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November 18, 2010

In the wake of public outcry over TSA’s new nude body scanners, and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s call for cooperation (literally “submission”), one is reminded of Ben Franklin’s infamous statement: “Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.”

And at some point, the terrorists win. With nearly 70 airports utilizing 400 scanners to strip search every passenger, we’ve come dangerously close to giving up our rights for a a fake solution that doesn’t do its job anyhow. If you opt out, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t, you’ll be subject to a grope fest by a same-sex employee, even more invasive than last year’s. (If you cried “religious liberties!?” while a grandma from Indiana with her white tennis shoes was subjected to a invasive body pat-down, while a Canadian Muslim woman claimed exemption for religious reasons, worry no more, because all people are now submitted to either the porno-scan or the sexual groping, according to TSA. Though I’m not sure why anyone’s touting this as some kind of security or religious equality victory…)

But what’s still especially confusing is that at some airports, only half of the passengers go through the scans, while the other half go through the metal detectors and on their merry ways, no questions asked. So if it’s so important for everybody to be viewed naked or groped, why are we allowed to self-select into two lines?

On the bright side, we’ve been thrown into a battle that’s actually bipartisan, and Americans should work together to reclaim their dignity. Ron Paul (R-TX) sponsored legislation on November 17 entitled the American Traveler Dignity Act:

Mr. Speaker, today I introduce legislation to protect Americans from physical and emotional abuse by federal Transportation Security Administration employees conducting screenings at the nation’s airports. We have seen the videos of terrified children being grabbed and probed by airport screeners. We have read the stories of Americans being subjected to humiliating body imaging machines and/or forced to have the most intimate parts of their bodies poked and fondled. We do not know the potentially harmful effects of the radiation emitted by the new millimeter wave machines.In one recent well-publicized case, a TSA official is recorded during an attempted body search saying, “By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights.” I strongly disagree and am sure I am not alone in believing that we Americans should never give up our rights in order to travel. As our Declaration of Independence states, our rights are inalienable. This TSA version of our rights looks more like the “rights” granted in the old Soviet Constitutions, where freedoms were granted to Soviet citizens — right up to the moment the state decided to remove those freedoms.The incident of the so-called “underwear bomber” last Christmas is given as justification for the billions of dollars the federal government is spending on the new full-body imaging machines, but a Government Accountability Office study earlier this year concluded that had these scanners been in use they may not have detected the explosive material that was allegedly brought onto the airplane. Additionally, there have been recent press reports calling into question the accuracy and adequacy of these potentially dangerous machines.My legislation is simple. It establishes that airport security screeners are not immune from any US law regarding physical contact with another person, making images of another person, or causing physical harm through the use of radiation-emitting machinery on another person. It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us. Imagine if the political elites in our country were forced to endure the same conditions at the airport as business travelers, families, senior citizens, and the rest of us. Perhaps this problem could be quickly resolved if every cabinet secretary, every member of Congress, and every department head in the Obama administration were forced to submit to the same degrading screening process as the people who pay their salaries.I warned at the time of the creation of the TSA that an unaccountable government entity in control of airport security would provide neither security nor defend our basic freedom to travel. Yet the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats then in Congress willingly voted to create another unaccountable, bullying agency– in a simple-minded and unprincipled attempt to appease public passion in the wake of 9-11.  Sadly, as we see with the steady TSA encroachment on our freedom and dignity, my fears in 2001 were justified.The solution to the need for security at US airports is not a government bureaucracy. The solution is to allow the private sector, preferably the airlines themselves, to provide for the security of their property. As a recent article in Forbes magazine eloquently stated, “The airlines have enormous sums of money riding on passenger safety, and the notion that a government bureaucracy has better incentives to provide safe travels than airlines with billions of dollars worth of capital and goodwill on the line strains credibility.” In the meantime, I hope we can pass this legislation and protect Americans from harm and humiliation when they choose to travel.

The ACLU moved forward this week, calling for TSA’s new security strip searches and personal groping sessions to be toned down, delineating passangers’ rights on their website, and urging people to sign their petition:

Unfortunately, you can also expect another hassle at the airport this year.
*70 airports* around the country are now using controversial body
scanners?also known as “naked scanners.” These machines use low-dose
radiation to produce strikingly graphic images of passengers’ bodies,
essentially taking a naked picture as passengers pass through security

Yes, authorities at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) say you can
opt out of the naked scan. But doing so will subject you to new and highly
invasive manual searches of your body, including your breasts, buttocks and
inner thighs.

All of us have a right to travel without such crude invasions of our
privacy. Tell DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to put in place security
measures that respect passengers’ privacy

*The government is also violating travelers’ privacy in another way: by
searching and seizing the laptops and other electronic devices of
international travelers.* Never before in history have customs officers been
able to routinely pour through a lifetime’s worth of letters, photographs,
purchase records and other data. This enormous invasion of privacy peers
into people’s lives in a way that has never been done before.

Italy announced that it would discontinue the use of the scanners, finding them to be incredibly invasive and ineffective. Come on United States – we’re giving the Europeans a monopoly on personal liberties and dignity? Let’s invest this money into actually implementing measures that show results and catch terrorists, not sacrifice dignity and respect (or paying it back to the public once a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the American public throws TSA’s funding into the pot…).

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