Monday, November 15, 2010

Safety Without Security? TSA Under Fire For Full-Body Scanning And Alternative Pat-Down Searches; An Account Of John Tyner's Experience

The American people want safety from terrorist attacks when flying. Yet a growing number of people take issue with the security measures designed to better insure safety from airline terrorism. Even Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has been caught up in the TSA net, leading to increased scrutiny of full-body scanning. Is is the measures themselves, or the manner in which they're executed?

The latest controversy, described in the San Diego Union-Tribune and picked up by CNN, involves Oceanside resident John Tyner, who intended to fly from San Diego to South Dakota on Saturday November 13th, 2010 to do some pheasant hunting with his father. He was randomly selected for processing through a full-body scanner. Upon refusal, he was directed to submit to a pat-down search. He was willing to submit, except he didn't want the screeners "touching his junk". TSA insisted on "touching his junk"; Tyner insisted that would be sexual assault. Tyner later documented a full account of the encounter on this blog post; the exchange was also captured on video and uploaded to YouTube:

Video 1: Tyner's bag and belongings going through the x-ray machine. Although not much of consequence is shown, the audio is really good and sets up the eventual confrontation:

Video 2: Tyner was in the middle of telling someone that if he was going to be "felt up", he wanted it done in public so that everyone could see what it is that the TSA does:

There's a third video on Tyner's blog which shows part of the aftermath. It seems like it's the aftermath that really sticks in Tyner's craw. First, Tyner returned to the American Airlines counter where an agent refunded the price of his non-refundable ticket. But then before he could leave, he was surrounded by TSA employees who told him he couldn't leave the security area. One, who kept insisting he was trying to help Tyner, told him that if he left he would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. Tyner asked if the agents who had escorted him from the security area would also be sued and fined. The same man who told Tyner he would be sued and fined if he left, also insisted that he did not tell him he couldn't leave. So Tyner left.

Wait a minute. If Tyner no longer intended to board the flight, why was TSA still pursuing him? It should have been over with once he declared his intent not to board the flight.

Was Tyner deliberately trying to "pick a fight"? He says No; he was concerned about other TSA "horror stories" and he simply wanted to be prepared in case there was a confrontation. He states that he wanted to protect both his rights and TSA's rights; he characterized the behavior of the TSA personnel as mostly professional.

Here's a video of one of those "horror stories"; a Houston T.V. reporter's three-year-old daughter is being pawed by a TSA agent at a different airport; the little girl is resisting and screaming "Don't touch me!":

We attempt to teach kids the difference between proper touching and improper touching, and yet this little girl didn't seem to understand the difference. Nevertheless, the TSA screener proceeded. HotAir notes that this points out yet again how the American approach to flight security misses the point, thanks to an “everyone must suffer equally” approach. In contrast, the Israelis have not had an incident in decades, thanks to a much more comprehensive but subtle approach that looks for actual clues to danger, rather than using a random-sample method.

But what I'm wondering is if people are truly outraged by TSA's behavior alone, or has TSA merely become the focal point of public anger at the airline industry as a whole? Since airline deregulation, flying has become more complicated, burdensome, and unpleasant. To compete, airlines have piled on an endless assortment of fees and surcharges. Ticket pricing is chaotic and incomprehensible. Traditional perks such as free meals and free baggage check are disappearing. Thus people are already pissed off at the airlines when they arrive at the airport; an unpleasant confrontation with TSA can push them over the edge.

Yet if we don't want our flight used to take down a skyscraper, we have to accept the need for some security measures. We cannot have safety without security. TSA may get a bit bossy, but I believe their hearts are generally in the right place. We have choices; if you don't want to get groped by a TSA screener, walk through the full-body scan.

But I'm not sure that groping three-year-old girls actually improves flying safety.

1 comment:

Scruffy Scirocco said...

If you don't want your flight to take down a skyscraper, you have nothing to worry about. No group of passengers will ever tolerate another skyjacking.

The body scanner and full body patdown is an unreasonable search without probable cause or warrant, and therefore violates the Fourth Amendment of the constitution. And no, despite what some TSA thug said, you do not waive your constitutional rights when you buy an airline ticket.