Friday, November 26, 2010

Don't Touch My Junk

I am appalled that so many in my generation are ready and willing to roll over and be sexually assaulted (and let their children be sexually assaulted), give up their rights to privacy and ignore their rights as stated in the 4th Amendment all in the name of supposed security at airports. This new TSA measure is outrageous and ineffective.

I did not always feel this way. Like so many others, I didn't see the big deal. However, on more careful examination of the 4th Amendment as well as the many, many assaults that have already taken place, and along with an understanding of the measures we really should be taking to ensure our safety, I have changed my mind.

This video is of a man who recorded his experience going through TSA. He asked the TSA agent not to "touch his junk". That's when the TSA agent put him on the no fly list and asked him to step out of line. After questioning he then tried to leave the airport but was told he had to go through the entire procedure or face a $10,000 fine. Hello? Are we awake to what is happening? There is talk of applying these measures not just to airports but to transit systems and sporting and concert arenas.

The argument that you don't have to get on a plane is a ridiculous one. You either choose to drive everywhere (not practical, especially for business travelers) or be sexually assaulted or exposed to repeated radiation and have your junk exposed on camera...um, really? Those are the choices?

How bout we actually do something effective like use bomb sniffing dogs and psychological profiling like they do in the most secure airports in the world? Why don't we take notes from them? Why are we so willing to give up our rights as citizens all in the name of this outrageous political theater?

Here's the video, if you are curious, to see just went down with "Don't Touch My Junk" John Tyner.

24 comments:

Sherpa said...

Eh, I don't see it as a 4th amendment violation. I find all the outrage kind of amusing actually. But there's issues I'm outraged about that others don't seem to care about so I think it all evens out in the large scheme of things. :)

SJ said...

Like you, I was complacent at first It didn't seem like a big deal. However, the issue here is that we are supposedly innocent till proven guilty. These measures treat us like criminasl. It's unlawful search without probable cause (which is what the 4th amendment is all about)...also, it's not effective at all. People can hide bombs in body cavities.

What the TSA really should be looking for is suspicious psychological behavior, a brand new passport and background ties to terrorist organizations (as in when a dad of a terrorist phones in and warns the TSA of his son's activities they should be paying attention, not let him somehow get through their supposed security measures and end up the guy we now call the "underpants bomber").

They should not be touching our "junk", forcing people to remove their prosthesis or feeling up children. It's absurd, ineffective and is definitely a violation of our rights.

Scott said...

I completely agree that it’s largely theater – the illusion of security, not actual security. It seems to me that carrying a weapon of some sort through security screening is the least effective way to bring down a plane. My guess is the best terrorists can think of more ingenious methods…say, via cargo, maintenance personnel, flight crew, food services, snakes, or surface to air missiles, just to name a few. There are plenty of good arguments against the increasing security measures – they cost too much; they aren’t effective enough; they feed the insider machine (see Chertoff, Michael); they are mostly reactive to past threats; they represent bureaucratic largess at its best/worst (no SecDHS will ever suggest less security for fear that the next attack gets pinned on them). I could go on. But may I suggest we tone down the “sexual assault” rhetoric, if only out of respect for those who have actually been sexually assaulted. Is it invasive? Embarrassing? Handled somewhat unprofessionally and clumsily by undertrained and overcompensating high-school dropouts? Yes. But it’s not rape. It’s not sodomy. I suspect that for someone who has been a victim of a real sexual assault the idea that people would compare their devastation to a security pat-down is offensive. Anyway, I think if the conversation in general (not this post in particular) can be less full of hyperbole, then real debates can occur and maybe, just maybe, real solutions can be found.

Scott said...

A few other quick thoughts FWIW: (1) it seems to me that on the 4th Amendment outrage scale, TSA pat-downs fall far below things like illegal wiretaps, the Patriot Act, and the Arizona show-me-your-papers law. Doesn’t it seem odd that the same people who brought us the Patriot Act, who support warrantless wiretaps and electronic surveillance in the name of national security, who want anyone with brown skin to be prepared to show papers on the spot, are now outraged by issues of privacy? Is it because those intrusions affect “other people” but this one affects me? (2) IMO the radiation argument is bunk…from what I understand the exposure is insignificant compared to the exposure you get from simply flying. And the people who are most at risk are the TSA agents who endure repeated exposure all day long. (3) Regarding “talk of applying these measures” elsewhere, I think there’s a major qualifier left out there. My guess is that is should read, “there is talk ON FOX NEWS of applying these measures”. As far as I’ve seen, that’s the only major news source promoting this idea. Kinda like the death panels.

Scott said...

Obviously, the debate about balancing security and freedom is age-old. I travel a lot and I don’t personally find the scanners objectionable, but I can see how others would feel differently. I like the idea of dogs. Not sure about the psychological profiling. Can you tell me what you mean by that? I assume (hope) it’s different than racial profiling? And if some sort of behavioral/psychological profiling were more fully implemented (as far as we know)and could survive the bureaucracy that doomed the “underpants bomber” tip, would you do away with airport screening altogether? Or just go back to basic metal detectors? And couldn’t psychological profiling (if I’m understanding it correctly) have the potential to be more invasive over the long haul than an on-the-spot scan? See, this debate always has more questions than answers. I'll stop now.

