Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Travels or Intimate Moments?

I don't know about anybody else, but I am so ready for Thanksgiving. I can't wait to meet up with the family and such. And while some people complain about air travel, as a fairly frequent flier, I've never had too many problems with the system. Wait a second though, what's this I hear about new TSA procedures...

Somehow Lefty's is the only blog in the country that hasn't started talking about the body scanners and pat downs yet, so I figure while we're all preparing to travel, we should know exactly what we're walking into.

Now, seriously, I am a frequent flier, and I really have found that on the whole the system has been fine. The TSA and I are chill. I love the expression on their face, when they see my license with that awkward picture from when I shaved my head... I can remember when we first had to put liquids in the checked bag. And next shoes had to come off. But always it felt like they just wanted make things a little more challenging and annoying. I always love being fully ready and standing behind people who forget about the change in their pockets until the last second. Minor inconveniences from the TSA, I can live with that. They've crossed the line, between so much security that we've lost freedom. Or they hadn't until recently...

For those who have been under a rock, the TSA has implemented new full body scanners at major airports to make sure you can't hide ANYTHING. Some find it a little embarrassing to have a random TSA agent look at a naked picture of them. Honestly, I'm just flattered. Or I would be, if I wasn't somewhat worried about radiation. They say the radiation levels are perfectly safe, but when it comes to radiation, the mother of all cancer, I'd rather avoid unnecessary risks. Fortunately the TSA is prepared, and allows me to avoid the look-at-me-naked machine. I can opt out, and let them grope me up and down, paying special attention to the private parts. I know we've encountered each other a lot in the airport over the years, but TSA, you rascal, I think this could be a little inappropriate before we at least do dinner and a movie.

Okay, kidding aside now, I'm very disturbed by this whole process. I'm glad I'm going through security at South Bend airport because we know they won't have one of these scanners. But what about on the trip back? I have no desire to go through a radiation machine and be seen naked, nor do I want another guy feeling all around my junk. But because this is America, I have no choice. Wait, what? When did America become the scared, cowardly, b**** of the world? It's not a cliche, when you let the terrorists make you do things that are unconstitutional, and against your principles, they've won. Their goal is to use TERROR to make you do things you wouldn't normally do. Like cause endless humiliation to people just trying to get home on the holidays.

I hate to sound insensitive, but it's time we looked past the emotional baggage of 9/11 and examined the statistics. On one day approximately 3,000 people were killed by terrorists. In the entire history of air travel, that is the number of passengers who have been killed by terrorists. It was a tragic day. So is every day in America, because over 30,000 people die in car crashes EVERY SINGLE YEAR. That would be 10 times the number of people who died on 9/11. Now we could decide to place stricter limits on people who can drive. We could require that every car get an inspection every week. Or we could do what we've done, accept some level of risk and educate ourselves and continue on with life.

And that's the crux of it, we decided long ago in this country, that we can't stop every car accident, just like we can't stop every homicide. Not without taking extreme measures that limit freedoms. Curfews and a police state could bring the murder rate down, but we know that the loss of freedom is unacceptable. Yet, when it comes to airline travel, suddenly our common sense goes out the window. For an incredibly marginal perceived semblance of added security in an airport, we'll sell our dignity. I have a better chance of being hit by a lightening than my plane has of being attacked by terrorists. And that will be true regardless of whether the TSA feels me up or not.

I hope I don't have to be placed in this awkward situation this weekend. I wish I could just boycott the whole process, but I have no desire to get fined big time, and I have no other viable means of travel. But I can guarantee this, if after all my experiences flying into and out of Washington DC, if the TSA decides I need a special random screening, I plan to make the process as laborious and painful for them as is humanly possible.


Anonymous said...

You pose several good arguments, but there are a couple of things that I believe need to be taken into consideration.

First, the federal government reserves the right to regulate private industries if they deem potential risks to pose a "realistic threat" to the American public. I think that 9/11, regardless of the USA's rationale for war (which remains murky at best) most certainly demonstrated that an insecure airline industry was a threat to the general public. If this is true (which I believe is true, but I understand may be contested), then the government violates no constitutional rights by imposing security checks on flyers. As an aside, there is no "right to privacy" clause in the US Constitution, though it is very present in case law. Thus, if one was to argue that rights were being violated, they still would not be "constitutional" rights.

Second, you report very impressive (and valid) data on the safety of airline travel. I would argue, however, that these statistics are linked to existing security practices in airports. Few terrorists have utilized airplanes as a method of destruction because they're difficult to get onto. In addition, the fact that security checks catch several security threats each year imply that they are certainly necessary to maintain excellent safety records on planes.

Third, your comparison of 9/11 casualties to annual car crashes is akin to comparing apples to oranges. Deaths from 9/11 were from a planned operation intending to kill; car crashes are accidents. Passengers on airlines certainly accept some risk of mechanical failure, crash, or pilot error when they fly, just as they accept "accidental risk" when driving a car. This assumed risk is completely different from terrorist risks. If one wanted to make an accurate comparison to airline terrorist deaths, the automobile statistic would need to be something like "deaths caused by intentional car crashes," a much lower number for sure.

When metal detectors were first installed in airports, there was public outrage about violation of rights, worries about long lines at security, and yes, protests. Now, people generally accept these practices because they keep air travel safe. I believe that these new scanning methods are simply an extension of security, and that while they remain unpopular in the present, the public will come to accept them as additional security and assurance when deciding to fly. I for one would prefer a thorough scan (or even a pat down, if it was deemed necessary) if it made my travel more secure.

Ultimately, I believe that what will decide if the new TSA scanning process stays or goes will be its effectiveness: is its ability to catch threats statistically significantly higher? If so, I expect that they are here to stay.

Gordon Stanton said...

In response to your first point, the bill of rights protects from unreasonable searches and seizures. Of course, unreasonable is a term that would be up for debate. I consider this new measure unreasonable, but that's my opinion.

Secondly, I agree current policies (before these new scanners were put into place) were very effective. I have no desire to remove metal detectors. I just don't see a reason for extra security if the current measures are working fine.

Thirdly, you are correct. Car crashes was a bad example. I could instead point to the number of people of killed by guns each year, which I'm sure will still dwarf the small number of airline problems. Or what about all the people who die from lung cancer due to smoking? We could prevent these deaths by outlawing these things, however most argue that the government would be taking away our rights.

My main point is, we are hyper focused on one type of security and only one type. There are many other bigger causes of death in this country. But we never eliminate those causes if we think it will infringing upon our rights. Yet when it comes to air travel something which rarely kills us, we accept any and all infringement of rights in the name of national security.

While metal detectors were an annoyance, there's a huge difference between long lines and having someone practically molest you.

Ultimately, will you really prefer anything that makes you safer? Many thought the Communist witch hunts effectively made us safer from the perceived threat of communism. It may have ruined the lives of some people, but that was the price for security. The word terrorism has become a substitute for communism, as a way to justify doing something that in its own right is inherently wrong. If a citizen did what TSA is doing they would be arrested. Where are we going to draw the line at going too far in the name of national defense.

Anonymous said...

ı do not understand what ıs the purpose of tsa