Heather Michon

Heather Michon
June 25
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NOVEMBER 24, 2010 3:43PM

Speaking As A Grown Up

Rate: 36 Flag

I have been so angered over the TSA’s new strip-down-or-pat-down policy that I literally haven’t been able to blog these last few days.

I’m not a frequent flier, but I am always a citizen. And I have been frankly stunned by the sanguinity of so many Americans over what strikes me as a vast overstepping of the Fourth Amendment, common sense, and good taste on the part of our Government.

But then I read things like Ruth Marcus’s column in the Washington Post today -- so wrong,  so blithely dismissive of the very serious arguments people are making against the new policy -- and I can’t opt out of the online dialog any longer.

So, here it goes:  

“The uproar over the new procedures is overblown and immature.”

Gee. Thanks, Mom.

“The marginal invasion of privacy is small relative to the potential benefit of averting a terrorist attack.”

What, exactly, is a “marginal invasion of privacy”?

Nobody has complete dominion over their own bodies. The State does have some control over what you can and cannot do with your person. For example, you can’t shoot illegal drugs into your veins. You can’t legally end your life.

But there are limits on State control as well. Drug use and suicide have been legally criminalized. Airline travel has not. Yet each day, those two million people who pass through our airports are considered as potential terrorists -- criminals -- who have forfeited a certain level of Constitutional protection.

To date, the TSA can’t point to a single instance where their security measures have averted a terrorist attack. In fairness, the fact that there is security has likely deterred some attempts. But there are so many holes in that security net, from the failure to inspect cargo and checked luggage to often lax control of ground crew, a determined, well-trained terrorist would more than likely still find a way on to whichever plane they chose. For all the effort, money, and inconvenience, the TSA mainly snags random whack-jobs.   

“Meanwhile, some of the loudest howls of outrage emanate from those who would be quickest to blame the Obama administration for not doing enough to protect us if a bomber did slip through.”

An unfortunate part of a president’s job is to get blamed when stuff goes wrong. (Remember the Gulf oil spill?) And I feel for him and the whole army of government schlubs who get blamed when bad things happen. But that’s a pretty poor justification for implementing a policy.  

“Granted, the images from the souped-up screeners are uncomfortably graphic. But where is the harm if some guy in another room, who doesn't have a clue who I am and doesn't see my face (it's obscured on the machine), gets a look at my flabby middle-aged self? The images are automatically deleted once the screening is completed. It's the old philosophical riddle: If your butt sags in the forest . . . ”


If Some Guy In Another Room hacks into my computer and empties my bank account, is it still a crime? After all, he presumably doesn't have a clue who I am, can’t even see my face. It was probably my fault for having a bank account or a computer anyway. (You know who else uses computers and bank accounts? Terrorists.)

“By contrast, the pat-down is actually intrusive, no question about it. But you most likely won't have to endure it unless you balk at the enhanced imaging.”

….or unless Some Guy In Another Room thinks your packing something more than your “package,” or unless the machine is broken and you’re still in the “enhanced” security line (which, we now know, you can’t leave on penalty of $11,000 fine and a potential civil suit), or unless the TSOs think you have a nice rack. Or a tiny penis.

“If you do, the pat-down will be conducted by a screener of the same gender.”

Why is it somehow less offensive to have your breasts or genitals felt by someone of the same gender? It’s the TSA’s grope, so to speak, at making the experience of a custody search -- this is what some law enforcement officers would call it, not a benign “pat-down” -- asexual.  

But it simply doesn’t work that way. Put aside the percentage of the population who are homosexual, and thus for whom being handled by a male or a female is exactly the same as it is for a heterosexual being handed by a member of the opposite sex. Put aside the percentage for whom gender identification is fluid, rather than fixed. Put aside the percentage who have faced sexual abuse and/or rape who find any unwarranted touch traumatic. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if your TSA screener just thinks of you as a sweaty, fatty meatbag....because culturally, we are trained from a very early age to restrict access of our sexual zones to a select few.

I am all for a full-throated debate on how our culture might be a better if we were less prudish in our sexuality, but I’m not sure the security line at LAX or JFK is the place to be having the discussion.  

"If you want, it can be done in a private area. ”

Again, not a big selling point. Let’s have the person touching you in places you don’t want to be touched do it in private area.

