The NYT reported last week that flier patience is wearing thin at checkpoints: "the growing chorus of complaints from travel industry leaders suggests that frustrations with policies on shoes, laptops, liquids and pat-downs may have reached a limit." In Kafka on Wings, Digby referenced that NYT piece as a "story of Orwellian airport hell" and suggested that we all "think about how many of our basic notions of freedom we've given up in the name of 'Homeland Security' in the past few years. [...] These routine insults, humiliations and suspensions of human dignity are training us to submit to the police state."
This TSA debacle experience by John Tyner is, sadly, a perfect example. Tyner refused the backscatter XXX-ray screening, which has been called a "digital strip search," opted for a hand-screening, and told the agent "before he started the pat down, I looked him straight in the eye and said, 'if you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested:'"
I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal. I believe that I was then informed that if I did not submit to the inspection, I would not be getting on my flight.
I told her that I would be willing to submit to a walk through the metal detector as over 80% of the rest of the people were doing, but I would not be groped. The supervisor, then offered to go get her supervisor. [...] He said that I gave up a lot of rights when I bought my ticket. I replied that the government took them away after September 11th.
Tyner then cancelled his trip, got a refund for his ticket, and prepared to return home:
[Mr. Silva] informed me that I could not leave the airport. He said that once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed. Having left the area, he stated, I would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. [...] I told him that I would submit to a walk through the metal detector, but that was it; I would not be groped. [...]
I asked if I was free to leave. I reminded him that he was now illegally detaining me and that I would not be subject to screening as a condition of leaving the airport. He told me that he was only trying to help (I should note that his demeanor never suggested that he was trying to help. I was clearly being interrogated.), and that no one was forcing me to stay. [...] I looked him in the eye, and said, "then I'm leaving". He replied, "then we'll bring a civil suit against you", to which I said, "you bring that suit" and walked out of the airport.
FDL's Jane Hamsher commented on the TSA's threat:
The new pat-down policy for refuseniks, which started on November 1, has been described by the Airline Pilots Association as "sexual molestation" -- and it's nothing more than a way to punish people who might boycott the Department of Homeland Security's expensive new boondoggle scanners. And prosecuting Tyner is blatant and very public way to intimidate anyone who might follow his lead.
This goes to show just how how constant threats of "terror" are used to create new markets for products nobody needs. The public is then intimidated into compliance in the name of "national security," when in reality they're sacrificing their dignity, their civil liberties and their tax dollars... [...]
...the "groping" technique was developed as a way to punish people into using the scanners [...] ...so nobody gets the idea to follow Tyner's lead, the TSA is using threats and intimidation to guarantee the market for the porno scanners. Whether Tyner is prosecuted or not, people will hear about what happened to him and think twice before refusing to become fodder for their new machines.
This is a full-on outrage.
Indeed it is, and it's another example of how the Obama administration has changed far too little of the Bush police-state apparatus that they inherited. Glenn Greenwald calls this TSA action "the sort of outrage that really merits a national uprising in defense of this citizen:"
Many Americans, to their shame, are typically apathetic to such concerns because privacy and civil liberties infringements are -- at least it's perceived -- being directed only at foreigners and Muslims, not "real Americans." But these patdowns and body invasions are implicating the masses, and...could therefore finally provoke Americans in large numbers to declare they've had enough with invasive surveillance, at least on this front. The fact that they are now making an example of Tyner for speaking out and publicizing his incident may very well intensify that response; it certainly ought to.
John Cole summed up the TSA's attitude quite succinctly: "Don't submit to the police state, and we'll come after you. This isn't a punishment for Tyner, it is a message to everyone else."
To the totalitarian mentality, nothing less than complete submission is acceptable.
The TSA has a blog, and one of their minions (Blogger Bob) writes that opting out doesn't fly:
Obviously a passenger can't completely opt out of all screening if they opt out of AIT. That would not make good security sense. [...] While TSA has the legal authority to levy a civil penalty of up to $11,000.00 for cases such as this, each case is determined on the individual circumstances of the situation.
While I understand the underlying desire for transportation security, this is being handled in a Cartman-like "Respect my authoritah!" manner which is less than helpful and creates an oppositional attitude in travelers. For example, see this snarky t-shirt
and these Flying Pasties (h/t: bug_girl at SkepChick):
With fully-operational snarkiness, I wonder if the TSA is planning to change their slogan to something more representative of their new activities--perhaps something like this:
"A free handjob with every flight!"
Airports could brag about the new XXX-ray scanners in their branding:
"San Diego is one of TSA's 'Happy Ending' airports."
On a more serious note, Newsweek discusses the new pat-downs as a trigger for sexual assault survivors--surely a sign that the TSA is over the line.
update 2 (11/18):
Fly with Dignity has a once-in-a-great-while image that distills this issue in a memorable way:
The Privacy Coalition is campaigning to Stop Digital Searches, the ACLU has a Homeland Security Wants to See You Naked page, and there is plenty of news at EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center).
Penn Jillette describes his security-theater experience here:
I said, "You have to ask me before you touch me or it's assault."
He said, "Once you cross that line, I can do whatever I want."
I said that wasn't true. I say that I have the option of saying no and not flying. He said, "Are you going to let me search you, or do I just throw you out?"
I said, "Finish up, and then call the police please."
Teller's story isn't as confrontational as Tyner's, but it's still worth reading. Perhaps we should participate in National Opt-Out Day next Wednesday:
It's the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government's desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an "enhanced pat down" that touches people's breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner. You should never have to explain to your children, "Remember that no stranger can touch or see your private area, unless it's a government employee, then it's OK." [...] We do not believe the government has a right to see you naked or aggressively touch you just because you bought an airline ticket.
Here's an image from 2008 that's been making the rounds:
update 3 (11/19):
Bruce Schneier discusses the backscatter backlash, features more links than you probably want, and includes parts of his previous comments on the TSA:
Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back. Everything else -- Secure Flight and Trusted Traveler included -- is security theater.
On a more sarcastic note, here is a new TSA logo: