Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Et tu, NY Times?

Can you stand one more item about airport security screening? The New York Times published an editorial supporting the scanning machines last week (on opt out day).

What’s remarkable is how out of character the editorial is for the Times. I was surprised that they, who usually staunchly support civil and constitutional rights, favour the machines. That’s unexpected, but not remarkable: the Times and I don’t always agree, even if we usually do. The remarkable part is what appears to be the main bit of their argument: they seem to like the scanners mostly because the Republicans don’t.

In their eagerness to pin every problem in America on President Obama, prominent Republicans are now blaming his administration for the use of full-body scanners and intrusive pat-downs at airports. Those gloved fingers feeling inside your belt? The hand of big government, once again poking around where it should not go.

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and a Republican presidential hopeful, called the scanners and the pat-downs a humiliating and degrading, totally unconstitutional intrusion, in an interview on Fox News. If the president thinks such searches are appropriate, Mr. Huckabee said, he should subject his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law to them. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said the Transportation Security Administration had gone too far, and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas suggested T.S.A. agents be sent to the Mexican border, where he said, absurdly, that we need security substantially more than in our airports.

OK, Governor Perry was talking nonsense, yeah. But, hey, despite the fact that I think Mike Huckabee is a bonehead who usually isn’t worth listening to, this time he’s right: the machines and the molestation are humiliating, degrading, and in violation of the fourth amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search. That level of invasiveness would only be acceptable with probable cause — a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. We accept scans of our baggage, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, but treating every passenger as though she were caching a weapon in her underwear, with not even the slightest reason to think it so, goes beyond what we do in America, at least heretofore.

Our Constitution is there to protect us from abuses by authority. And whether the constitution is violated by a right-wing war criminal, or a president who we’d like to think is on our side, it’s wrong and we have to stand against the violation. When we see abuse of power, we have to call it what it is and rein it in before it goes too far to stop.

And, of course, it doesn’t help that this abuse was prompted by a ridiculous situation: a guy smuggled some crappy explosives aboard in his underwear, managed only to burn himself in intimate places before being subdued, and was arrested when the undamaged plane landed. His father had warned us about him, but the warnings weren’t taken seriously enough. Oh, and at least some reports say that the new scanning machines wouldn’t have detected what he was carrying anyway.

The Times is right that the sort of profiling that some of the opponents suggest isn’t the right answer either. But the Times is wrong to suggest that the abuses are individual problems that were merely handled in a ham-handed way. There’s clearly a pervasive pattern of bad policy and worse implementation, and both need to be fixed.


HRH said...

As your previous post iterated, there are multiple channels, for the terrorists, to penetrate the system. Unfortunately, the current security process is extremely meager in checking the ground crew and other peripheries, in effective manners. I have no qualm with using the screening and I don’t advocate relying on it entirely, screening system is not a panacea. Terrorists are like water, and our airports are like permeable surface, we need to identify every security hole and fill it with cement. We need to constantly remind ourselves that, those 9/11 hijackers, didn’t walk through the security check point with box cutters in their pocket, the cutters were waiting for them, passed the security check points. Whether we should screen the passengers using body scanners or the legacy system, it depends? For instance, if the shoe bomber walked through the security check point and the system failed to detect that, then the answer is obvious. However if the shoe bomber, filled his shoes with explosives that were waiting for him, after he passed the security check point, then I wouldn’t want the intrusion of the body scanners.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Two other points: TSA bought the damn scanners on their own dime and now they HAVE to use them.

And two, the TSA boss says they're "staying a step ahead". Bullshit. They've been reacting to something every step of the way. Literally nothing they do is not in answer to failed attempt.