“"Don't touch my junk" may be the cri de coeur - cri de crotch? - of the post-9/11 world, but it's an awfully childish one. We let people touch our junk all the time in medical settings.”

Yes, in medical settings. (See “select few,” above.)

“Yes, the technician who performs my mammogram has more professional training than your average TSA agent, but she is also a lot more up close and personal than a quick once-over with a gloved hand. I undergo the mammogram for my personal benefit; I don't know if there is a suspicious mass, whereas I know there are no explosives sewn into my underwear.”


First of all, anyone running a machine that emits even a low dose of radiation should be pretty damn well trained -- both for the safety of the traveling public and for the TSA employees who spend their days standing next to the things.

Second, you choose to have a mammogram. You’re not forced to have one to prove you’re not carrying a tumor onto a plane. If you opt not to have the mammogram, the technician doesn't have the right to walk over to you and preform a manual breast exam.   

“I undergo the pat-down, if I must, for the greater public benefit. It is an unfortunate part of the modern social contract.”

How does it benefit the greater public benefit if these machines don’t measurably increase security?

Also, when did I sign off on this particular addendum to the Social Contract? Seem to me like it was decided by someone else and presented as a de facto rule.

“My defense of the new procedures assumes that there is some rational basis for the screening madness: that the techniques work and that there is not a less intrusive alternative....On the first, whether this is real security or security theater is to some extent unknowable; the plot deterred cannot be measured.

She presumes there’s a rational basis for both the technology and the custody search; she assumes the techniques work and there’s no other less intrusive alternative. She is remarkably uninterested in whether or not either statement is true.

“We do know that, without the enhanced imaging, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab got on a plane with enough explosives to blow it up.”

The Government Accountability Office reported in March that it was unclear whether full body scanners would have uncovered Abdulmutallab’s payload. AIT may be good at uncovering guns, knives, and razor blades (although Mythbusters' Adam Savage knows from personal experience that this may not always be the case), but it's not designed to pick out low-density liquids or even non-metallic objects like explosives. Nor its it entirely clear that a manual search would have found the explosives.  

“The new screening might not catch every would-be bomber - is the next, resourceful step hiding explosives in body cavities? - but that does not mean it is not useful in the interim. And, no, the decision to engage in exterior pat-downs does not presage interior cavity searches. The slope is not so slippery.”

If you said, even in the years after September 11th, that the day would come when the price of getting on an airplane would include a virtual strip search and/or a extensive hand search or your person, nobody would have believe you. The slope has already been a lot slipperier than most of us would have imagined.

“Let's also leave aside any questions of constitutionality or fundamental fairness about terrorist profiling and simply consider whether it could be done effectively. The Israeli approach is an alluring mirage that would not withstand transplantation. Israel has two airports and 50 flights a day. It conducts intrusive background checks and questions passengers extensively. The process can take hours.”

It’s amazing how much easier it is to “win” an argument when you leave aside little things like constitutionality and fundamental fairness.

Maybe the Israeli approach wouldn’t work here. But don’t just dismiss it as some sort of time-saving thing: our current procedures can also take hours. It wouldn’t work here because it isn’t showy enough, because done right, it look like your doing very little. It wouldn’t work because the Government doesn’t want to invest in hiring the right people and training and paying them accordingly. I wouldn’t work because there isn’t a behavioral analysis lobby doling out millions of dollars.    

“The polls suggest that the American people, a large segment anyway, have a more sensible attitude. For that, at least, we can give thanks. ”

Well, polls change.

Nobody is arguing that we should do away with airport security altogether. People should match up to their to their tickets. Bags should be searched. People should go through metal detectors. Law enforcement should be on hand to do more thorough searches when probably cause is met.

Nearly a decade after 2001, it’s time to make our peace with terrorism. It exists. It may strike us again, it may not -- terrorism derives it’s power from its random nature. To insist that there’s a terrorist under every rock or around every corner makes us perpetual hostages to nothing more than a boogeyman. That’s no way to travel. It’s no way to live.  



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Very well presented and argued. rated
Awesome. Got me before the wonderful bit about prudishness & JFK/LGA.

It'd also be nice if we start looking at why people want us to go boom-boom in the first place. I know, it's been brought up before; I'm just sayin'.
Fine post. Living in Hawaii I must fly if I desire to get to the mainland U.S.A. As a disabled veteran held together via a series of metal plates, screws, bone cages and rods and required to wear a metal and cloth brace to walk I have been subjected to pat downs for the last 3 years. They are intrusive and uncomfortable. Without probable cause no one should be subject to this intrusion. We should be a nation of laws and not hysterical reaction.
well said...well argued....heather.

