by Dr. Joseph J. Horton
A “Woman Screams for Help After TSA Molestation,” and the “Texas Pat Down Ban May Be Back.” Those are just two of the headlines breaking around the nation this morning, as summer travel picks up—and so do concerns over excessive airport security.
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How much indignity are you willing to endure if told it’s for safety’s sake? Would you let strangers look at images of you naked? Would you allow strangers to touch you in ways that we teach children is inappropriate?
Apparently, if you want to travel by airplane, these indignities must be endured.
Our government has decided that it has the right to assume that all people are potential terrorists simply because they choose to fly. A mockery is made of the Fourth Amendment when flying home to attend a wedding is deemed a probable cause to be publicly humiliated. Worse, you risk getting yourself arrested if you decide security procedures have gone too far and refuse to submit yourself, your child, or your grandmother to additional screening.
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The crazy thing about all of the screening procedures is that they do not make us safer. None of the screening procedures penetrate the skin. A suicide bomber could easily have enough explosives to take down a plane inside his body. The government is treating us like terrorists for the mere appearance of making us safer.
People will put up with a lot inconvenience for safety. But shampoo and toothpaste are not threats to safety. The Transportation Security Administration’s concern for the bottle of water carried by a non-terrorist does not make flying safer. It serves only to demonstrate the incompetence of the TSA. A competent TSA would be able to identify and direct attention toward likely terrorists rather than focus on benign objects. If the government will violate our freedoms for the appearance of safety, freedom is in trouble. Our freedom will be violated far more if a legitimate safety claim can be made.
Public outcry can make a difference. The TSA is now testing body scanners that display a generic outline of a person rather than individual anatomical details. The disappointing news is that the “enhanced pat-downs” are still part of the TSA’s repertoire. However, the TSA shows no signs of being intelligent about who receives security scrutiny. A state representative from Alaska recently chose to travel by boat rather than air when the TSA requested that she submit to an enhanced pat-down. Has a state representative ever committed an act of terrorism?
As a society we must grapple with how much freedom we are willing to give up for safety. But, guaranteed safety is not to be found in this world. There is no way to legislate an end to evil. The only way to come close to preventing all murders from terrorist attacks would be to have a police state. Yet the history of police states is clear. The Berlin Wall was not there to keep West Berliners from living in the low crime part of town. The wall was there because a life of freedom is superior to a life of safety and people were willing to risk not only their safety but their lives for the benefits of freedom.
Many believe there is nothing that ordinary people can do to stop the loss of freedom. It may sound clichéd but ordinary people who are persistent can change things. Indeed, the political climate for supporters of limited government may have never been brighter. We are witnessing real discussion in Washington and state houses across the country about government spending and the role of government.
Each of us can find ways to promote freedom and limited government. We can write letters to the editor or blog. We can use social networking to be sure our friends know about important information, speeches, and town-hall meetings. We can run for local office or assist those who are. We can thank our politicians when they do the right thing and be sure they know what is right. We will not win every battle, but must not let this be an excuse for pessimism. The loss of freedom we have suffered did not take place over night.
Invasive airport screenings are but one indication of a government forcing its will on the citizens. Persistence for years will be required for victory. Yet victory can be had. This is the time and this is the place to work for freedom.
Dr. Joseph J. Horton is professor of psychology at Grove City College and a researcher on Positive Youth Development with The Center for Vision & Values.