Monday, December 27, 2010

TSA Policies: Threat to Our Liberty and Security

“Don’t touch my junk” is the whimsical response exclaimed by a man who refused the invasive pat-down of his genitals by a Transportation Security Administration officer. Humor aside, the new TSA policy regarding airport security is meant to “ensure the safety of you the traveling public….efficiently, courteously and professionally.” The method of achieving this rather serious goal of security is through x-ray imaging or pat-downs. There have been numerous blogs about the health risks involved with frequent body-scans, the notion that a pat-down is molestation, and the inefficiency of these procedures. These are superficial concerns that are “debated” about repeatedly in popular media outlets. The deeper issue is subverting the liberty and dignity of people who once claimed that they had been endowed by the Creator with, “…certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The new policies do not meet the stated goal of ensuring safety, but encroach upon one of our fundamental liberties, privacy. The Fourth Amendment in the Constitution makes it explicit that the right of privacy is necessary in a democratic society. It reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It is evident that there are procedures to be followed whenever the government needs to intrude our “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” In the case of TSA policies, advocates will argue that there is probable cause since the previous security procedures were ineffective because of Abdulmutallab’s alleged Christmas attack. This is a point that TSA policy advocates and critics will agree on. However, the disagreement remains over the methods, which are “unreasonable.”

The British courts follow the “Wednesbury unreasonableness” test to decide whether a governmental policy is reasonable. It gives government expansive authority in implementing policies by asking if that policy is so unreasonable that no reasonable authority would decide on that policy. In regards to the TSA policies, it is impossible to meet this criterion of unreasonableness. By concluding that the procedures are “unreasonable”, we would inevitably be calling TSA an “unreasonable” or irrational authority. Before we tread to this extreme, we have to remember that we live in America, so the conclusion that the TSA policies are “unreasonable” is based on more generally accepted values.

The values of freedom and liberty that are often spoken of in this nation are precisely what the TSA policies are subverting in a climate of fear. Rather than basing a policy on the principles of freedom, TSA is basing it on extreme fear. For example, when we analyze the number of alleged cases of terrorism to the population, we see a great disparity. TSA, obviously, ignored the issue of proportionality when it comes to such stringent policies, so it is definitely “unreasonable.” Now, the other blatant fact is that we do not have a choice for a civilized method of search. We either have to be seen nude or molested. This is not much of a choice, unless of course, you believe a civilized society can be protected through uncivil procedures.

Above all, as citizens we have to be concerned about such violations of our freedoms by our government, because they are reminiscent of regimes such as the Taliban. Actually, even the Taliban, in their attempts at security were not nearly as violating as the TSA security measures. The TSA measures are dehumanizing not only because of the physical search, but because of the psychological damage that it leaves upon every traveler’s mind, including children. By allowing such policies to be normalized, we are normalizing fear since the basis of such policies is fear. Fear is effective for the short-run, but to ensure long-term security and stability within this nation, we need love. The renowned poet Rumi has said, Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open? Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking.”

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