17 November 2011

Constitutional Underwear

Most of you know by now my feelings on TSA's current scanning and enchanced pat-down methods, particularly after my rant in the post Gate Crashing (and Burning).  For the most part, I am not one to make loud or violent protests about things, especially political issues, though I've had my moments.  Generally speaking, however, I tend to figure that both major political parties are pretty seriously screwed up and that neither one is radically better than the other.  I agree with points in both parties and I disagree with points in both parties.  Similarly, I often have very mixed feelings about religiously-charged subjects.  As a result, while I grumble or complain about this issue or that issue, I don't tend to make a huge deal about most of them because I feel that no amount of doing so will ultimately change the majority of those issues.  Call me naïve or uninvested, but I generally find life much more peaceful this way.  It doesn't mean I'm not invested or that I don't care, it simply means that I don't think getting my panties in a bunch will solve anything most of the time.

That said, one of the things I do regularly rant about or speak out about are the airport security measures provided by TSA, or as I like to call them, "Flight Fondling for Fun and Profit."  Many other people are less concerned about it than me or, while annoyed by it, have no real problem allowing the procedures, figuring that complaining will accomplish nothing.  And they have that right, just as I have the right to avoid apoplexy every time a politician does or says something assinine.  If I didn't, I'd be stroking out every 3 minutes.

My frustration with the whole thing is two-fold:  first, I find it appalling that US citizens who frequently tout the Constitution as much of what makes us preferable (or even "superior) to other countries are perfectly content to surrender their Constitutional rights regarding search and seizure, all in the name of possibly stopping one more terrorist.  And that brings me to my second point, which is the assumption that abusing said rights will ultimately make that huge a difference.  How many thousands or even millions of people have to pass through these questionable procedures before even one illegal item is found?  To me that is akin to McDonald's marking billions of coffee cups as "Very Hot" all because one woman was incompetent enough to pour coffee in her lap.  Am I sorry she was severely burned?  Sure.  I can't imagine that I would enjoy having a flaming crotch either.  Does that make suing McDonald's for burning her reasonable?  Of course not.  Heck, if they'd given her cold coffee, she could just as easily have sued for false advertising, because who expects coffee to be cold?

I have no doubt that the occasional person is indeed caught with illegal items on his or her person.  But I still have to wonder how many of those "illegal" items were nothing more menacing than the odd nail clippers or pocketknife or nail file that someone forgot to leave at home.  I am allowed to carry knitting needles on a plane; if I wanted to stab someone, I could do far more damage with one of those than with many of the items considered "illegal."  I also still think that any real terrorist determined to cause chaos can and will find a way around security measures, just as they always have, and that it's unrealistic to think that molesting passengers or subjecting them to even low levels of radiation is going to change that.

Don't get me wrong; I am not suggesting that all security measures should be abandoned.  I understand their necessity, even if I don't always agree with their implementation and practice.  I understand that it is intended to lessen the likelihood of terrorism in flight, even though I doubt it will stop more than a minute percentage.  I also recognize that it gives other Americans a way to feel safer, to feel like their government is actually doing something instead of sitting around impotently like usual.  That, too, is their prerogative, even if it doesn't make a big difference to me personally.  What irks me no end about it is not even that the security is there, but the incredible lack of consistency in its administration.  I detest the subtle profiling involved, including the assumption that anyone overweight or old and saggy or whatever is somehow packing.  I detest that children are yanked out and patted down.  If a teacher were to do that to the very same child, they would be immediately sacked for child molestation, and yet it's okay for TSA to perform this service? I know I always use cute children as drug mules or to sneak my Saturday Night Special past the guards.  Please...most parents are far too beleaguered with trying to get the kids and all their accoutrements on the plane without exposing the entire airport to tantrums.  I hardly think the average parent is concerned with sneaking illegal items past TSA via their children.

Part of what prompted today's marginally more sedate rant was this article, Airport full-body X-ray scanners banned across Europe as unsafe, posted by one of my friends today on Facebook.  The upshot is that the scatter scanners have been banned all across the European Union (EU) because of the increased risk of cancer in using them, both for the passengers as well as for the security staff.  When questioned, TSA's response was to point out the "rigorous testing the technology is subjected to, plus the fact 300+ 'dangerous and illegal items' have been detected by employing the body scanners."  So there you go.  Not only does the US apparently know more than Europe, they have managed to locate a whole 300 "dangerous and illegal" items from among the thousands of passengers flying every day; the article doesn't even suggest a time frame for these 300 items, the implication being that TSA found those 300 items since the scanning started, as opposed to say in one year's time.  That might sound a whole lot more impressive if it didn't represent a maybe--maybe--1% success rate.  TSA might as well make their new slogan "Letting Everyone See You Naked and Possibly Getting Cancer is Okay Because We've Uncovered Dangerous Objects in One Percent of All Travelers."  That's a bit wordy, though.  Perhaps it should be reduced to something like "Screw Your Rights and Health--We're TSA!"

The best part of the article for me was its linked page to something called "4th Amendment Underwear" (for the protester in all of us).   In it are shirts and boxers and even bras emblazoned with the 4th Amendment printed on the items in metallic ink so that when you are scanned by the x-ray machines, in addition to an up-close and personal look at all your goodies, TSA will get a less than subtle reminder that they are violating your Constitutional rights.  Other clothing articles include the slogan "Read the 4th Amendment Perverts."  I'd be lying if I said the thought of wearing such undergarments to the airport didn't appeal to me.  In fact, it appeals so much so that I actually went to the store page to see how much they would cost or if they would even be in my size.  This is what I saw: 

There were socks, too, but I couldn't get a big enough screen shot to include them.  Still, you've gotta love it--every.single.item is sold out.  Apparently I'm not the only subversive traveler out there.

Here's hoping that TSA eventually sees the error of its ways and finds more effective ways to secure air travel, preferably ones that do not involve violating one's rights and privacy or molesting one's person.  Meanwhile, way to go EU--good on you!

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