It wasn’t exactly “Don’t Tread on Me” or “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.” But when John Tyner, a 31-year-old software programmer from Oceanside, Calif., refused a TSA “groin check,” he uttered words soon to adorn boxers and briefs of freedom lovers everywhere: “You touch my junk, and I’m going to have you arrested.”
Tyner refused what he considered “a huge invasion of privacy” while attempting to board a flight at San Diego International Airport. He “opted out” of the full-body scanner, which leaves nothing to the imagination, settling for the traditional metal scanner and a basic pat-down. But the groin check, in his view, went too far.
Tyner had turned on his cell phone’s video camera and placed it atop the luggage he sent through the X-ray machine. The conversation between him and a TSA supervisor was, er, revealing. The supervisor explained that if he refused, he would not be allowed to fly and would be escorted out. Tyner responded: “OK, I don’t understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying.”
“This is not considered a sexual assault,” the supervisor said.
“It would be if you were not the government,” replied Tyner.
“By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights,” countered the supervisor. Oh. We wonder if Benjamin Franklin, having said that those willing to sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither, would submit to a groin check.
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Then you have the airport peep show with TSA scanning the body image of passengers. Napolitano defends this practice, saying: “The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger.” Purveyors and viewers of online porn can say something similar.
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We know who’s trying to kill us. Yet to avoid charges of profiling we go through what Rep. John Mica, one of the authors of the original TSA bill, calls “a big Kabuki theater” that gives the appearance of airtight security while adding little.
We should adopt techniques, used with great success by the Israeli airline El Al, in which passengers of interest are observed, profiled and, most important, questioned before boarding planes, not submitting everybody to naked scanners and groping. “It’s not an Israeli model, it’s a TSA, screwed-up model,” says Mica.
As a fairly frequent traveler, I find the idea of having to submit to a huge invasion of privacy – not to mention a potential health risk – as a precondition of flying distasteful. I would find it distasteful even if I thought it was the least bit effective. But it’s not, which makes it all that much worse.
On the other hand, a train trip last week was remarkably hassle-free. Enter the train station, get your ticket punched, board the train. Not even so much as a metal detector. Foolish? Maybe. But far more civilized.
I’m not arguing that we should abolish airport security altogether. Clearly, there’s a need for some practical measures. But what the TSA is doing is crossing a line, and I’m not the only one to think so.