The TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) Is Violating Our Fourth Amendment Rights And It Needs To Stop (Updates!)

Chinggis Khaan International Airport, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 2006

As is obvious to anyone who follows this blog, I travel, often by air. I support any and all effective measures that will reasonably (there are no guarantees in life) ensure that I will get safely to and from my destination. So I have been following with interest the news about the new TSA screening methods: the backscatter x-ray scanners and the “enhanced pat downs” people are getting if they refuse to go through the scanners.

Both are an outrageous abuse of authority and, even worse, won’t stop a determined terrorist. But they have created a situation in which every air traveler (around 20 million a day) is guilty until proven innocent, which goes against one of the most fundamental tenets of our legal system.

Our civil rights are being violated and this must be stopped. We need real security in our airports and on our planes, not “security theater”.

The x-ray scanners strip you absolutely naked. The images are not supposed to be recorded and saved, but how can you be sure? Do you trust the TSA that much? I don’t. This isn’t about prudery, I assure you. Are you ok with the image in this great post by James Fallows? I’m not.

And it turns out to be completely unnecessary. Equipment exists that will do the job without the privacy violation. But I suspect their lobbyists didn’t get the fix in with the TSA, which defied the will of Congress and spent $25 million of federal stimulus funds for the current machines. One must ALWAYS follow the money.

The “pat-downs” are actually strip searches which include groping of genital areas. We tell kids to never let anyone touch them without their permission. The new caveat is “unless it’s a government employee”. Think they aren’t messing with kids? Guess again. Women and children in Afghanistan are not subjected to this. And it really crosses the threshold to become a sexual assault. Rape and domestic violence victims have had meltdowns when faced with either screening and who can blame them? How’d you like to start your honeymoon this way?

Apparently the purpose of the intrusive searches is to make everyone choose to go through the machines. Which is problematical for people with implanted medical devices, so they are stuck being molested. Here’s one person’s experience: “These clowns are NOT doing anything to prevent terrorists on our planes. If someone puts an explosive in a peach, TSA will ban all fruit on all flights. That works, huh? BTW, because of my ICD, I can’t go through the new (or old) scanners. Last trip out of ——- I had a very, very invasive and, shall I say, intimate pat down. I insisted on a private room and they made it worth my while!”

I have been told by someone else that they went through the scanner and then got the invasive search, too. WTF?

There are other accounts of how lines split at random and some must go through the back-scatter machines and some go through the old metal detectors. There seems to be no consistency in application, so, as usual, the devil is in the details.

There is no threshold of “Probable cause” being applied here, another violation of our rights.

But if you have enough money for a private plane, you get to skip all of the above.

If you are a pilot, as one pointed out, they can put you through the scanners till the cows come home, but you will still be flying the plane. And, I might point out, secure in a locked cockpit. Hello?

I’ve read snarky comments about how if you don’t want to go through the security, then don’t fly.  Or they say, “use an alternative way to get there”. And I will get to Mongolia….how? But these kinds of idiot remarks completely miss the point.

Here is the relevant part of the Constitution:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” – The United States Constitution, Fourth Amendment.

Seems pretty straightforward to me. THIS is the point. The Constitution trumps the TSA. It must.

Here’s what you can do to help. Visit the Fly With Dignity website. Sign the petition. If you are flying on the 24th, consider participating in the national Opt-Out Day. Details on the Fly With Dignity site. Look up the contact information for your Congressional representatives. Call or write to them. I’ve read that their rule-of-thumb is that one constituent communication equals 100 other people who feel the same way. So what you say will count!


Kathleen Parker’s column in the Washington Post-

“But more alarming than the apparatuses is our willingness to go lowing into the night. Incrementally, we adapt to the stripping of civil liberties until, with the passage of time and the blinkering of generational memory, we no longer remember when things were otherwise”

Editorial in the New York Times-

“…there are far too many reports of T.S.A. agents groping passengers,
using male agents to search female passengers, mocking passengers and
disdaining complaints”

Opinionater, in the New York Times-

* The Washington Post printed an article on January 1, 2010, calling Chertoff out for using his government credentials to promote a product that benefits his clients. It was revealed that Rapiscan Systems, the manufacturer of the naked body scanner Chertoff was recommending, was a client of Chertoff’s security consulting agency.
* Rapiscan has since received over $250 million in scanner orders.

Lead article on the Washington Post site (punchline: the problem of virtually strip-searching people can be solved if the TSA will simply make some easy software changes)-

“Wattenburg said that when news reached Livermore in 2006 that the TSA planned to buy the new generation of “backscatter” full-body scanners, the problem seemed clear. “We knew what was going to happen,” he said. “People are immediately going to scream like hell because they’re taking the clothes off everybody.”

From the New York Times front page (the push-back is working, apparently)-

John S. Pistole said on the “Today” show on NBC Monday morning that his agency was willing to rethink its policy on the physical screenings that have become a flashpoint of anger among travelers. “We’re going to look at how can we do the most effective screening in the least invasive way, knowing that there’s always a trade-off” between security and privacy, he said.”

From The Atlantic, Dec. 8, 2010- an interview with John Pistole by James Fallows and Jeffrey Goldberg