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The TSA Has Gone Too Far

Nov 23, 2010   [permalink]

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"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
—Benjamin Franklin

I want to begin by saying I deeply love the United States, and the values of freedom for which it stands. When I see threats to those fundamental values I can't remain silent.

I've listed below the reasons why I feel the TSA has crossed the line with X-ray body scanners and groping pat-downs.

I absolutely support reasonable safety measures for air safety, however I feel strongly that the TSA has simply gone too far, for no gain. The benefits of these security measures over simpler ones are minimal and the harms are great.

I'll probably get put on some bad list for writing this — it disturbs me that I should feel the need to worry about being punished for criticizing the government — but then again I got a lot of flack when I created the first Internet service provider and a lot of insiders weren't happy that I was letting the public onto the net, and still I forged ahead. It was exactly for purposes such as this — freedom of speech — that I did that, so I guess I sort of have a penchant for speaking my mind and urging others to do likewise. Perhaps it's genetic; as I write this the day before Thanksgiving, I think back to my ancestors who came over on the Mayflower seeking freedom and a better life and were present at that first Thanksgiving. The sacrifices they made so that we all could be here today are inspiring. At any rate, I feel this is one of those cases where it's important to take a stand.

The more I read about the Israeli airport security system, which is described as fast, efficient, effective, and minimally intrusive, based largely on watching for specific suspicious behaviors, the more disheartened I am at our system. Ours appears to be based on "security theater," i.e. pretend security — which has now crossed the line into sexual assault and X-ray dosing. This is broken.

I've split my objections out by category; included responses to common justifications; and listed actions that I feel should be taken:

    Health Hazards

  • Radiation risk from defective machines — which is to say, Cancer

    The radiation hazard from properly working machines is bad enough — the math says it will cause cancer in at least some people, possibly killing more people in the long run than it actually ever saves.

    But even worse is that these dosage numbers assume the machines are in perfect working order. As author Michael Stackpole noted, they're purchased at lowest bid and maintained by the lowest bidders. Even the best machines break down. When these break down, they could be irradiating people unknowingly with very high doses of radiation — certainly cancer causing, and possibly even fatal.

  • Disease risk — agents do not change gloves from person to person

    The agent runs his hands over sick peoples' entire bodies, and their belongings, covered with germs for all sorts of diseases. Then he runs his hands all over your body and belongings.

  • Stress

    Stress is a known cause of increased heart attacks and heart disease. The TSA admits that the security procedure is stressful, and clearly such intimate intrusions are obviously more more stressful to many people than previous procedures. To the extent that it is also unnecessary then we may literally be killing people because of unnecessary stress from the TSA. It may even be that the number of such deaths exceeds the number of lives purportedly saved from the security. If the added stress of this security is actually unnecessary, as noted in the points below, then we are taking lives instead of saving lives.

    Social Harms

  • Would be actionable child molestation, sexual assault, or at least sexual harassment in any other setting

    This kind of inappropriate touching, in almost any other setting, would be illegal, and for good reason. This one seems so obvious that it alone should have prevented this policy from ever seeing the light of day.

  • Worse, it teaches children that such touching is acceptable

    The government is an unavoidable role model for children and others — and to show that such intimate, forced touching by strangers is acceptable teaches a horrific lesson. We spend all kinds of effort teaching children to resist inappropriate touching, and now the government completely undermines that lesson by doing exactly what we say is wrong. This could be a field day for a rise in sexual molestation. What happens when we find children have been assaulted because the government told them such touching was okay, and the child molester tells them he needs to touch them, because the government said it was good? Good God, people.

  • "I vas just followink orders" didn't excuse the Nazis

    TSA employees are complicit if they go along with this policy. We didn't let Nazi war criminals get off with the excuse "I was just following orders" when they did what the Nazi government told them to do. Wrong is wrong. Going along with evil makes ones complicit in that evil.

  • Sets a Bad Precedent of "Guilty until proven Innocent" — treating everyone like criminals

    Body scans and intrusive pat downs make the presumption that you are guilty of something and must prove your innocence. When the act of proving innocence is minor, people will probably not mind, such as walking through a metal detector. But the fact remains that you are having to prove your innocence. When this gets extended to much more invasive proof requirements it ceases to be something people don't mind, and that it remains an issue that it runs contrary to "Innocent until proven guilty" then becomes a serious matter.

    This is invasive, and sets a terrible precedent that invasive proof requirements are acceptable. They are not.

