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 firstname.lastname@example.org.