88.9 F

Davis, California

Friday, June 21, 2024

Column: The folly of security

Those who’ve had or will have the, yes, ordeal of flying home, will bear testimony that the Transport Security Administration (TSA) has slaughtered privacy rights on the alter of safety screenings.

Traveling by air has never been the same since 9/11. But equally relevant to note is the fact that there was no noteworthy TSA, either. In response to the terrorist attacks, Congress created the security apparatus in 2001 that led to a staffing bump from 13 employees to about some 65,000 currently.

Its mandate? Quite an ambiguous and ambitious charge. It is indeed a tall order when the government charges an agency with “eliminating risk” of anything, much less the hatching of a terror plot by air. So far, we have thankfully not had any successful terror plot involving an aircraft in the U.S. since the dastardly acts of terrorists almost a decade ago. What we are stuck with, though, is the progressive stripping of rights of passengers in manner that seems to know no end.

First, there was the “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, and it became okay for TSA to order every traveler to take off their shoes at the airports. No thanks to the “underwear bomber” Abdulmutallab, now we have to go through body scanners that the ACLU has called the “virtual strip search.” The options the traveler has are not a bed of roses. You must have seen the lone civil rights warrior from San Diego of the “don’t touch my junk” fame complaining about groping in a video that went very viral, and rightly got rave reviews by a public that is fully empathetic and supportive.

Oh, the groping that could pass for pat downs. If you refuse you can be fined thousands of dollars and made to look like a terrorist suspect. As expected, terrorists are only going to get more creative in ways to carry out their plots. You may be wondering what is next in the TSA’s bag of safety tricks? Are we safer with the “advanced imaging technology” that has not done much to advance the image of TSA?

Fear mongering has been big business, especially after 9/11. Taxpayers’ money has been thrown at anything that is deemed to make us safer on the homeland. That cost us almost $1 trillion in search of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that never were. And for good measure, let us just beat the dead horse here and say logistics and security companies like Halliburton and Blackwater raked in big dough in the process. In March of this year, via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, TSA rolled out this plan to field thousands of body scanners at airports expected to cost another couple hundred million and supplied by a company the former Homeland Security secretary Chertoff works for.

Coincidences, huh? All of this is meant to “eliminate risk” of another air bombing. Americans have patiently tagged along. They have paid every price for safety asked of them by TSA. The question is when is it going to be too much? Are these terrorists going to dictate how we conduct our lives? Apparently, it is clear that they propel TSA policies with the public factoring in as mere receptacles.

The question burning beneath this status quo is; can there be a better way to keep us safe without whimsical violations of our rights? We can look to Israel for answers on this debacle. Israel is located right in the metaphoric mouth of the lion and yet does not subject passengers on, say, El Al aircraft to the “strip searches” or “grope fests” that TSA does. El Al’s former security chief, Isaac Yeffet, attributes their successes to intelligence gathering, selective interrogation or profiling, emphasizing that no technology can replace that vigilance and human expertise. In case we still just want to spend money on technology, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory here in California had engaged the Department for Homeland Security since 2006 about providing a cheap fix for scanners that will make them less invasive, but still effective in spotting foreign objects on passengers. That went nowhere.

All the TSA cared about, like everybody these days, is a CBS poll that said roughly 4 out every 5 Americans had no objection to body scanners if it kept them safe. We are suckers for safety. Even if those safety strategies elude common sense and are driven by infinite possibility of the next heinous plot by some creative terrorist. This is a clear case wherein we don’t want to see our taxpayer dollars at work. No, not through panic-driven measures that corrode rights. And on a lighter note, the sexual orientation of TSA officials can’t be written on their badges, can it?

Have a fun Thanksgiving guys, TSA molestation or not.

FAYIA SELLU at fmsellu@ucdavis.edu.


  1. @zmw1990, I’m not sure I understand the point you’re trying to make. If you wouldn’t mind elaborating, I’d be really appreciative.

  2. Fayia Sellu –

    You write on a very interesting subject, and I thank you for your opinions. You touch on some topics that your readers deserve clearer answers to from you and you omit them from either lack of argumentative support or omission due to writing constraints. Either way, your argument deserves a counter.

    You are obviously against the advanced screenings and safety measures that the TSA has installed around the States. In fact you go as far as to blatantly antagonize the TSA in this article to the point that you make it seem as if Americans/travelers would be safer without them. You briefly cite the security measures of an Israeli airline that in fact profiles maliciously based on appearances, personal affiliations and other types of profiling generalizations. In fact, if the ACLU were to look at your comparison, I’m quite sure they would be much maligned to support your choice of El Al’s security measures over the advanced imaging systems and pat downs of the TSA.

    Now, you Americans are very needy, take for granted your safety, and often times take for granted priveleges as creator-given rights. Your article and prose drips with entitlement issues, that you believe that flying in a huge aluminum tube that can destroys buildings 100-fold larger than itself, should be available to all. I agree with this underlying assumption. I also agree that this privelege should be available to only those who will safely and politely utilize it. You, however, continue your point by insisting that Americans should not be subjected to ludicrous procedures such as “removal of shoes” and “pat downs”. You do realize that pat downs are given 1. At random based on a random-numbering system, and 2. If you repeatedly fail the metal detection system? Nowhere in your article do you present an alternative to pat downs that would solve the problem of #2. In fact, TSA employees are very open with their pat downs, communicative, and responsive to passengers who may feel uncomfortable at times. They cater to passengers wishes for a more private setting, and are always asking questions. What would you suggest security screeners do if a passenger has repeatedly failed the metal detection system? Let them fly because they should not be prone to embarassing searches? I think not.

    Your argument boils down to a simple one of entitlement that is held by many youth and applied in its similar capacity to many other situations (education, jobs, government, etc). You believe that the rights of one who feels uncomfortable being searched should trump those of the hundreds, if not thousdands, of others and their safety aboard an airplane. Flying around the world is NOT a right, it is a privelege. We pay for this comfort, travel, AND safety each time we board. If you feel as if you are entitled to more than that, then you are welcome to rent a luxury automobile and travel to your destination, TSA molestation free. Either way, stop complaining.


    TJ Maxx

  3. As someone who has used El Al multiple times in the last few months, I have seen ways they make sure to not allow terrorists on their planes. With all the ‘political correctness’ in America there is no way most people would allow the TSA to profile people. The reason they have to do what they are doing now is because they cannot profile or people will call them racist.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here