Several years ago I complained about the invasive nature of airport security screening (I had to take my shoes off), contending -- in jest -- that soon they'd be asking you to go through the security gates naked.
How prescient -- unfortunately.
This summer, approximately 2.2 million people boarded an airline in the United States every day. That number will go up during the holidays.
Today, you can have a choice:
1) You can allow a body scan that shows Transportation Safety Administration employees exactly what you look like naked. Most of us do not look like supermodels or prime beef hunks, so we have to consider the mental damage this will cause TSA employees (I can just hear the TSA employee now if I go through a scan -- "My eyes! My eyes! Oh, the horror!").
If you have any sense of modesty, this will probably annoy you. If you have a high sense of modesty, or a religious standard of modesty (perhaps you're Amish), this scan could be highly offensive. The TSA doesn't care.
2) You can undergo the type of full-body patdowns they give people in prisons. This isn't the "back of the hand" swish they used to do. This is everything short of a cavity search (and imagine what the TSA will demand the first time they catch a terrorist with a bomb hidden in one of their nether orifices).
TSA Director John Pistole described it as: "Pat downs so thorough we can feel what's in your underwear."
Passenger John Tyner, who became famous last week with his cell phone recording of his encounter at Lindbergh Field in San Diego, put it best when he pointed out that if he walked down the street and put his hand in someone's crotch, he'd be arrested. But if the government does it, it's apparently OK.
He made a great point.
Of course, some people don't mind. I know some people who would go through the line several times to show off in the scanner and let someone do a little intrusive touching. These are not people I want to sit next to an a plane, however.
Privacy advocates are up in arms over the new TSA procedures. But, as I've pointed out before, there is no specific Constitutional right to privacy.
There is, however, a Constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures without a probable cause warrant being issued by a court.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, 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."
-- Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (part of the Bill of Rights)
I tried to stand on that protection under the Constitution's Bill of Rights several years ago and was bluntly told that there was no right for me to get on a plane. I could either choose to stand on my Constitutional rights or I could waive them (submit to the search) and be allowed to board. But I couldn't do both.
So my option was to be allowed to spend a few hours on a plane flying across the country, or 2.5 days traveling by bus (sitting in the same type of crowded seats for all but a few potty and meal breaks), or 2-3 days driving (not that my 25-year-old vehicle would have probably made it), with the additional hassle of trying to find affordable motels, plus restaurant costs, along the way. I figured it would cost me more than twice as much to drive as to fly, and I'm not a rich person.
Strangely, the courts have tended to rule in favor of the government's security interests over citizen rights.
In his book, "Guerilla Warfare," the Marxist revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara discussed the value of terrorist attacks. He contended that one of their primary purposes was to force a government to respond, to become so repressive of civil and individual liberties in defense of the security of the state, that the people would rise up in rebellion against the government. I don't think we've reached that point -- yet. Because Guevara also noted that such repression was unlikely to work so long as legal and political procedures were in place to allow redress of grievances. I believe -- I hope -- that still applies in this country.
But in practice, every grope by a TSA agent is a victory for the terrorists.
TSA chief John Pistole insists the measures are designed for the safety of all airline passengers. "Everybody wants the best possible security,'' he said. Safety and security trump liberty and freedom.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
-- Benjamin Franklin, 1759
I believe that if you live in a land of liberty, if you take your rights seriously, then you must be willing to accept certain reasonable risks.
I also believe that no matter how good we are at screening people and packages, an inventive terrorist will eventually find a way around those procedures. Heck, when TSA ran tests on itself a while back, simulating a person trying to get on a plane with a weapon or bomb, a third of the time that person was successful. So it's not as if all this groping and scanning is all that useful -- unless it's to keep people frightened and justify the bloated budget and assaults on civil liberties that keeps the Department of Homeland Insecurity in business.
Right now, the government clearly -- and literally -- has grabbed the citizens of this country by the balls in an increasingly overreaching zeal for excessive safety. And they're squeezing tighter and tighter.
Slowly, little by little, the government's response to terrorism is chipping away at our foundation rights.
It's time that all citizens who are willing to take the risks associated with living in a free society fight back. We need to let our congressmen know that things have gone too far -- that it's time to step back from the abyss of totalitarian and tyrannical intrusion and return to sanity.