  • May violate 4th amendment — illegal search and seizure

    Per the TSA's web site "Such a warrantless search, also known as an administrative search, is valid under the Fourth Amendment if it is "no more intrusive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect weapons or explosives, " confined in good faith to that purpose" [United States v. Davis, 482 F.2d 893, 908 (9th Cir. 1973)].

    The Israeli's have proven methods that are less intrusive and intensive, so this appears to violate the stated requirement. These are certainly more intrusive and intensive than what was done in 1973.

  • Lost Productivity

    Think of the hours of time spent in security lines, and what a tremendous loss of people's time and productivity this represents. If it could be done more rapidly — the Israeli system is cited as being very quick — think what a benefit that would be to the economy. By having such time-wasting procedures we are helping the terrorists win.

  • Will attract perverts to the job

    Who would now want such a job? People who like touching small children sexually and touching other people inappropriately and from a position of domination and power. It seems certain that perverts will be applying for these jobs, which means people and their children will be getting touched by perverts.

  • Humiliation treatment is a torture tactic

    See, for example, for where humiliation is listed as a torture tactic used, for example, in the Abu Ghraib prison.

    American citizens should not have to undergo humiliating procedures to exercise their freedom to fly.

  • "It's the same as we do when people go to prison"

    A colleague, who was actually defending these searches, said, "It's ok, it's the same as we do when people go to prison." Yeah, that's the point. We are not prisoners when we travel about the country.


  • Pat down ineffective against weapons concealed in body cavities

    We've had the "shoe bomber" and the "underwear bomber" and each have resulted in intrusive checks of the related bodily area. When happens when we get the "rectal-cavity bomber" attempt?

    What's more, the X-ray body scanners have been said to be ineffective against items concealed in body cavities.

  • Security theater

    We had an obvious, gaping hole in security via packages, yet we've had all the focus on people boarding planes — this implies it's only to make people feel safer, falsely, without providing actual security. When pretend security goes too far it ceases to be appropriate.

  • Bomb sniffing dogs or sensors are better

    "Dogs have long been called man's best bomb detector -- until now."

    Either dogs or such bomb-scanning sensors, which operate at a distance, are not only less intrusive, they're more effective.

  • Must be no true belief in the X-ray scanners

    If you refuse an X-ray, then the pat down is explained, but if you then refuse the pat down, you are not allowed to go back to an X-ray. This implies the TSA feels the X-ray device is not sufficient.

    European security officials pointed to a test of the body scanners earlier this year at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, which concluded that scanners "are not a mature technology for now." —MSNBC,

    Inappropriate to the Kind and Size of the Threat

  • Existing incidents have not been on domestic flights but on internationally originating flights (and they aren't checked)

    Underwear bomber: From Amsterdam intro Detroit

    Shoe bomber: From Paris into Miami

    International airports are not doing the body scanning and groping pat downs, yet this is where the actual existing incidents have originated from. What the US has been doing, minus body scans and groping, has been effective so far.

  • Have there been any domestic airline bombing attempts in the last 10 years?

    Serious question. If not, as I said above, what the US has been doing so far has been working. Adding these intrusive security measures have not been shown necessary or useful.

  • Not that large a threat

    There are masses of people everywhere, every day and they aren't blown up. If terrorists were actively trying to blow people up on a regular basis, there are lots of obvious unprotected targets for them, where there are crowds of people and no groping, X-ray scanning:

    - in the security lines themselves
    - trains
    - buses
    - movie theaters
    - supermarkets
    - restaurants
    - football games
    ... The list is hugely long.

    If there were such a huge threat, think of the easy chaos they could create. That we don't have such bombings indicates there are really not that many attempts. (And if there were, there would be little we could do about it — we couldn't possibly protect every place large numbers of people congregate with X-ray scanners and groping agents; and we don't. That we focus so much excess attention on airplanes is simply bizarre. That we now have gone over the top with cancer-causing X-rays and sexually assaulting pat downs turns "bizarre" into "reprehensible.")

    Responses to Common Rebuttals

  • "We have to have 100% safety" — No, you can't and don't elsewhere

    No, really, that's impossible; and the cost to provide it is too high.

    You don't have 100% safety in your car: You might get killed by a drunk driver.

    You don't have 100% safety when eating: You might eat a spoiled can of peas and die from salmonella or e-coli from an undercooked hamburger.

    You don't have 100% safety in your home: Your house might burn down from any number of causes, you might die from carbon monoxide from a cracked heat exchanger, etc.

    You don't have 100% safety at work or school: A disgruntled nutjob might go postal.

    And so on.

