Have Americans finally had their fill of the heavy-handed tactics of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)? Are parents en route to Disney World fed up with having their three-year olds brought to tears by manhandling TSA employees? Will senior citizens stop consenting to be prodded and poked while seated in a wheelchair from which movement may be quite painful? Are adult air passengers finally ready to declare, “enough is enough?”
TSA has greatly increased the number of full-body scanners at airports across the country, and instituted a program of aggressively hand- searching passengers who decline the full-body x-rays. Whether these indignities finally will prompt the travelling public to rebel, however, remains to be seen.
After all, for every traveler who realizes that a full body scan or physical body search conducted after they already passed a weapons and explosives detection device, adds little if anything to their safety, there are others who shrug that, “if it makes us safer, well, that’s the price we have to pay.” And for every citizen who understands that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting an intrusive search of one’s persons and possessions without any suspicion they’ve done anything wrong, there’s another who accedes to such searches, because they “have nothing to hide.”
Recent polls indicate an air passenger rebellion is brewing; and none too soon. As a nation, are we ready to reaffirm our heritage and cast off the yoke of fear that has gripped us since September 11, 2011? Do we become once again a nation of laws – in which the Bill of Rights still has meaning – or have we succumbed to the federal browbeaters who assert that whatever intrusions they assert are necessary for them to protect us, are permissible? Are we willing to ask the tough questions?
Unfortunately, in TSA World anyone — pilot, flight attendant or passenger – who presses the government employees to articulate a justification for such intrusive technological or manual searches based on nothing more than chance or vindictiveness, risks ejection from the airport and even threats of civil lawsuit or arrest. Such official government intimidation often discourages people from properly questioning what is being done to them; but it should not.
The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures serves as a fundamental check on government power. If a person has already passed successfully through a weapons detector before boarding a commercial airliner, the government has no right to then demand that they submit to a further and even more invasive search for no articulable reason.
Horror stories of run-ins between TSA employees and average, law-abiding American citizens are becoming more common place. Top government officials, rather than trying to work constructively with the public, are digging in their heels and playing hardball. Just ask a young man from San Diego named John Tyner.
While recently attempting to fly out of San Diego International Airport, Tyner was directed to a full-body scanner. He declined, citing health and privacy concerns. Tyner was allowed to go through a metal detector, and what he thought would be a routine pat-down. Upon realizing this “pat-down” would require the TSA officer to touch his groin, Tyner politely declined. For his effrontery, Tyner is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation and threatened with a civil suit and $11,000 fine.
November 24th has been declared “National Opt-Out Day.” This tactic may help draw attention to TSA abuses; but, reining in this rogue agency will take much more. Lawsuits challenging TSA x-ray and body searches are pending and deserve our support. Airport authorities should be reminded they can in fact opt out of having TSA in charge of their screening. And, perhaps most important, the incoming chairmen of the House oversight and transportation committees should make TSA the subject of the first investigations they conduct in January 2011.
-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code