Saturday, November 20, 2010

TSA Screenings: My Thoughts in a Nutshell

Last night, I read this article about the TSA forcing a cancer survivor to remove her prosthetic breast and show it to the TSA agent during a security screening. I posted the article to my Facebook profile with a rather profanity-laden commentary, which sparked some fascinating discussion among my friends and family. Part of my outrage here is due to the fact that my mother is a three-time breast cancer survivor. She has undergone two mastectomies, one in 1993, and one in 2004. Based on this report, my mother would have to remove her bra during a TSA security screening if she were going to fly anywhere. Something about that strikes me as, well, wrong.

Now, in the course of the debate, my uncle and my father both raised the important point that this would be an excellent way to smuggle contraband materials onto a flight, including liquid explosives and the like. If we want to be safe while flying, we must be prepared and aware that misguided individuals may choose to do this, and by not checking, we are risking the safety of those on the flight, and perhaps even the safety of those working in a tall building somewhere. We did not expect September 11, 2001 to happen, we did not have screening methods like this in place, and the result was the death of 2,752 people, including the hijackers and the rescue workers.

I'll now quote what I put in on my Facebook.
...with each increase in security measures, those who are determined to circumvent them will find new ways to do so. The security measures then increase to match the new ways of circumventing the previous ones. At what point does it stop? When does flying in a hospital gown become the requirement, so there is nowhere external to hide something? Do they then start doing body cavity searches, since someone could hide a bomb up his hindquarters? When will explosives that can be swallowed be developed? How do we prevent those from making it onto the plane? Pre-flight exploratory surgery perhaps?
It's not that I don't fully understand (and lament) the necessity of security screening. I turned on the television on September 11, 2001 just in time to watch the towers collapse, the same as many. But as Benjamin Franklin said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." It's a quote I've seen bandied about the web a lot recently, and so it hedges on becoming trite, but the sentiment is not without merit. Safety and security are important, but so, too, is personal dignity. I find it abhorrent that we are in a state where to have one, it is insisted that we give up the other. (And that to have the second, we risk the first.)
As Brendan pointed out, of course, there are other ways to travel, and so it is that I will choose one of those other ways whenever possible. It is a damn shame that I have to feel that way, but what choice do I have? If they're doing security screenings, I'm violated, and if they're not, I may or may not be flying with the next Unabomber. Neither option is particularly pleasant.

 When does risk outweigh dignity? At what point does security screening become a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights as citizens? At which juncture do we cross from reasonable assurance of public safety into paranoia?
The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
--Fourth Amendment, United States Constitution