Sunday, November 28, 2010

Freedom or Security?

Last week I posted a quip on my Facebook wall asking the question what people thought of the TSA's new pat down procedures and the full body X-ray scanners. I posted this article as the jumping off point and then let people talk about what they thought.

I never really added what I though to the equation, I just let people write what they thought.

So here is my exact thought: I feel that we are trading personal freedoms away in the name of security. I don't believe these new procedures make us any more secure. In fact, I think it is a huge step in the wrong direction. What's next, mandated strip-searching everyone? But I couldn't really express in words the reasons I felt this way, I just knew that I felt like another freedom in this free country was being taken away for the sake of something else (in this case, a false sense of security). I had one friend who commented and gave very good reasons for all that she thought, and I'd like to quote her:

I think both methods are too intrusive and invasive. I was just listening to an interview on NPR and the interviewee asserted that most of the terror plots regarding planes have been averted because of police and detective work NOT these scans. The metal detectors are fine, but a full-body scan or intrusive body pat, not appropriate for me or my children. Also those machines are extremely costly. I have to question the cost-effectiveness of it...

3 years ago, my family visited Israel for 6 weeks. They are far more security conscious that we in the U.S. Their airport security is excellent, far better than our U.S., very efficient and fast AND doesn't include intrusive body scans or full-down body pats for the majority of passengers.

What do we tell our kids now? I've steadily taught my children over the last several years that no one is supposed to touch their bodies in the manner that those full-body pats do. Now imagine telling your kids that they have to undergo such an invasive search. Absolutely inappropriate.

Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that these full-body scans or searches truly make us safer as passengers on airplanes.

If we had conclusive evidence that the technology had caught X-amount of terrorists, then we could discuss this, but until that is shown conclusively, I find that it violates my personal liberties in ways that I am not willing to forgo, despite talk that it makes me more secure...

I already agree to metal detector scan and a body pat, if warranted. I do not agree to have my naked body on a picture or have someone give me a full body pat. Nor do I agree to my children being subjected to that. I have the right to protect my family's modesty as a I see fit. I also have the right to fly.

I am being forced by the government to give up this part of my privacy in the name of unproven and unsubstantiated technology that purports to protect my safety in order to see my parents or my in-laws. That is a violation of my liberty to see them as I would choose. We have means in place. Let's spend the money on more policemen, improving the F.B.I. , better communication between federal agencies.

She put everything I was thinking so eloquently and had support to back up her claims, like having actually been to Israel and witnessing firsthand their security system in place. Words I wanted to speak but didn't know.

Then I found this article in a political magazine, the Week, to which my husband and I subscribe. Since this magazine tends to be very liberal and many of the views in it are views I disagree with (we got it as a gift subscription and read it with half-interest each time we receive one), I was surprised to see that the author was on the same side of an issue as I was. Since I can't find an online link to the article, I will quote it in its entirety here, and I hope you stick around to read it, because it wasn't very long and it was quite good.

Airport screening: Security gets personal

At airports, the backlash has begun, said Dan Gillmor in The Transportation Security Administration has begun widespread use of its new, full-body imaging devices, and "it's freaking people out." Pilots are rebelling against passing through the scanners several times a day, and some bloggers have named Nov. 24 "National Opt-Out Day," to encourage travelers to demand a body search instead of passing through the scanning machines. Some travelers say the ghostly images of bodies that the scanners produces is an invasion of privacy; indeed, "the scanner images of children would qualify as child porn in other circumstances." Others question the TSA's assurance that the scanners' low does of radiation will be safe for frequent travelers and pilots. If you think the imaging is intrusive, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, just try opting for the "enhanced pat down." TSA agents will aggressively feel around breasts, buttocks, and crotches. "If we don't say no when they want to inspect and handle our private parts, when will we?"

The TSA is not out to humiliate anyone, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in USA Today. Even after thwarted attempts at airborne terrorism by the Underwear Bomber and the Shoe Bomber, U.S. intelligence reports that al Qaida and its allies are plotting to strike at aviation targets "and are constantly adapting their tactics for doing so." All images of passengers' bodies will be viewed only by a TSA officer behind a walled-off enclosure, and that officer will never interact with the passenger. "We face a determined enemy," and to prevent another terrorism atrocity, sacrifices must be made.

There are sacrifices, and then there are sacrifices, said Jeffrey Goldberg in To see what it's like, I recently opted for the pat down at T.F. Green International Airport in Providence. An agent snapped on latex gloves, and ran his hands up my thighs, over my buttocks, and then between my legs. It was very weird--and pointless. Both the pat down and the scanner machines would not detect plastic explosives or weapons that a terrorist could insert into his or her body cavities--which al Qaida suicide bombers have already done. To really keep terrorists off planes, the TSA should take the Israelis' lead, and focus on "learning the identity and background of each passenger." Viewing naked images of us, or groping around in our crotches, is "meaningless security theater."

I found it interesting that both my friend on Facebook and the author in this article compare the security to the Israeli airport and talk about how we should pattern ours after theirs. I also thought it interesting the idea of "learning the identity and background of each passenger" because that makes so much sense! I mean, the majority of us are ho-hum people with regular boring lives and nothing to hide, so why not do background checks and things like that to find out about the passengers. Then people with questionable backgrounds or intents to fly (even the intent to fly could be helpful, I think), could be looked at more in depth. It just seems like such an invasion of privacy and removal of personal freedom in the name of security.


swedemom said...

Thanks Jenna. It's been such an interesting question. I hope that TSA re-evaluates the purpose and effectiveness of the machines and body pats.

Royalbird said...

After I posted this, I got the next issue of *the Week* magazine and there was an even bigger article devoted to this subject. The article talked about what they did at the Israeli airport and how people in America would feel that being questioned as to why they were flying, where they were going, etc. would be too much an invasion of privacy. I don't understand that--I'd rather tell someone who I am, where I'm coming from, where I'm going, and what my purpose in traveling is than have them feel me up and down or view my body in such a way. what is this country coming to when they feel that they can't answer basic questions due to privacy but have no problem crossing the boundaries of propriety.

swedemom said...

I totally agree with you Jenna. I would much rather answer questions. That doesn't invade my privacy. Having my naked body displayed on a screen or being felt up by some security guard, does.


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