Has airline security gone too far?
November 23, 2010
The hearings followed an incident last weekend, when a California man recorded a confrontation with TSA agents at San Diego International Airport. TSA officials said this week they would investigate John Tyner, who posted video of himself on YouTube telling an agent, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested." Tyner could face jail and an $11,000 fine for allegedly failing to complete security screening.
Have security measures gone too far? How should Congress rein in the TSA? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.
If I had my druthers, I'd abolish the Transportation Security Administration, jail its administrators and exile its agents to North Dakota. But I'd settle for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's resignation and for Congress to simply "zero out" appropriations for these invasive, full-body scanners that have many travelers rightly outraged.
And instead of investigating citizens like John Tyner who stand up for their right not to be groped, Congress should be investigating TSA bureaucrats who openly violate those rights.
Napolitano and her allies in Congress, such as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), would have Americans believe their liberties and personal dignity is nothing compared with the terrible toll a terrorist could inflict without such invasive measures in place.
But the new scanners seem to be of limited utility. I went through one at Lihue Airport in Kauai a few months ago, and TSA agents still had to frisk me because of some anomaly that appeared on my shoulders, of all places. The process was laborious and slow, and I was lucky the airport wasn't very busy.
In the face of this, a CBS News poll finds 80 percent of Americans have no objection to the new policies and procedures. Obviously, those people haven't been subjected to them. But the poll suggests too many Americans are all-too eager to trade their liberties for the illusion of security.
What happened to us? In the days and months following 9/11, Americans showed real grit and determination. Shortly after air travel resumed in 2001, a United Airlines pilot famously informed his passengers of the new rules: In the face of danger, stand and fight. "We will not allow them to take over this plane," the pilot said. He concluded: "I find it interesting that the U.S. Constitution begins with the words 'We, the people.' That's who we are, the people. And we will not be defeated."
Writing on his blog, Tyner called for a recovery of that post-9/11 spirit: "It's time to stop treating passengers like criminals and start treating them as assets." We're prosecuting him? Let's make him Secretary of Homeland Security.
Your chances of dying in a terrorist attack are roughly the same as being struck by lightning during a car crash caused by an alien abduction. It could happen, but it very likely won't. I suspect that much of the recent backlash against the TSA's security procedures is borne of a simple fact -- airline passengers are finally doing the math, calculating the odds, and weighing the certain hassles and indignities of airline screening against the unlikeliness of an attack on their aircraft.
The government isn't backing down, yet. Unfortunately, officials seem to believe that we can prevent another attack of terrorism if only we try hard enough, if only we tighten security a little more, if only we raise our defenses a little higher. That's ridiculous. It only takes one person to get through the system to be successful. It doesn't mean the system doesn't work: It means the system isn't perfect, because no system is.
At some point, all of us will have to be adults and accept that risk as a part of life, and not worth a never-ending series of tradeoffs in which civil liberties and personal dignity always, always, always get the short end of the stick.
Contact Ben Boychuk at bboychuk(at)heartland.org and Joel Mathis at joelmathis(at)gmail.com. This week, Ben and Joel's podcast features author Dominic Tierney discussing "How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War." Find it at blog.infinitemonkeysblog.com.