Monday, November 15, 2010

Raise of hands: How many Mother Load readers are flying over the Thanksgiving holiday?  Are you ready for this?

Would-be air traveler, John Tyner, was not ready for an "enhanced pat down" experience when he entered the San Diego International Airport this past weekend to take a trip with his father in law. According to Tyner's blog, linked above, he had checked the TSA's website to ensure that he would not be subjected to the new advanced imaging technology screenings. Unfortunately for him, the website was outdated.

Like any normal human being with an ounce of personal dignity and an understanding of appropriate conduct, John declined to step into a scanner that would have projected a picture of his naked body onto a computer screen in another room. When he was pulled aside for a pat down, he told the TSA official that he would have the man arrested if he touched Tyner's groin.

Things got ugly from there, with Tyner being escorted from the screening area by police and TSA agents and then detained in the airport after securing a refund from his airline for the flight he would now not be able to board. Throughout this ordeal, he was not threatening or out of control. He expressed a complete willingness to give up his flight in the cause of maintaining control over his own body. I know this because he had his camera phone video running through most of the exchanges.

Before he was finally able to leave, he was threatened by the TSA with a civil lawsuit and a $10,000 fine for leaving the security area before the screening was complete. He was not allowed to leave the airport until he pointed out that the agents were unlawfully holding him there. Apparently, the TSA has opened an investigation of Tyner and is now threatening an even larger fine.

This is a humor blog, so my readers are used to me finding the funny in the news stories that catch my eye every week. While I'd like to give you what you're used to, I find nothing funny about this story. Nothing. But it's a story I think has to be told and retold until something is done about it.

At what point did we become a nation in which it is all right for a stranger in a uniform to either view our naked bodies or grope our private areas because we happened to purchase a plane ticket? When did we stop believing in the 4th amendment? A police officer needs a warrant or probable cause to search a drug house full of criminals, but an airport rent-a-cop in a costume is allowed to put his hands on the genitals of a law abiding citizen for nothing more than a desire to fly and a refusal to become a victim of virtual voyeurism?

The TSA is quick to say that the scanners are optional, as if submitting to a government enabled sexual assault is somehow better. When I have to choose between someone viewing my naked body and someone touching my clothed body, you haven't given me a reasonable choice. It's like presenting me with a plate of vomit and a plate of feces and then smilingly telling me it's okay because it's optional.

The uproar over these scanners and pat downs is growing.  Aside from the invasive nature of the scans, there is controversy over whether or not they are safe.  The government assures us that the low level radiation is no cause for concern.  They also told the people of Southern Utah in the 50s that above ground nuclear testing was completely benign.  Pardon me if I'm not ready to believe them just yet.

It should also be noted that these machines and government sponsored fondlings do little to increase actual safety in the sky.  Mother Load reader, Jauna G., of Las Vegas, pointed out to me that she could be scanned at her airport but end up on a connecting flight with someone from an airport that does not have the scanners.  Is she more safe because some low wage government employee with a high school education was able to see her breasts if the guy from another flight has a bomb in his underwear?

And what of all the people who don't get scanned or assaulted?  If a terrorist is not randomly assigned to forced exhibitionism, what then?  If you think giving up your civil liberties is okay because it makes you more secure, please, please, please look at this logically and see the error in that belief. Safety from terrorists is an illusion, an illusion that is allowing our government to shred the bill of rights and feed it to us with a side of bull excrement, and we're supposed to be grateful for it.

And what is safety, anyway?  Are we to give up sexual safety for ourselves and our children in trade for supposed safety from terror?  What is safe about allowing a stranger to fondle the groin of my child?  What is safe about allowing someone to do that to me?  As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I have already had that safety violated.  The government is not allowed to violate it again.  I will not be pimping out my body as a payment for the privilege of air travel.

I'm not alone in this feeling.  A website called We Won't is urging travelers to take a stand against these invasive procedures by contacting airlines and government officials with their concerns.  People all over the country have let the airlines know they will not fly under these conditions. November 24th has been declared National Opt Out Day, and outraged citizens are urging travelers to opt out of the scans and force the TSA to do the more time consuming pat downs, which will delay flights and cause airline lobbyists to work harder than the lobbyists being paid to promote the machines.

A TSA oversight hearing will be held in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, November 17. The link gives information on the time and the Senators who will be present, along with their contact information. If you have strong feelings about this issue, let them hear them.

Some may think I'm making a big deal out of nothing.  Please know that if anyone else did what the government is allowing TSA officials to do to innocent people, the government would make a very big deal of it, indeed.  I see this going to the Supreme Court, and I pray the justices have enough common sense to rule these searches unconstitutional.

Happy Holidays to all.