It is rare to find an issue that can unite libertarians, leftists, and conservatives in mutual outrage, but in the last week the U.S. Administration has succeeded in doing such a thing. Despite the brief “aww” moment of bipartisanship however, what I wish to make a few notes upon what is a morally odious practice that has received virtually no attention in the international media, yet one that has serious ramifications upon our freedoms. And one that if we are not careful, shall creep our way into Australia.
I am talking about the new security theatre regime installed by the Obama Administration at U.S. airports. As of last week, air travelers in the United States going through security screening at most modern airports have only two options: either go through a scanner that shall enable security personnel to – literally – see them naked, or be subjected to an “enhanced pat down” – one that is little different to the groping of a sexual pervert – one that, according to the Transport Security Agency guidelines, requires for the feeling up of travelers genitalia. And I am not exaggerating when I say that that is what occurs. The guidelines literally say this!
Now, as readers here will know, I have slightly more sympathy for pro-national security arguments than your average libertarian (what can I say, it’s the conservative bent in me J ) Yet this new policy strikes even me as perverse. For it will do nothing to increase security (I mean, come on, any terrorist will be able to find a way about the ban if they tried, and besides, these don’t even detect most weapons), and at the same time, it is a morally abhorrent violation of the rights of U.S. citizens. The whole charade of security theatre, and all the inefficient, costly measures that it has created that perhaps in the past I was willing to turn a blind eye to, has just gone waaaay too far. And don’t think, unless we act upon it, it can’t happen in Australia.
So. Let us get into the details. Under these new rules, travelers have a choice. They can either go through a scanner – one which numerous medical authorities have said have dangerous levels of radiation (Wired notes that “scientists have also expressed concern that radiation from the devices could have long-term health effects on travelers”.) – and one which takes clear photos of them naked (yup, you can see just how big their ‘junk’ is), or be subjected to a “pat down” – a euphemistic expression for a procedure in which TSA rules – and again, this isn’t hyperbole – demand agents feel the crotch of passengers (and, I ought mention, also thoroughly rub and examine the breasts if they are female). Some commentators have gone so far to call it sexual molestation – and with some justification. Oh, and think you can opt out? Once you arrive at an airport, if you refuse the naked photography/groping – even if you choose not to board the plane – you can be fined $10,000
In anycase, if you choose the nudie-scanner approach, the images have been demonstrated to be able to be saved and leaked (just yesterday 35,000 images from a U.S. Marshall’s Office – images which were pledged to be erased after every screening – were publicly released). Fortunately for those concerned, they were from an earlier generation of scanners, which are rather blurry. But yes, just wait till the full nudie-scanners hit the interwebs and be prepared to be a star!
So how’s this gone since introduction. Let’s see. TSA agents have already been recorded putting their hands down people’s pants, cupping and squeezing a traveler’s breasts, and traumatizing children (watch this clip of a three year old girl being accosted and judge for yourself). There are already reports that machines are being used to ogle women (one TSA operative was caught out saying “heads up, I’ve got a cutie). And you already have proof of TSA officials use the body scanners to make fun of people’s genitals and who pretend to find cocaine in passengers’ luggage as a prank,, and even TSA Agents proudly boasting “I am God”. There are even reports that TSA agents are – quite literally – putting their hands down people’s pants .
Consider this story from a grope-survivor:
“I said I didn’t want them to see me naked and the agent started yelling “Opt out- we have an opt here”. Another agent took me aside and said they would have to pat me down. He told me he was going to touch my genitals and asked if I wouldn’t rather just go through the scanner, that it would be less humiliating for me. I was in shock. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I kept saying I don’t want any of this to happen. I was whispering please don’t do this, please, please.”
Since Celeste didn’t agree to go through the scanner, the enhanced pat down began. “He started at one leg and then ran his hand up to my crotch. He cupped and patted my crotch with his palm. Other flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and started praying to the Goddess for strength. He also cupped and then squeezed my breasts. That wasn’t the worst part. He touched my face, he touched my hair, stroking me. That’s when I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped. There’s no way I can fly again. I can’t do it.””
A good friend of mine was so traumatized from her experience last week she cancelled her trip home to visit her family for Thanksgiving. Indeed, in the last week I have spoken to about 10 people who have travelled by air since this has come in. Ever single one – whether they chose the naked scanner, or the grope – have been traumatized. And I’m not talking about crazy anarcho-capitalist libertarians only here. I’m talking about your average American, forced to be humiliated by the state.
Of course, this has nothing to do with safety. The hours long wait at airports has already forced many to abandon air travel, and, as driving is proven to be more dangerous than flying, by one estimate, enhanced security procedures after 9/11 led to 2,300 additional road deaths in two years.. It is simply about government exercising its power.
Now, at this point, some of you may be scratching your heads wondering “why on earth is the Obama Administration doing this”. To which I chuckle to myself and extract the following from the Washington Examiner:
“Rapiscan is one of the two companies that makes the nudie-scanners at airports for the TSA. Rapiscan CEO Deepak Chopra … recently was tapped by Obama to accompany the administration on Obama’s trip to India. Also, Chopra is an Obama donor.”
But of course, that’s not all: “Rapiscan got the other naked-scanner contract from the TSA, worth $173 million. Rapiscan’s lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee.” Ah of course.
So this is where have have come to. The rights of citizens being trampelled upon due to a bootleggers-Baptist alliance of national-security fearmongers, and rent-seeking corporations. This is what our fear in the ‘war of terror’ has come to. For good reason, the headline on the conservative Drudge Report (accompanied by a photo of a Catholic nun being felt-up by a TSA agent). read: The Terrorists Have Won. Because, if we have come to the stage where to board a plane you either have to be photographed naked, or groped by government operatives – when again there is no legitimate security requirement for this whatsoever, then we have a problem.
The only question is, what now Australia? For as the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, I worry if we ignore this travesty, the same thing may happen here.
(Originally posted at Thoughts on Freedom, the official blog of the Australian Libertarian Society that you all ought follow!)