Anonymous said...

@Scott~I feel as if I have to agree with Sarah on this. It's easy to call the radiation argument moot. However, try telling that to someone who flies frequently and is the 1/10 of a percentile that has depleted their finances and ruined their credit for forever because of a brain tumor.

That all being said, I don't want the private sector running airport screenings. You've heard reports of contractors in Iraq. Can you imagine some minimum wage person running those scanners. Your "junk" then might end up on YouTube. I think the TSA is the best option we have right now.

Until they clean their "junk" up, I don't think I am going to fly unless I absolutely must. Here's another point worth considering. Has the TSA actually caught anyone dangerous before they got on a plane?

SJ said...

Anonymous - nope, they never have.

Scott - psychological profiling is the measure they use in Israel (among other things) to make it the safest airport in the world. Here's what they do:
1. Roadside check before they reach the airport where they are asked who they are and where they come from. They look for behavioral giveaways.
2. At the entrance of the airport armed guards give everyone a visual once-over and then randomly pull you aside.
3. Before you go to the main check-in counter you stand in a security line where professional intelligent young people examine your passport and ticket. They also look in your eyes and ask you questions about yourself such as where are you going and who packed your luggage and if you carry packages meant for others. If you are ambiguous it raises a red flag and so the grilling continues.
4. Luggage is X-rayed. Suspicious items are put in blast-proof containers and moved to a safe area. The airport does not shut down over these items.
5. Then you walk through the X-ray machine (with your shoes on) and they check out all that you are carrying on. You may bring bottles of water, shampoo, baby formula, nail scissors – anything that makes your life comfortable.
Israeli security is very dependent on profiling – which makes sense. They argue that their profiling is based on background and past behavior – not on race.

SJ said...

Also, some of the country's top doctors have expressed their concern over the screening effects. I'm no expert so I have no idea, but when some of our best medical doctors are concerned we should pay attention.

As for the sexual assault comment, well, this procedure is actually quite nerve racking to someone who has been sexually assaulted before. It deserves mention.

Beverly Brautigam of Elk Grove complained that a TSA worker "moved her hand over both breasts."

And then there's the guy who didn't want his junk touched.

Scott said...

@Anon, Excellent point on privatizing security. Bad idea. Blackwater/Xi is Exhibit A in the argument against privatization.

I would like to offer a counterpoint to your comment on radiation (but I’ll make it quick so I can go watch my Cougars lose). I’m not saying radiation isn’t a problem, but I think it’s attacking the wrong problem. The level of exposure you receive going through a scan is statistically insignificant compared to the exposure you receive over the course of the next few hours (or whatever) while you are flying. It’s like a person who eats fast food all the time, becomes morbidly obese with clogged arteries, subsequently has a heart attack (with all the expenses that involves) and blames their situation (health, finances) on the diet coke instead of the Big Mac, supersized fries, and chocolate shake. The diet coke was part of the problem, but it’s a minor problem compared to the rest. (that makes me think we should get Michael Pollan on this issue…he could write The Travellers Dilemma).
Here’s another analogy: people lament the national deficit, then rail against earmarks as the problem, even though earmarks make up less than 1% of the budget. Again, are earmarks a problem? Yes. But are they THE problem? Not even close.

The risks that pilots/crew and very frequent travellers face is due more to being in the air, not the scanners. But by all means let’s find ways to do screening that don’t expose us to dangerous radiation at any level. That would be even better.

Sherpa said...

SJ- I'm not complacent. Don't call me that just because I disagree with you, please.

Anonymous said...

@Scott~What do earmarks have to do with radiation levels and the TSA? That's just funny :).

SJ said...

Sherpa, I didn't mean to offend. Perhaps the better word would be unbothered.

Scott said...

@SJ, thanks for the clarification. Can I play devil’s advocate just for fun? (if not, just ignore my comments…no big deal).

First, let me be clear that I’m not advocating for the scanners in any way (besides, who names a product Rapiscan? Focus groups, people!). I’m not a fan of the pat downs either. I’m not defending the current system at all (as I hope I made clear in my first post). I’m sure there are many things we can learn from the Israelis, who unfortunately have a lot of experience in anti-terrorism measures. Their airport security is legendary, so it’s a good place to start.

cont.

Scott said...