I, too, am bothered by the slippery slope to the loss of personal liberty. Strip searches are not legal and the body scans or touching amount to a strip search.

It makes me mad too those who are willing to defend them simply because "our" guy is president.

Obama please say no to this nonsense....but even if you don't I'm not going to be an apologist for this invasive procedure that seems to have industry lobbying rather than safety as its basis for being.

Not ok.
Everything Ms. Marcus has to say is actually offensive, but this is the most egregious bit; "It is an unfortunate part of the modern social contract.” No it so is not part of any social contract it is part of making people who are prone to it scared silly, Ms. Marcus being a prime example.
the MSM is descending into near propaganda on the issue, by nearly obviously corrupt leaders [eg chertoff who makes consulting money off of promoting the machines], and the finally public smells a rat. but, will it do anything about it? *can* it? "help, Ive fallen, and I cant get up!!"
dont like the Security State? huh, thats strange because its been building over the last 10years and many [incl me] have warned against it to little or no avail.
and by the way, I personally think its all a massive smokescreen to occupy the public in a futile game while their pockets continue to get cleaned, and the government subjugated, by the Corporatocracy.
I'd rate this a hundred times if I could.
Aww...thank you, Verbal!
Ya know, there's NO security at the food court. Anyone can walk around there, milling about aimlessly, carrying a bomb in a suitcase...and he/she won't look out of place because the airport is filled with thousands of people carrying suitcases and killing time.

Kablooey. Hundreds killed or injured, just like that.
Amen! If you had told someone a decade ago that people would willingly have their crotch grabbed at the airport, they would have told you that you were insane.

In an article in The Daily Beast today, it pointed out that the scanners don't see the inside of your body, so you could still bring something dangerous in your rectum. Pretty soon they'll subject us all to cavity searches! And this is all just theater anyway, it really doesn't make us any safer.
I think considering everything that's going on the terrorists don't have to lift a finger. I'm feeling pretty terrorized and victimized by the people around me in my insane Tea Party state and by elected and appointed officials. Thank God I can identify them by the Palin bumper stickers on their cars.

Thanks, rated.
Thank you, everyone, for your kind comments!

Current headlines are all about how the "opt-out" fizzled today -- but, there is a lot of chatter on Twitter (chat-twit?) and forums about how the TSA was not even using the AIT machines today, thus not giving as many travelers anything to opt out from.

Which, if true, would mean the TSA was putting PR in front of what they've spent the week insisting was 100% necessary for public safety.
If they are looking for bombs and maybe even drugs you would think they have heard of this thing called a dog. They are cute, fuzzy and have a nose to die for, or bite you with if needed.

Why do we need super xrays, sniffer machines or blue gloves, when dogs are cheap, easy to take care of and I would bet have more training than the average TSA agent?
This is not about safety: It's about the US government saving face.

If they were concerned about your safety, you'd have a breathalyzer gizmo attached to your car ignition. If they were concerned about your safety, we would have universal health care. If they were concerned about your safety, manufacturing of cigarettes would be banned.

If a drink driver kills you, or the tumor you couldn't afford to have checked out kills you, or if you smoke yourself to death, your family and friends care, but the government...not so much.

But if the plane you're riding in is destroyed by a terrorist, the US government looks weak. The genital exams and see-me-naked machines operated by the TSA are all about the US government saving face. They are not about safety.
The Whole Body Imaging scanners were indeed in use today, so any rumors to the contrary are pure nonsense.

But if you really want to make your voice heard, you need to send emails to the clueless, tone-deaf bureaucrats at DHS/TSA. They won't give you the email addresses for Janet Napolitano or John Pistole, but I will:


