Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Little Temporary Safety

Ten years ago my husband and I flew to Sarasota, Florida, on vacation to visit family. Our daughter drove us to Sky Harbor, sat with us at the gate, and drank a bottle of water she brought from home. Kissed us goodbye when we boarded the plane. It was simple. It was innocent. It’ll never be like that again.

Last October my husband and I flew back to Sarasota, to hang out with family and friends. Arriving two hours early, we put all of our personal belongings into a plastic bin to be scanned, walked barefooted through a metal detector and re-assembled ourselves on the secure side of the airport. We waited alone surrounded by strangers until our flight left. It’s not as much fun to fly anymore.

One month later, American citizens flying to visit their families were greeted in 70 airports across America by more than 400 full body scanners. By the end of 2011 more than 1000 scanners will be in place across the country. All because last Christmas a lone Nigerian boarded a Northwest Airlines flight in Amerstam, Holland, and before it could land in Detroit he tried to blow it up with explosives hidden in his underwear. The way we all fly has changed forever . . . again.

In a knee-jerk reaction to last year’s attempted underwear attack, the Transportation Security Administration – or TSA - has spent millions of dollars installing x-ray machines which expose travelers to highly questionable amounts of radiation. Could these scans cause infertility? Cancer? Shortened lifespan? We don't know the answers to these questions yet, but then again neither does the TSA. This technology is being recklessly rolled out without adequate safety testing that would prove it safe for long-term use. Meanwhile, as the debate continues over whether or not human DNA can be damaged by the equipment or what would happen if a machine jammed while someone was still being scanned, these full body scanners do nothing to stop terrorists because they can’t detect powder explosives in the first place.

It's one thing to subject adults to invasive searches. It's something else entirely to subject children to them. The internet cites numerous examples of the trauma to all family members when youngsters are scanned or searched prior to flying. Just google "complaints about TSA" to see for yourself how absolute power is corrupting absolutely TSA agents. Which brings up an additional concern: how much trauma is unnecessarily brought upon those who have survived sexual abuse only to be forced to endure enhanced pat-downs or scans as a precursor to flying? Plenty. Newsweek brought up this question last November. Their report can be read at http://www.newsweek.com/2010/11/17/tsa-screenings-worry-sexual-assault-survivors.html

We need to remember: a terrorist is anyone who uses fear or terror to manipulate a body of people. But we are so afraid of our enemies, we have become our own terrorists. And in the opinion of many, we make Al Qaeda's job way too easy. In the name of increased security, Americans are now losing their Fourth Amendment right to privacy which guarantees “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” I guess it wasn't a money back guarantee.

The question is: who gets to decide what “unreasonable” means? Is it reasonable to force citizens to be visually strip searched just because they bought an airline ticket? How reasonable is the alternative – an invasive pat down with the catchy nickname, 'Gate Rape' . That phrase is already a new entry in the Urban Dictionary. But Option C may be the most alarming of all. An underwraps directive agreed to by DHS chief Janet Napolitano details that those who opt-out could be labeled as “domestic extremists” who will be detained, questioned and processed for further investigation. So much for land of the free and home of the brave.

You might think that with security screening choices this inflexible, few people would be excluded. But you’d be wrong. Privilege or membership come into play here. You should expect that President Obama can skip a personal pat down, but you might be surprised to know Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won’t be stepping into a scanner anytime soon either. Neither will airline pilots. And exemptions are in the works for flight attendants. I guess the skies are friendly to everyone . . . except paying passengers.

But consider this clincher: In a press conference in November 2010, DHS chief Napolitano avoided a direct question asking whether or not Muslim women would be required to undergo full body scans or patdowns. She responded only that there will be “adjustments” and “more to come” on the issue. You see, CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) feels that the full body scanners are intrusive and that pat-downs of Muslim women in Hijabs are offensive to the religion. They’ve advised Muslim women to “request to pat down their own scarf, including head and neck area, and have the officers perform a chemical swipe of your hands.” Well, okay. I guess that’s fair. We’re losing our rights while some who aren’t even citizens have more religious freedom than Americans do.

Something big is happening. With the outrage from American travelers and the pressure being put on corporate profits, President Obama and the TSA may eventually be forced to change these humiliating security measures - but if they don’t, then we can expect more intrusive checkpoints from our government in the very near future. Ms. Napolitano has already publicly stated that DHS is looking at other mass transit systems like buses and trains as the next target.

So, if you are faced with the choice of going through a body scanner which will display your nude body to a TSA agent while exposing you to unknown levels of radiation, or enduring a violating pat down, which will you choose? That scenario sounds eerily similar to a game I used to play as a teenager with friends: “If you had to give up one of your senses, which would you rather lose – your hearing or your sight?” These are choices??

As one person commented on the internet, “none of us surrender our constitutional rights when we walk into the airport.” How sweet. I wish that was still true. It’s time for us to pay attention to these words spoken by Benjamin Franklin during another American crisis: “They who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The only solution I can think of is for each of us to make our voice heard in Washington. Contact your senators and representatives and implore them to protect your Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

As for the TSA, I’d like them to consider an idea I read on Facebook: replace the current scanners with personal booths you can step into that will not x-ray you, but will detonate any explosive device you may have on your body.

I can see it now. You’re in the airport terminal when you hear a muffled explosion followed by this PA system announcement:

“Attention passengers - We now have a seat available on flight 2345.
and . . . clean up on Aisle 8!”

2 comments:

  1. Wow, Eula! You continue to amaze me with your writing ability! I didn't even know you had a blog! Very thought provoking! Thanks for posting it!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Kim! I appreciate the kind words!

    ReplyDelete