With that said, the most obvious thing that jumps to my mind is the difference in scale. Israel has two international airports and five domestic airports with about 50 flights total per day. The US has over 450 airports and roughly 28,000 flights per day. Israel handles about 2 million passengers a year, compared to well over 750 million passengers a year in the US. Now, scale alone doesn’t mean it can’t work, but it does raise a few questions. Let’s start with cost. Israel spends about eight times as much as we do on security per passenger, which means that the cost of security would jump dramatically (and we know how much everyone loves big-budget government programs). Foreign Policy magazine estimated that to hire enough skilled interrogators (equal to the Israel model) to conduct short interviews for our 750+ million passengers, you would need 3 million full time employees at a cost of about $150 billion per year (that doesn’t count the additional personnel required for roadside checkpoints or entrance checkpoints). That’s more than TARP, the auto bailout, and the bank bailouts combined. By comparison, we spend $5.3 billion on aviation security today. Of course, some of that cost would be offset by a reduction in spend on scanners, etc., but still…from $5B to $150B is huge. Even if you doubt the FP numbers and cut them in half, it’s still a tremendous cost. Even more bluntly, can you imagine the political hay Republicans would make with a proposal to add 3 million people to the government payroll? Not to mention what it would do to the deficit.

cont.

Scott said...

From what I’ve read, Israel uses “intelligent, motivated” university students who have served in the military as their interrogator pool. I’m not sure why they would need to be “young” too. I’d prefer people with plenty of diverse experiences. Maybe we recruit from our military and provide them with a career path that pays a meaningful wage (much more than we’re paying TSA agents today). That’s a good thing. Maybe we also do as Israel does with the myriad of closed circuit cameras and fortifications (cost unknown, but probably not small).

cont.

Scott said...

Now a few logistical questions: you mentioned roadside checks…wouldn’t that just exacerbate the problem of traffic into the airport? Doesn’t it just take the security line and move it outside into cars (adding everyone else who isn’t actually flying but is just there to pick up/drop off)? Next…if you have a squadron of armed guards at the entrances giving people a visual once over, who are allowed to randomly pull people out based on how they look/act, isn’t that even more of an affront the 4th Amendment…something about probable cause? And do you think Americans would be comfortable with armed guards serving essentially as a military checkpoint at our airports? And once inside, let’s assume the interviews are as effective as they seem to be in Israel. But if Americans are impatient standing in line for a 10 second scan, imagine how impatient they would be waiting for everyone in front of them to go through 5-10 minute interviews. You’ve seen the security lines. Multiply that wait by 20. Does the American self-important mindset matter? Maybe not. Maybe we just need to get used to it.

And again in consideration of the 4th Amendment, do we think it’s okay for an interrogator to ask about our whereabouts, our associations, our religion, the books we happen to be reading? So, Ms. Buhr, who are you going to see in DC? What’s this book about meditation? Do you subscribe to other eastern religious practices? Why is this text underlined? You get the point. Is it possible the profiling approach could be just as much or more of a violation of the 4th Amendment as the current scanning process? Wouldn’t we giving up our rights – and our way of life – just as much as we are now? If you were an Arab-American, do you honestly believe you would be just as enthusiastic about a profiling solution?

Again, devil’s advocate. :)

Scott said...

Ugh. Sorry to comment so much. I get carried away. Apologies.

Anonymous said...

@Scott~You exceeded your blog thread count for the millennium, so before you fly, please submit to a body cavity search.

SJ said...

Everyone, thank you. Great comments. Great questions. Lots to ponder. Thanks for contributing.

Steve said...

Oiy, my comments got wiped out?!?! Long story short, I think Scott is right. This 30 seconds of uncomfortableness is hardly sexual assault anymore than grinding on the dance floor is rape. Also, having been in many overseas airports, the 'pat-down' IS common and not a big deal. These people just need to get over themselves. Trust me, I'm sure the TSA doesn't want to touch your crouch just as much as you don't want him to. Oh, AND I am an ACLU member and disagree with them on this one. I think it is all theater. Racial/psychological profiling won't work either since we have already seen plenty of Americans, white, mid-western, etc willing to join their side and blow shit up here.

SJ said...

It's not racial profiling that works. It's psychological profiling. There is a difference.

Also, my concern is over the abuse of power by highly unprofessional workers. If you happen to be attractive or they happen to have a problem they may indeed enjoy touching your junk quite inappropriately and at present get away with it.

SJ said...

I didn't wipe any comments out. Please post again if they did not post. Thanks Steve.

Anonymous said...

I think that Sarah's comment thanking us for our input is a tacit cue that she wants to move on from this issue.

Steve said...

Anon - I agree, but still posted. :)

SJ - I wasn't accusing you! It was a technical error by Blogger! Sorry if it came off that way.

Psychological profiling is a fancy way to do racial profiling. Besides, the USG doesn't have the resources to devote to a similar project due to the logistics in this country compared to a much smaller, thus easier to maintain entry points, like Israel.

Also, in my other comment, I stated that radiation is not a concern since you'd have to be spending a lot of time in these machines to be exposed to harmful levels. And if radiation exposure is really your concern, then you should stop using your cell phone, iPad, wireless internet connection, and not have wireless in your house as all have shown to affect you biologically, yet we sit in a stew of these waves constantly (myself included, although I do what I can).