The Transportation Security Agency’s latest plans to abuse passengers have attracted a lot of attention. People aren’t pleased at having to choose between body-imaging that shows all their naughty bits or a pat-down that that feels an awful lot like a sexual assault. Maybe this time the outrage will lead to action, and someone will put a stop to this insulting behavior.
Or maybe not. The social panic after 9/11 still hasn’t died down, and the security theater at the TSA keeps getting more painful. Remember those innocent days when confiscating nail clippers seemed like the dumbest thing the TSA could possibly do? They’ve gone way beyond that on the stupidity front, from making travelers take off their shoes to prohibiting shampoo bottles larger than 3 ounces. Then, just the other day, the TSA agents told a guy that not only couldn’t he get on the airplane without either the nudie pictures or the groping, he wasn’t even allowed to change his mind and leave the airport.
The TSA is like a cancer on our freedom. We’ve been ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away, but it just keeps getting bigger. And it’s time to do something about it, because I think the next step for the TSA is metastasis, when the cancer spreads everywhere. The first symptom will be when some government agency imposes checkpoints and intrusive searches someplace other than an airport and justitifies with reference to the TSA, saying something like, “The TSA has been doing this at airports for years. How can we not protect our children as well as we protect airline passengers?”
If you’ve been paying attention to civil liberties, that’s a familiar refrain. Once we let the security state poke its appendages into one area of our life, they just start pushing everywhere else. Some years ago, in the name of the War On Drugs, we started letting narcotics officers perform surprise armed raids against suspected sites where illegal drugs were being stored and distributed. Today, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is using SWAT teams to raid manufacturers of children’s chemistry sets.
The TSA’s metastasis may already be underway. Last April, the TSA started helping New York City subway cops search passengers. Of course, no terrorist is going to be able to take control of a subway car and crash it into a skyscraper, so the rationale for this invasion of travelers’ privacy is non-existent. (Actually, with the new armored cockpits–not to mention an entire plane full of aware passengers–nobody is going to do that to passenger jets either, but that’s another story.)
Actually, the TSA may not be the source of this particular cancer. Poor people and minorities living in the inner city have been putting up with TSA-style searches by police for years. The legal justification is rather strained, but cops can essentially stop people for reasonable suspicion–a very weak standard–and frisk them for weapons, and it’s not like they’re going to be courteous about it.
The TSA is just the vector by which it’s going to spread to the population at large–folks who are wealthier and/or whiter. Although the TSA searches only apply to air travelers, they are in some ways far more virulent, because police searches on the street require at least the pretext of specific suspicion that something will be found, whereas the TSA’s broad search powers allow them to search everyone, with no need to justify their actions.
Hmm. Somewhere along the way, my metaphor has shifted from metastasizing cancer to infectious plague. Sorry about that. Either way, the TSA is a disease, and we need a cure.