You should tell them you expect a timely reply, as well as let them know you're sending a copy to your elected representatives in Congress. One way or another, people need to pressure DHS or Congress to change their ways, and that would ideally mean that DHS/TSA and eliminated.
THANK YOU. Seriously, even if this insane degradation were EFFECTIVE (and I don't know anyone who can't think of a way around it, as far as anyone actually psycho and evil enough to want to blow up a plane is concerned), it violates our most fundamental principles on more fronts than I have fingers and toes to count. And I can't swallow that -- I just can't. (I've been boycotting air travel for a while, to the immense indifference of...everyone and everything, heh.)
Thanks for taking this on. I wouldn't have had a clue where to start. R.
I would do away with much of the war on terror, however this development responds to a real threat. Furthermore, once you leave your house, your level of 4th Amendment protection decreases. Riding a public carrier, which is entirely voluntary, diminishes your expectation of privacy still more. Considering the alternative to more vigialence may be an airline falling out of the sky, I say the intrusion is acceptable - and my wife is a frequent flier out of and back to DC - which is why I favor more security - including planned upgrades to trains (even though you can't use a train to destroy a skyscraper)
in the first place, it doesn't matter what you think. did mr obama ask you, or mr pistole? didn't think so.

your input is that of a steer on a feedlot.

second, way more than half don't care about either x-rays, or pat-downs. they are modern americans, or 'tax-cows,' as i call them when their political and economic role is relevant.

third, when election time rolls around, are you going to use your vote to protest this, or one of a dozen other features of modern life, like protecting your income.

in short, now you feel better, get back in line, leave the underwire bra back in your drawer.
Every time I read what al loomis writes I am overcome with gratitude that he doesn't live next door.

Some of my travel doesn't require that I fly, I can take the train or drive. I am thinking about it. Chances are it would be more leisurely and I spend so long in the airport, getting to the airport, turning in the rental car so I won't get overcharged that I might as well take a Taxi to the train station.

TSA does check luggage, and they have for some time, because my business luggage has been checked. I find little cards from the TSA saying that they opened and examined my luggage. I had a computer screen inside my suitcase out of necessity when my laptop suddenly stopped working right before a trip. They had to open it up and see what I had mingled with my lingerie.

Somehow, it seems to me, that some form of passport/identity cards for travelers could be issued and scanned before entry into the airport. The requisite inquiry into who it is and the threat they present could be done administratively and encoded in the security strip. They could treat everyone's luggage the way they have treated mine. They could stop acting like there is some other Susanne Freeborn out there who is a criminal danger, because I am literally the only person with my name in the entire US and I pay my taxes, vote, own a home, am married and am a fairly ordinary citizen. By doing these things to separate the wheat from the chaff they could reduce the need to treat all citizens as if they are suspects. Because this isn't a patdown, it's a repeated practice of stopping and frisking citizens as if there were probable cause to suspect us of a crime, instead of recognizing our actual efforts to get the family's house to share a Thanksgiving meal.
Sorry, Michael, but there is no threat this latest kabuki dance is responding to, so it's just as pointless as the color coded security levels.

And your level of 4th Amendment protection does not decrease when you leave home; it applies no matter where you go. Your suggestion that a plane may "fall out of the sky" if these procedures were eliminated is pure nonsense. It only shows that you have no understanding of the principles this country was founded upon, and you certainly don't believe in them.

You may be willing to give your rights, but you don't have the option of giving them up for the rest of us.
The whole goat-rope of airport security as practiced by the TSA is best described as "security theater" - performed to give the appearance of security, rather than actually providing it. Looking for those tools which *might* be used by a terrorist is much easier than actually looking for those whose pattern of behavior or past travel might indicate a propensity to use said tools.
This reeks of bullying the American citizenry who have not blown up any airplanes to date. Israel has airport security down pat, we did not have to reinvent the wheel. But the man who sells the radiating screeners to airports is Obama's buddy and went to India with him recently. So there's one reason we're being forced through them. The American Gov't and the TSA is violating our fourth amendment unapologetically and my only recourse right now is to drive everywhere, which we plan to do. The airlines will lose money and will we be asked to bail them out again?
The sneaky bastards of the tsa pulled another fast one.
They turned off the scanners to deliberately defuse the opt out event.
Check out the various stories and you'll see this.
For the record, I went through a scan in Israel. They pulled someone I was traveling with out of line for the intensive search on a very minor suspicion. Israeli airport security has a lot of unobtrusive observers and if you aren't absolutely safe looking, they pull you out and give you 15 minutes in a private room with two agents. Not fun.

Please don't think that if they look you up two weeks before you fly, the airport will be a breeze. Their security is INTENSE and they'd rather grope the crotches of 100,000 innocent travelers than let one terrorist through.

But, the bottom line is American security is average for the world. I've flown through about 15 airports in 10 countries and on 3 continents in the last 5 years. America's security is standard.

