This Time, I'm Pro Pat-Down

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - 02:59 PM

Today, we can expect as many as two million people to board domestic and international flights. I know there has been a lot of rabble rousing online about the new security procedures, which include full body scanners or, in the alternative, intensified pat-downs. Some are calling for a National Opt-Out protest on this, the busiest travel day of the year. But when it comes down to it, I predict people will not boycott. They simply want to get home to their families for the holidays and they will do what they have to do to get there safely.

At least American travelers have a choice. Some travelers will be subjected to the X-ray scan that can peer through their clothes. Folks who refuse the machines are offered a pat-down search that includes the crotch and chest. How often do we have a choice about anything? And while there have been some travelers who have complained about uniquely unpleasant encounters with TSA agents, these have been either because of the traveler’s unique circumstances (one travelers external urostomy bag broke during pat down) or the TSA agent’s unique insensitivity (according to one report in the Christian Science Monitor, a TSA agent made insensitive comments about Muslims during a body scan). Apparently, the concept is worse than the reality, according to most travelers who said that the scans and the pat downs were not much of an invasion or inconvenience.  

More to the point, the stepped-up measures are necessary in a post 9/11 world and—if you want to fly—are unavoidable. If you just can't bear the thought of either a revealing body scan or a TSA agent pat down, however, you needn’t board that flight. Yes, you have a right to privacy, but there is no constitutional right to fly in this country. If you feel your rights are being violated, find another way to get to Grandma's. Or stay home.

We all wish we lived in a world where security procedures at airports weren't necessary, but that just isn't the case. TSA agents are just doing their jobs, not unlike a nurse in a clinic. They are not interested in groping people. They are not molesting people. They are checking for dangerous items and explosives that can be hidden just about anywhere. Surely we haven't forgotten the attempt by the (alleged) underwear bomber, less than a year ago during the busy holiday season?

Since 9/11, I have been one of those who has, almost always, argued for liberty over security. This is one instance, however, where we have to give up a little freedom in the interest of greater security. The government is desperately trying to balance security and privacy and is taking the public's concerns and complaints into account as it evaluates the new, more stringent boarding checks. For now, I think they are doing a pretty good job.  

Jami Floyd is a broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues.


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Comments [7]

Matt Katz from brooklyn

The facts are important, and they do not agree with you.

Searches at the airport are bad security - they do not secure airports. Professional, careful policework and investigations actually catch malefactors.

The searches do not. They have not. They cannot. They didn't catch the guys who made it onto plains, because they can't.

If you can already think of ways to get weapons onto planes, if you've noticed that there are already huge security holes, you know that the place to catch bad guys is before they get to the airport.

The guys who bring the meals on don't get searched. The pilots get searched, though they control the actual plane. People with metal in their bodies have noticed repeatedly that they can get on the planes.

Security theater makes you feel safer while taking money and time away from efforts that actually make people safer.

Nov. 30 2010 11:38 AM
Nancy from NJ

As a scientist who works to protect the public from harm from exposure to unwanted or unnecessary radiation exposures, I feel compelled to correct Paulb. The exposure a person would receive from a backscatter x-ray machine is negligible compared to the amount one would receive by taking that flight. Most people are woefully unaware of the amount of radiation they receive every single day - from natural sources and human-made.

Do you smoke Paulb? If you do, you are subjecting your lungs, and those innocent lungs around you, to much much more radiation every time you light up. Medical x-rays? Far more exposure there. CT scan? Now THAT's a huge dose. I hear people say all the time "but I made a CHOICE to get that particular exposure!" to which my reply echoes that of Ms. Floyd - there is no constitutional right to fly, so if it really is something you wish to opt out of, drive. And if you want to talk about dangerous risks, we could go on all day about those statistics.

Nov. 30 2010 07:49 AM


Although in my previous comment I stated a disagreement with your position, I cannot believe the comment by John L.

Let me apologize for his rudeness, he clearly doesn't understand what being a 'Nazi' means.

Nov. 27 2010 04:51 PM
John Lininger from Seattle, WA

Jami Floyd,

You would have made an excellent Nazi.

I bet you are upset you were born too late!

-- John

TSA agent: “Do people know what a Nazi is?”

German citizen in the early 1940s: “I’m not doing anything terrible. I’m just working at a train station where they’re loading passengers on these trains, bound for who knows where. I don’t hate them. I’m just doing my job. If I don’t do it, I could get in trouble. I have a family to feed. I’m serving my country.”

“I’m just following orders” is not a defense for being complicit in violating the rights of your fellow human beings.

Nov. 26 2010 06:43 PM
Paulb from NYC

Can't agree with you on this one Jami. These x-rays which exposed to multiple times are harmful and these pat-downs are now making airports one iota more secure.

Is a false sense of security not often worse than no security at all!

Nov. 26 2010 10:42 AM
Stephen Real from Columbia, USA

I can’t recall any American trying take down an airplane over the last hundred years.
A hundred years!
Can anyone recall an American trying to take down a plane
over the last 100 years?
and patting down little kids is truly a national embarrassment
if not a right out obscenity…
I’m truly embarrassed for the TSA management.
Shame on you!
Quite frankly fellas, Americans are very proud that the airplane was invented by an American in the good ole USA, if the TSA management didn’t get their head wrap up so tight over worrying
they’d see the obvious embarrassment and mockery that the system
has become.
I don’t blame the TSA at all, I blame the management.
Score one for Bin Laden.

Nov. 24 2010 10:02 PM

I would agree with you, if I believed that active imagining techology like backscatter had a hope of keeping us safer. It doesn't, which is why Tel Aviv airport, arguably among the most threatened in the world, rejected this tech almost twenty years ago. These machines are expensive, produce more radiation and are less effective at detecting threats than other available technologies (such as the scanners sold by Brijot).

But hey, Michael Chertoff can't make money off of those machines, can he?

Nov. 24 2010 05:01 PM

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