, often correlated with shifts toward totalitarian regimes.
18 November at 07:23 ·  Liked: 2 people

FB Friend:

You may perceive it as naive, I see it as living in the real world, and not expecting to be treated with kid gloves and a spoiled baby all time. The fact remains time have changed and we no longer live in a world where everything is sunny & and roses. The fact remains that people want harm the citizens of this country by bringing bombs & whatever onto planes. The fact remains it is Not civil liberty to fly but a luxury...

18 November at 07:44 ·


I think we shall have to agree to disagree on the point.
18 November at 12:33 · 

Several other friends took up a spirited argument with my FB friend, including sharing their thoughts that the TSA has a lot more to do with expensive government contracts than actual security. But no minds were changed on either side. Two weeks later and I'm still shaking my head. Find another job? Really?

I've read so much about the TSA body scanner and pat down situation in the past two weeks that it makes my head spin. I've read about Thomas Sawyer, the cancer survivor on a urostomy bag, whose bag was ruptured during the clearly misnamed "pat-down" search, covering him with urine. Or how about Cathy Bossi, breast cancer survivor, who was told to remove her prosthetic breast from her bra during what she describes as a humiliating and aggressive pat-down because she didn't want to be exposed to any more radiation after her breast cancer treatments. I feel so very much safer knowing that Mr. Sawyer's urine isn't flammable and that Ms. Bossi's breast is not C4. Not.

And what about all those rules for liquids in your carry-ons? Can it really be safer to have a whole bunch of 3-oz bottles of liquid versus a single 12 oz bottle? Really? Wow, I'm thinking they are really hoping terrorists are very stupid people who cannot mix chemicals. And btw, there are a great many solid, low volatility options out there. I think that athletic shoe guy Richard Reid was using a form of plastique that wasn't detected. But I won't get into info about explosives because I don't want to have my name put on some watch list and be strip searched and have a gynecological exam at the airport the next time I fly to NYC to see Cynical Nymph or something.

When the TSA was trying out their fancy-dancy body scanners earlier this year, Adam Savage of Mythbusters had his own charming experience with the efficiency of the TSA methodology to detect potential weapons. 

You know when I felt safe flying? When I flew El Al to Israel. And you know what? Israeli security experts agree with me. They don't touch people. They don't need to break your ostomy bags or see your prostheses or figure out if you can get that metal implant out of your hip during the flight to use it as a weapon. Unfortunately, they are profiling and sometimes their profiling is utterly ridiculous. Here in Miami, we remember when Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami and former Secretary of Health and Human Services under Clinton, was detained and interrogated by the Israelis for 2.5 hours, evidently on the basis of her last name. Essentially the Israelis are preserving the safety of the many by discomfiting, sometimes a great deal, the few. And the few are often Arab in heritage.

I don't know what will make us more secure when we fly but I do know that I no longer want to fly. It has become so massively unpleasant an experience that I really dread it. I'm steeling myself for going to the UK in the summer. I'm thinking about driving my child to North Carolina for his summer program at Duke. I feel genuinely sorry for anyone who has to fly. I don't think, like my friend on Facebook, that it's a luxury.

But privacy and lack of humiliation evidently were.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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