    100% safety is unachievable. The closer you try to get the closer you get to no freedoms. 100% Safety = 0% Freedom.

  • "You don't have to fly" is not a rational response

    Many business people do have to fly, or lose their job.

    Many people have family who live far away, and the only feasible way to visit them is by air.

    The only feasible way to reach many destinations for vacation is by air. To say that people don't have to fly to them is to say that people should not be allowed to go to them.

    In the same amount of time there is no alternative way to cross the same distances — people have limited time.

    The cost of alternatives is often much higher, making it unavailable to those with lesser means. (For example, driving 3000 miles across country @ $.50/mi IRS rate = $1500; times two for round trip: $3,000. Flying: $250.

    And then there's the difficulty factor: Imagine trying to get from New York to Hawaii without flying. $800 roundtrip flying.

    Imagine getting from Los Angeles to Berlin and back without flying — thousands of dollars and weeks of time compared to $800 and a few hours.

    If it's even possible: There are no cruises to Europe from the US during many times of year, so no way to cross the ocean.

    Considering cost, time, and non-existence of alternatives, there simply is no viable alternative to flying in many circumstances. Flying has become, in essence, a basic freedom and a necessity. To say otherwise is not a rational response.

  • "The terrorists are trying to kill us" — Yes, but they have easier ways to do it

    We've undeniably had terrorists killing people, but the rate of such attacks is extremely low, and if that was their entire goal there are many other weaknesses that they're not exploiting (see above). That suggests their actual goal is to tie us into knots with absurd security protocols and make us give up our freedoms needlessly. With these new security measures the terrorists are winning.

    Simple metal detectors and behavior analysis have proven in Israel to be sufficient to protect airlines at an acceptable level; while on the other hand, these new measures do not offer 100% security, and are simply too intrusive for the minimal extra security they offer.

    Other Concerns

  • Only to line pockets of former insiders

    See for example which explains former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff's role and the intense lobbying efforts. Better, less intrusive means exist, yet we're subjected to groping and x-rays to line former insiders' pockets.

  • It's highly insulting to say we should have a "thank the TSA day"

    This shows incredible insensitivity to the American public. (See )

    Actions Needed

  • Roll back security measures to non-invasive means.

    The prior measures were bad enough, with the ridiculous removal of shoes and convoluted rules on liquids — all of which already began removing our freedoms. The Israeli system works and is described as being much less intrusive. But groping innocent people, especially children, is reprehensible.

    Just as bad, this is the path to a police state.

  • Write the President and your congressmen


    Also file a report of an inappropriate incident with the TSA, ACLU and EPIC if you've experienced something that disturbs you:

  • Tell others

    Make this a topic of conversation. Urge others to act. Keep this topic in the public eye until it's dealt with. Yes, it's that important.

  • Like this on facebook:

  • Until this policy is revoked, Obama, his wife and kids, all Congressmen, all TSA, and all Homeland Security employees, and their families, should have to have both a full pat-down and X-ray every time they travel to show their support

    If they support it, they should not only have to suffer it, they should demonstrate it, publicly, as well as their families and children. Every time they travel, to remind them of the abhorrence of these policies. If they think the policies are so wonderful, they shouldn't mind.

    If they do object, then it's critical they be required to do so, as that serves the more important purpose of reminding them how repugnant it is.

    Further, if they feel groping patdowns are acceptable to happen in public at the airport, they shouldn't mind theirs being shown on Youtube videos for everyone to see.

    But undoubtedly Obama and they know this is inappropriate conduct and shouldn't happen, let alone publicly, so it seems certain they wouldn't offer up that video. Which only proves it is unacceptable.

  • Find security measures that are not only less invasive, but are less intrusive and faster

    The terrorists will keep winning until we do.

  • TSA employees should refuse/strike/quit

    As noted above, TSA employees who carry out such evil policies are complicit. To avoid their complicity, they should refuse to perform the pat downs and X-ray scans, go on strike, or quit their jobs. (And any who go along with it, they certainly shouldn't whine about people being belligerent about it.)

  • TSA & Homeland Security heads should resign

    This policy is so egregious and was so ill-conceived, a moment's thought should have scuttled these ideas. That they didn't throw this idea out immediately means they are unfit for the job and should resign.

Bottom Line

This is way over the line. It must stop immediately. Let's all return to living in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for acting.

I welcome your comments below.

— Dr. Andrew Burt

You may copy this article, with attribution, for non-commercial purposes:

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The TSA Has Gone Too Far by Dr. Andrew Burt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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