My Take on the TSA

For the past two weeks, I've been thinking and talking a lot about - and becoming more and more outraged by - the new TSA "security" measures that have recently been instituted in airports across the country. There is so much wrong with these procedures that it's hard to wrap my mind around it all, but I'm going to attempt to do that here - for my own sake and, perhaps, to benefit others who feel (understandable) revulsion at the thought of this whole thing but are unable to articulate why.

First let me say that I've flown - both internationally and to various destinations within the U.S. - many times in my adult life. And my children are veteran air travelers as well, having been on planes for at least four different trips by the time they were six and seven years old. In addition, my husband flies internationally about twice a year on missions trips and also goes on occasional trips for his day job. In all those experiences, I very much enjoyed the freedom we had to travel and the ease with which flying enabled that to happen. And I was never the least bit nervous about any of us getting on an airplane.

That said, I do not believe I will fly again - or allow my daughters to do so while their well-being is in my hands - unless or until these procedures are abandoned. I wish my husband wouldn't fly either...but his circumstances are different than mine, and he can, of course, make informed choices for himself on the matter. I just cannot be party to these so-called security procedures.

Why not?

The reasons are many, but let's see if I can summarize.

For starters, I believe that both the full-body (naked) scanners and the "enhanced pat-downs" (a.k.a., government-sanctioned molestation) violate the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, which says, "The right of people to be secure in their persons, uses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

According to this, we have the right to be "secure in [our] persons" - our bodies - against "unreasonable searches and seizures." Now, some would argue that the procedures are not unreasonable because, after all, we "have to" protect ourselves from characters like the 2009 "Underwear Bomber." But I do not think it is reasonable to search - whether by scan or grope - every person who wants to fly, particularly because the amendment also states that one who wants to search needs "probable cause" to do so legally. That means the authorities actually need a reason to suspect that I, specifically, might be a danger in order to search me - and I don't buy the idea that, just by purchasing a plane ticket and walking into an airport, I am automatically "suspicious." In fact, I'm sure our Founders - since they also proclaimed we are innocent until proven guilty - never intended such a broad usage of that clause. We need instead to adopt the security procedures used by the Israelis, who utilize behavioral (not racial) profiling to figure out who, in fact, they may have probable cause to search.

If we give in to this violation under the pretense of safety, we allow ourselves to slide dangerously far down the slope of tyranny. And, considering that Janet Napolitano and others have admitted that there is no guarantee that these procedures would even have caught the "Underwear Bomber" and that Israeli security experts have said that they already know how one terrorist could sneak enough explosives past these new procedures to blow up multiple planes, that's not a slope even worth a glance. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."

That principle is more than enough on which to stand - and I believe all Americans should simply claim the 4th Amendment, end of story, and refuse to comply. Sure, it's easier to "go along to get along," and it's inconvenient in many ways to stand against this kind of invasion of privacy - I really want to visit my best friend in Texas in March, but it probably won't happen now. However - really - just when will we, as a society, decide that we need to grow up and put what's right before ease and instant gratification? When?

So that's the crux of the matter, but let's set that aside for a moment and look at other, less esoteric, problems - for starters, the fact that the scanners have not been deemed either safe or secure.

Sure, government officials have said the scans are perfectly safe...but the government also said it was okay to give thalidomide to pregnant women - and look how well that turned out. And, for 40 years, the government purposely infected black men with syphilis as an "experiment." Now, I'm not saying I know the government knows the scans are harmful and are lying to us - I am not a conspiracy theorist. But it has been done before, and we need to be aware of that history. More than likely, of course, government officials want to believe the scans are safe so they're saying they are. But how can we really know without long-term study? Naturally, they couldn't take time for that; instead, they rushed this through under the pretext of safety, but I have yet to see any trustworthy, independent verification of that - and, conversely, I have read of possible problems. So I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to sacrifice myself or my children as the government's medical guinea pigs.

In addition, there's no guarantee of security with the naked scanner pictures. Sure, we're being told they won't be saved and stored...but that's already been proven to be false. The images can, indeed, be saved, stored, and exported (to God knows where). And it is only logical to presume that - given every person's sin nature - there are many TSA agents responsible for analyzing these scans who have already gotten their "jollies" from some of the images and have decided to save some for "personal use."

In response to that concern, I've heard the argument that we should not worry because the scans are rather impersonal - much less revealing than, say, x-rays or ultrasound pictures we allow our physicians to take. But there is a huge difference between medical care I request from the doctor whom I've researched and chosen as my personal physician and some anonymous TSA agent against whom I have no legal recourse. If I discover that my doctor has used images of me inappropriately, I have many means (legal and otherwise) in which to seek justice and regain my dignity. But what of the TSA agents sniggering at our body scans...or downloading those of our children? They're anonymous and so their crimes will be, too - but the violation is still real. And to those who would say, well, we just have to trust that the government has hired well-trained individuals of integrity, I will only say: "Really? You can say that with a straight face?"

Of course, we've all been told we can "choose" to "opt out" of the scanners...but the alternative - "enhanced pat-downs" or, more accurately, government-sanctioned molestation - is even worse. For one thing, they are a harbinger of disease.

