I know who you talked to on your cell phone last week. I know which websites you’ve visited on your computer. I know that you purchased health care items at your drug store two days ago indicating that someone in your household is incontinent. I know that you buy vegetables, and with a fifth of that budget vodka every time you’re at the grocery store. I read all about your family vacation and the flu you contracted because I visited your social site. I have video of you entering and leaving a dozen buildings over a two-day period. I am… just about anybody. Now, what was that new problem you were having with the body searches at the airport?
Quickly, which would you prefer: That a trained professional at the airport brushes his hand alongside your ‘junk’ as one means of saving human lives,or that while you are standing at the airport security post, a screen projects the following list of websites that you visited in the 48 hours prior to your flight: “Gym Coaches in Bondage,” “Granny Likes ‘Em Big and Dumb,” “Pulled Over by the Leather Police,” and of course Facebook.
Let’s look at what might be a primary corollary in all of this, which is some question of freedom. I‘ve been cautious with the word “freedom” since it became synonymous with invading countries and killing civilians to seize control of their oil. But let’s use an old school definition of freedom, especially Webster’s number four definition: “Ease or facility of movement or action.” Do the new TSA search procedures violate freedom? And following that, do they violate it in some way that exceeds the freedom we are all willingly sacrificing each day by means of yielding our privacy to the digital info-sphere?
There’s a reasonable presumption that a citizen should not have to submit to having their body touched by an agent of any authority unless that touching can be proved to be absolutely necessary. What proves that necessity? It could certainly be the precedent of someone having attempted to blow up an airliner with materials concealed in their underpants. Does a woman’s brassiere legitimately qualify as a hiding place? Hundreds of old movies demonstrate that diamonds, money, and treasure maps can be found there.
A search, in effect, evidences some level of suspicion. If one of your kid’s was pulled over on a Saturday night for weaving across a lane of traffic, police might insist on a breathalyzer or blood sample for alcohol toxicity. If that action saved your child’s life and the lives of others, you’d be grateful for the level of suspicion involved. At the moment of having your ‘junk’ brushed up against at the airport you might experience a violation of your freedom, specifically the freedom of your junk to travel in your pants without incident. When explosives were later found on the guy six people behind you who was ticketed for your flight, you’d feel less violated.
This column has defended the TSA previously, shortly after 9/11 travelers took out their frustration with airport procedures by openly denigrating the personnel involved. Since then the TSA has made strides in professionalizing on its side of things, yet here we are on our side still grousing about efficiently processed searches at airports that are meant to save our whining selves. Why not direct that energy toward the airlines who are currently gouging you for your luggage, your refreshments, your pillow and blanket, and possibly soon your in-flight bathroom use.
We might feel that contact during airport searches violates our freedom by way of denying privacy. We might, except that most of us are panting and breathless from freely surrendering our privacy on a daily basis. Every retail chain store offers a discount card that allows the big machine out there to track your purchases and sell you more goods based on information you seem happy to yield to them. Since cell phones produce call records as a part of their function, ditto anyone wanting to find out who you are talking to. A web history is exactly that, although “history” in the Abe Lincoln sense rarely utilized the words “hot” and “Mommy” with regularity. Reality TV shows are populated with previously normal citizens who have decided that turning their private lives into video mulch is a small price to pay for fame and adoration. These are people that crave the invasive stalking that people like Charlie Sheen would love to shed. Their husbands, their children, their friends… no privacy is too great to sacrifice for “The Real Wives” of Anytown, USA.
As individuals, our reactions to airport security procedures will continue to be our own. But as a society let’s not pretend that we’re sick to death of things that are “invasive,” then rush to a social site to publish how our ‘junk’ was violated. Had last year’s Christmas Day bomber succeeded in his mission, would we be having this bubble of protest regarding searches? The fear of loss of freedom has often been expressed as soldiers kicking down our doors and marching into our homes to see what we’re up to. Now they don’t have to ever leave the barracks; they can just go online and find out exactly what we’re up to. They’ll even have a record of that blog where we wrote our passionate and angry essay on being violated at the airport. Because they can put their hands on that ‘junk’ any time they want.