My feeling is if France, the Netherlands, the UK, Russia, Turkey and even Tunisia and Jordan think high levels of airport security are necessary, I'd like someone a bit more expert than an outraged blogger to tell me it's not.
Well argued post. I too am livid about the new 'draconian" measure in place and wrote about it but from a somewhat different angle. Please read my latest post to see what I mean. What has amazed me most is the fact that Americans are more and more giving up their rights just so they can feel comfortable. When a right is given up by a citizen it logically follows suit that it is taken by someone else. In this case it is the government. When you give up your rights to the government you are giving them a blank check to abuse you and they will take full advantage of it.
I have studied terrorism for years and I can tell you that although we here in America believe we are WINNING this war on terror, by submitting ourselves to these invasions of privacy we are actually demonstrating that we are losing. Who has the most power in the whole equation right now? The terrorists do. They train, plot, practice and wait while WE live in fear and alter our lives because of them. If the scenario that I described in my latest blog post were to come true the grip of fear upon this nation would be immense and the public would be paralyzed.
Thankfully, although the polls suggest that American people are just willing to accept this and move on, the increased traffic on our roadways (by 12%) and the fact that on National Opt-Out Day the TSA shut down many of it's scanners and pat-down procedures shows that the government still fears bad PR more than anything else and people are choosing NOT to fly to avoid the hassle.
My prediction is that this will impact the airline industry more and more until the terrorists decide NOT to attack airports because in time there won't be anybody there anyway. Rated.
At last, something that the "right" and the "left" both agree on but will still do nothing about.
Thanks for this Heather. If one absolutely has to go through this security theater, at least get some underwear with the 4th Amendment printed on it with metallic ink.

Thank you for that post! It's been driving me to distraction lately because so many so-called liberal or Democratically slanted columnists and such have been supporting these new invasive procedures and I'm so disgusted I almost can't talk about it. Little by little and then leap by leap more civil liberties, more constitutional protections are pared away and people just accept it and go along and obey the authorities in this mindless fashion. People don't seem to care about the government listening to our phone calls, reading our emails and now this too? Anyway, that's it for my rant this morning...but thank you for that terrific post.
since most woman have had sex already they have no reason to refuse other men to have sex with them.
Not when they have nothing to hide right?
Nice takedown of that unbearable Ruth Marcus. And your last paragraph should be framed and hung on the walls of every American airport.
The one area that these terrorists have been most successful in is the abandonment of our rights as free people to be secure in our persons. They totally control our lives now, thanks to things like the T.S.A. and that constitutional nightmare called (most inappropriately) the "Patriot Act". One of the reasons the U.S. even exists is the simple fact that people were tired of being ruled instead of governed. I am sick of hearing every intrusion in to our lives as being for "security reasons". Pardon my language but, it is nothing but bullshit. Bullshit that makes us docile and easier to control. Two things that make ruling easy as opposed to governing. I don't mind that many opinion columnists differ in theirs from my own. It is the nature of opinion to differ, the thing changes though when opinion becomes propaganda that endorses the practice of intruding in our lives and ignoring the constitution for the purpose of making us less free under the guise of security. I agree with Franklin on this "those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither".
There's actually no difference between walking through a metal detector - which searches your entire person in one way - and a body scanner than searches in another. Save, of course, for sexual modesty.

This just ISN'T about 4th amendment rights, those were infringed when they started X-raying our hand-luggage and checking us for every paper clip's worth of metal and confiscating tweezers, a long time ago. Everybody went along with that.

So please, stop pretending the US is a nation of liberty-lovers standing up for their civil rights. They aren't because they didn't.

This is about the US being a nation of prudes that imagine an utterly bored TSA employee is enjoying the sight of a ghostly silhouette when there are skin magazines a dozen yards away in the concourse newstand.

Spare me.

But if you don't like it, you don't. Vote with your feet. Cruises make great vacations, so do trains, or re-discover American (and Canada, and Mexico) in your car. That sends a louder message than ten megabytes of yapping.
One of the commentators said it best: "Vote with your feet"! A great Native American tradition. Really.
"it doesn't matter what you think."

That's for you al loomis. Shut the hell up and log off for good. You are a sick little bastard and you make American patriots sick with every word you type.

Of course we care what Heather thinks, that's why we read her blog.