How far will you go for the war on terror? Will you cheerfully pay higher taxes? Wait interminably at airports? What about letting the feds see you naked?
The Transportation Security Administration has long demanded the first two – now it adds the third. Its employees at security checkpoints in Tulsa International became Peeping Toms last week when the agency added millimeter-wave machines to metal detectors as a “primary screening technology.”
Millimeter waves penetrate clothing to show what’s beneath: passengers appear naked on the machine’s monitor. The Electronic Privacy Information Center describes millimeter-wave scanning as “equivalent to a ‘virtual strip search.’ … The level of detail uncovered [is] akin to a disrobing in public: the images seen by the screeners reveal the outlines of nipples and genitalia.” Supposedly, this will allow screeners to catch the weapons so many of us tape to our torsos.
The TSA’s tried to foist this indecency on us since its birth in 2002. That’s when it introduced a similar technology, backscatter X-ray, at Orlando International. But even in those months so soon after 9/11, passengers balked at exposing themselves just to defeat terrorists.
Since then, the TSA’s tried to soften the shock that agents of the federal government will ogle us.
At first, it claimed that it would scan only “selected” passengers at “high-traffic” airports. But last year, millimeter waves began denuding passengers at 24 American airports. Atlanta-Hartsfield certainly qualifies as busy – but Richmond, Va.? Millimeter waves débuted in both places last fall. They’ll eventually curse every concourse in the country, despite the TSA’s earlier promises to the contrary.
And the agency’s pledge to embarrass only “selected” passengers is just as false. James Schear, the TSA’s federal security director at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, called these smutty scanners “the wave of the future.” He told USA Today that they “could eventually replace metal detectors at the nation’s 2,000 airport checkpoints” – precisely what’s happening in Tulsa. The TSA plans to virtually strip all of us every time we fly.
Not to worry: The screener peering at our bodies on his monitor is “remotely located” in another room, so he never sees us in person. The TSA also claims that the machines blur our faces and that they can’t save images. In the TSA’s warped world, providing its victims with a couple of fallacious fig leaves “ensure[s] privacy” – or so its website asserts.
Given all that “ensuring,” we might expect the TSA to come clean with passengers. Surely it’s posting signs warning folks how much they’ll reveal when they step inside a millimeter-wave contraption. Or perhaps screeners are advising “selectees” that the machine functions like Superman’s X-ray vision.
But no. Robyn Blumner is a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times who was “‘selected’ for enhanced screening” at Dallas-Ft Worth Airport and “directed … into a large machine.” She thought she was being “puffed” for explosives, not exposed to voyeurs in uniform – and no one told her otherwise. “Had I known [what was really going on,] I would never have agreed,” she said.
The TSA has gobbled almost $40 billion of our taxes over the six years of its existence; some economists estimate it costs at least that much again every year in the time it forces passengers to waste. Its ridiculous rules have made it a national laughingstock. And it has yet to catch a single terrorist anywhere. In the absence of bad guys, then, it pretends that Americans who’ve forgotten the penknife or the perfume at the bottom of their carry-on are threats. It preys on our family and friends as it “detains” innocent people without any criminal motive, all to justify its existence.
That’s one reason the U.S. Constitution bans precisely what the TSA does: mass, generalized searching. The Fourth Amendment requires a warrant and “probable cause,” i.e., specific suspicion that a particular person has committed a crime and that a search will uncover evidence of that. There’s good reason for these restrictions: Allowing government to search at will is the hallmark of a police state.
Now the TSA wants to transgress further, contending that it must see us naked to catch terrorists. Even the Europeans, who accept both big government and public nudity, don’t go that far. “I can tell you in all clarity that we will not take part in this nonsense,” a spokeswoman for the German Interior Ministry sniffed when asked if her government will mandate the use of millimeter waves in airports.
With its billions of wasted dollars, its silly charades at checkpoints and the sacrifice of our Constitution, the TSA is begging for abolition. Let’s strip this agency of all authority before it strips us.