Even the most well-meaning TSA agent is not a trained medical professional, and there is much documentation that most are not utilizing proper protocol with the rubber gloves they use during the pat-downs. That is, they are feeling a passenger's groin area - either on the outside of clothing or even (really!) inside the underwear - and are then subsequently using those same gloved hands to touch other areas of the passenger's body. That could, of course, cause any number of genital infections - jock itch or herpes to name a couple - to spread to other areas of that person's body. And that's bad enough. But still worse is the fact that the agents are then examining other passengers without changing gloves! That, of course, means that TSA agents are very likely becoming agents for spreading all kinds of infectious disease among the populace. Eww.

Someone I know pointed out that each passenger can - and should - request that an agent put on a new pair of gloves before beginning a pat-down. That's all fine and good, but most people are too nervous to think of that, given the situation in which they are about to find themselves, so TSA agents should take the initiative and change in between each and every passenger - just as medical professionals do with their patients. Furthermore, the gloves themselves need to be kept in a sterile compartment instead of what's happening now: agents are simply keeping extra gloves in their pockets (goodness, the amount of germs in anyone's pockets!) and pulling them out when specifically asked by the few passengers who are aware of the health risks. I'm sorry, but that is simply not good enough, and no one should have to undergo an "enhanced pat-down" without proof of clean, sterile gloves being used in the process.

Of course, my real contention is that no one should have to undergo the procedure in the first place because it is, in effect, government-sanctioned sexual assault. We've probably all read of the atrocities happening in the name of "enhanced pat-downs" - the cancer survivor forced to remove her prosthetic breast, the man whose ostomy bag leaked all over him when TSA agents mishandled it, the many situations (such as this woman's) in which breasts have been squeezed and twisted and - sorry for the graphic language here - genitalia have been rubbed and fingered. It's all nightmarish, but true...and being reported regularly.

However, let's set those aside and take an example of a "normal pat-down" without blatant or obvious sexual abuse. This woman describes what happened to her in detail using no incendiary language and, in fact, commenting that she felt the TSA agent handled the situation professionally. But read the whole account. The woman's son was traumatized seeing what was happening to his mother, and the woman herself admits to having felt violated. Because she was.

I have read her account multiple times, trying to imagine myself in a similar situation, and I've come away sick to my stomach every time. No one should have to submit to having his or her private parts - or any body part, for that matter - examined like this in this type of setting. The fact that we spend a great deal of time educating our children about "stranger danger" and about not allowing anyone to see or touch their "swimsuit areas" should be enough to key us in to the inappropriateness of this. But now, suddenly, we have to tell our kids that the person with the uniform at the airport can - and must - touch them and their parents in those ways? Honestly?!

Granted, I have some "baggage" because I was sexually assaulted multiple times in my childhood. And, though God has done amazing healing work in my life, I am very certain - based on the reaction I have upon reading of even the "normal" pat-downs - that I would suffer a traumatic flashback to my abuse were I or my children faced with having to endure this. And, frankly - to put it bluntly - that pisses me off. I worked damn hard to move from victim to survivor so I can lead a functional life - and I have vowed to do all I can to protect my children from suffering in any way as I did - but now I have to be afraid of...the airport?!

Beyond that, though, the fact remains that I don't think anyone could walk away from such a procedure feeling okay. Our private parts are meant to be private and we know it - so this kind of invasion of privacy justifiably sits wrong in our psyches. Because it is wrong. And I think it's sick that our government is very blatantly attempting to desensitize us to the actual physical molestation and to the invasion of our privacy embodied in all of this.

So, guess what? I am currently grounded due to the invasive "Big Brother" policies of our government - and I'll be forced to travel only by car if this extends to other modes of transportation. If I had to fly for an emergency, I would - and I'd attempt to tolerate the scanner without flipping out...though I would have much long-term fear about physical side effects and what might be happening to the picture that was taken of me. However, even in that case, there is no guarantee that I would not also have to undergo the "pat-down," since some passengers are randomly selected for that even after enduring the scan. And I couldn't do it; I just know I could not. But then I wouldn't even be allowed to say, "You know, I really cannot do this so I am just going to walk away from here quietly, forfeit the cost of my ticket, and go home." Because - if you try to do that - the TSA can fine you $11,000 for refusing to obey their protocol...even if you just want to skip the flight and leave peaceably! Now, if that is not dangerous coercion that reveals the heart of the government's motivation (i.e., control), I don't know what is.

All of this has caused me to do something I never imagined of myself: I am supporting the ACLU! Yes, that bastion of radical liberalism that so regularly bashes Christians - but they are standing against these procedures (as are conservative groups such as the Rutherford Institute), filing suit to get them to stop. And so I stand with the ACLU - and with every other advocacy group that is speaking up - to say, "Enough is enough!"

And I will continue to stand up and speak for what is right - no matter how small my voice or how inconvenient and bothersome it becomes. And it will. As I mentioned, I've already essentially sacrificed a longed-for trip to Texas this spring. And other trips my family has in mind - particularly the international ones - are now in jeopardy. Plus, the trips we do still take will become much more difficult since we'll have to drive.

But I will tolerate all of that rather than be lulled into accepting all the intrusiveness that goes against the liberty and freedom upon which this country was founded. Because, to the extent that we give up that liberty for the pretext of security...well, then the terrorists will have won.


Harter said...

Great article, Tina!

Kimberly said...

I'm with you! Thanks for the info.

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