“People are being stupid!” my daughter said while we watched the TV news. “Why is everyone so upset about the TSA scanning people? Don’t people want to be safe when they fly?”
I assured her that except for a handful of crazy, hell-bent terrorists, everyone who gets on an airplane wants to arrive safely at his or her destination.
“So what’s the big deal?” she asked again.
“When you go to the mall or out to eat, do you want to be safe?” I asked her.
“Of course,” she responded.
“How would you like to be x-rayed and patted down when you arrive at the mall or a restaurant?” I continued.
“That would suck,” my daughter answered.
Ignoring her cheeky language, I continued.”In the 1980s, some insane person put cyanide in Tylenol capsules in a store in Chicago, then put the bottles back on the shelf. Several people died. How would you like to be searched every time you go to the grocery store?”
“I hate grocery shopping,” she replied honestly.
“You’re missing the point,” I dismiss her with my hand. “Then how about at school? Nothing is more important than the safety of our kids. How would you like to be strip-searched each day before you enter the building?” I asked.
“No! That would be gross!” she answered hotly. “That’s going too far!”
“And that,” I told her, “Is the point. What is going too far? Who defines too far?”
I told my daughter that as I child, I watched All in the Family each Saturday night. In one episode, the Archie Bunker character went on the news to give an editorial about ending skyjacking. And I told her, when I was a child, I thought Archie had come up with a great idea: give every airline passenger a gun! Archie reasoned that his approach would give every passenger a fighting chance. Archie’s suggestion would make TSA pat-downs and security checks unnecessary, saving travelers both time and money.
Instead of giving every passenger a fighting chance, the TSA has found a better way to ensure our safety: treat each passenger like a felon and each airplane like a prison. Felons can’t vote, can’t own a gun, and can’t serve on a jury. Incarcerated felons don’t have 4th Amendment protection against “unreasonable search and seizure.” If prison guards so desire, they can toss a prisoners’ cell and person hundreds of times each day. A felon has no rights.
In Terry v. Ohio (1968), the US Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement could conduct a warrantless search when a police officer witnesses “unusual conduct” that leads that officer to reasonably believe “that criminal activity may be afoot”, that the suspicious person has a weapon and that the person is presently dangerous to the officer or others. In those cases, officers may conduct a pat-down search to determine whether the person is carrying a weapon. However, before conducting a pat-down, officers must be able to point to specific facts that warrant their actions. A vague hunch will not do.
So what is too far? As long as every passenger is subjected to the same undignified treatment, the TSA (now considered adjunct police officers of the federal government) consider you as a suspicious, armed person with likely “criminal activity” afoot.
So until either common sense or the ACLU intervenes, air travelers will continue to be treated with the same dignity as incarcerated felons. If you demand to be treated as a NON criminal, avoid the airport and drive your own car. That way you’re in control.
And if a fellow-passenger in your car gets frisky with you, you can always stop and ask that person to get out. Good luck doing that at the airport.