Get your hands off me, TSA!
These airport so-called security measures amount to state-sponsored sexual harassment
Your picture here: images from a TSA scanner at Arlington, Virginia. Photograph: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla
Listen to this: “My freely chosen bedmates and doctors are the only ones allowed to see my naked body or touch my genitalia.” For a sane person in a sane country that’s the ultimate in “no shit, Sherlock” statement. But not where I live.
Not the United States of America. Not since 11 September 2001, when the government reacted to an attack on its citizens by lashing out against the very citizenry it claims to protect. No bureaucracy better embodies that reactionary principle than the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), whose contempt for American citizens has grown so great that they now require we submit to government agents either photographing our, to them, visibly naked bodies or groping us in molestation-style patdowns if we ever want to fly again.
I’m sick of the craven cliches TSA apologists have cited these past nine years:
“They protect us from terrorists.”
No, they impose pointlessly superstitious security theatre, trample Americans’ constitutional rights and make foreigners feel sorry for us. TSA protected nobody with its infamous “bathroom bans” after last year’s Christmas terror attempt; rules like “keep your lap empty and your hands visible at all times” only demonstrated the agency’s willingness to treat ordinary citizens like serial killers in supermax prison.
“You gave up your rights when you bought an airline ticket.”
I never gave up any rights. The government stole them while cowards egged them on.
“TSA agents are just doing their jobs.”
A lousy apologia and historically ignorant to boot; the civilised world established at Nuremberg that “just following orders” cuts no ice. And my fellow Americans are realising “it’ll stop terrorists” cuts none either, at least not to justify low-grade sexual harassment as standard behaviour for government agents.
It’s not hyperbole to call the enhanced patdown a low-grade sexual assault; if you don’t believe me, go find some woman’s boobs or man’s balls, start cupping and squeezing them according to new TSA standards, and count how many offences you’re charged with. Last month, an agent openly admitted that the purpose of the aggressive new patdowns was to intimidate people into choosing the nude scanners instead.
And Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano justified this Hobson’s choice – and abandoned all pretence of being a “servant” accountable to the public – in an insufferably arrogant column she wrote for USA Today, burying outright lies beneath eye-glazing bureaucratic prose. “The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images,” she claimed – though this was proven untrue almost as soon as the scanners were put in use; last August, US marshals admitted to storing 35,000 images collected from one single courthouse – some of which have now been obtained by the website Gizmodo under a freedom of information request.
“Rigorous privacy safeguards are also in place to protect the travelling public.”
You can’t claim privacy points when ordering people to let you either see them naked or feel them up.
“The vast majority of travellers say they prefer this technology to alternative screening measures.”
No, the vast majority realise Napolitano’s gone too far this time, and the backlash has finally begun. November 24 – the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, and one of the busiest flying days of the year – is National Opt-Out Day, whose organiser Brian Sodegren calls for all Americans to refuse the nude scanners and insist the patdown be done in full public view, so everyone can see how law-abiding travelers are treated in the Land of the Free. Sodegren points out the obvious:
“You should never have to explain to your children, ‘Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it’s a government employee, then it’s OK.'”
Similarly, the group We Won’t Fly calls for my fellow Americans to “Jam TSA checkpoints by opting out until they remove the porno-scanners!”
I’ve flown only three times since the inception of the TSA, and only when I couldn’t avoid it: two business trips and a funeral I couldn’t drive to. But I won’t fly on vacation; and last winter, when I thought I’d need to cross the Atlantic, I made reservations in Canada – a 450-mile drive to the airport, but worth it to avoid the TSA.
I’m not alone. Industry leaders reportedly met with Napolitano to express their concerns; as one executive with the US Travel Association fretted, “We have received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from travelers vowing to stop flying.”
Airline executives are rich. Maybe they’ve got the clout to stop TSA bullying. Napolitano clearly doesn’t care if ordinary Americans quit flying altogether; at Ronald Reagan National Airport, she openly offered “travel by other means” as the only option for people who won’t submit to the new TSA probes.
That’s what we’ve been reduced to in America: security measures lifted from bad porn plots, and hoping this latest outrage inconveniences enough rich guys with political connections to get it repealed.