TSA and Pat-Downs: How Far do we Go for Safety?

Monday, May 09, 2011 - 01:01 PM

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) volunteer demonstrates a full-body scanner at O'Hare International Airport A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) volunteer demonstrates a full-body scanner at O'Hare International Airport (Getty Images)

Unfettered freedom vs complete security: Those two extremes are stances that only the most fringe utopian anarchistic libertarians and totalitarian communist types are for. But our country has enacted a slew of safety measures since 9/11 that are meant to make us more safe. How far should we go?

There have been some stomach churning examples of the well-intentioned rules set by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) being taken just too far for most people. Full body searches of little boys and girls have gotten a lot of play in videos that have gone viral, and the most recent of these is Miss USA, Susie Castillo, who put out a video that has gone viral where she talks about her personal example of being felt up by a TSA agent.

See the video here:

In case you don't want to watch the whole thing, Castillo vents about a pat down that she felt like amounted to molestation, where the TSA agent actually touched her in a place nobody wants to be touched not once, but four times. The video fades out, and she comes back with a story about her talking with some TSA-manager-type saying how she can complain. She also touches on the crux of the issue, namely how far security people should be allowed to go.

The example she uses is how drug smugglers will have drug mules carry drugs through security in their bodies... so are we going to allow security to do cavity searches on everyone who wont submit to full body scans? This is a reasonable question to ask I think.

I hate using lines like, "if we do this, we're letting THEM win...", because this really isn't about THEM at all. This is about US.

Sure, maybe some terrorists will stick a bomb you know where, or somehow develop bombs powerful enough to do damage that you can swallow, that can't be detected with other security measures currently in place, but people take hundreds of millions of flights a year... should we submit everyone to overzealous pat downs? Is maybe tapping somoene in the groin a maximum of one time perhaps enough, to check for underwear bombs? Where is the common sense?

This strikes me as absurd as requiring everyone to drive bumper cars because people get in car accidents and die. Flying in airplanes, even without heavily fortified cockpit doors, is dozens of times safer than driving somewhere (much more if you compare based on miles traveled), even with the very occasional example of hijackers and terrorists. So now that we've made it nearly impossible for hijackers to take over a plane and crash it int, yet we molest some people in the name of safety.

So should we let State Patrolmen randomly stop every car on a highway just in case one of them is drunk? Or spot check cars for properly functioning brakes, seatbelts, turning signals, accelorators, or all the other things that might lead to an accident?

I don't know about you, but I draw the line at multiple touching of peoples' private parts. I don't think that is unreasonable, and really - isn't it absurd that we're actually still talking about this? How unreasonable is it for the government to have a policy that leads to things like this occurring, children being felt up by security agents, or anything of the sort? There must be a way to incorporate a common sense clause into all of this.

Otherwise... it's not that "they're winning", it's that we're so amazingly paranoid about safety that we've lost all sense of proportion.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.



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Comments [7]

Mark from St Martin

My comments are in response to the "aRocketScientist from Houston" below.

May. 11 2011 08:41 PM
Mark from St Martin

A lot of outrageous comments get made on blogs and your is a good example of one. Let's take them one at a time:

Terrorize...I have to say ok to that one as it is a matter of opinion for each person as to what terrorizes them.

Government Perverts...silly description

Statistically...using statistics to compare events that are systemic (ie mechanical failures of planes etc) versus event (terrorists like the 9/11 gang, shoe bomber etc) if not logical or rational.

TSA Killing Americans via Sexual assault or terrorizing them...I think if someone died due to the trauma of a pat down gone too would of made the news!!

TSA Killing Americans via irradiating them...voodo science.

I do understand how some folks will be very bothered by some of the screening processes. But that doesn't warrant such these kind of comments. Also, just like someone who has a severe fear of flying chooses not to fly...someone who has the same kind of fear of one of the screening processes can choose not to fly. There are many examples of choices people make to avoid fears that are not typically felt by most folks.

Balancing safety and freedom can be a tough issue and I believe the TSA does a reasonable job. That being said...if a particular TSA agent is excessive in how they pat down someone, that should be dealt with either as a job performance issue or criminally. These kind of excesses are no where near the norm let alone occuring at any level of an alarming rate.

May. 11 2011 08:39 PM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

"We start making exceptions and broken airplane parts come raining down on our backyards when the terrorists start to exploit them."

Who the heck said we should make exceptions?!?

Do you really think touching a woman's crotch four times is necessary for people on a place to be secure?

May. 10 2011 02:02 PM

When asking how 'far is too far?', one has to balance a lot of factors, based on events: the Russians lost two airliners because of their reluctance to pat down female passengers. Al-Quaida in Iraq put exploding vests on retarded kids and sent them to petting zoos and other public events to spoil a lot of peoples' day.
We start making exceptions and broken airplane parts come raining down on our backyards when the terrorists start to exploit them.

May. 10 2011 08:58 AM
Mark from St Martin

Clearly mistakes are made by the TSA. I understand how a pat down can go too far...especially for children. However, we also need to be realistic about the threats our society faces. As a person who flies a lot I feel safer that random excesses in security occur.

May. 10 2011 02:28 AM
Sommer Gentry from Baltimore, MD

Hear, hear! I won't fly while the government is demanding a free pass to visually and manually inspect my genitals. My body is my own. I decide when and with whom to engage in sexual contact. I can't even begin to imagine how parents can force their children to endure sexual touching from a complete stranger. This is beyond absurd - it's tyrannical and abusive and inhumane and it must be stopped immediately.

May. 09 2011 04:22 PM
aRocketScientist from Houston

Who needs Terrorists, when we have the TSA to terrorize passengers before every flight. Forced to run a gauntlet of Government Perverts wanting to irradiate or sexually assault anyone they feel like. All in the name of Security to make other passengers "feel" safe. Yes, it's only the illusion of safety, as the most statistically significant danger is dying in an aircraft accident. Being blown up is statistically insignificant. Statistically, traveling by air is still the safest mode of transportation. Statistically, the TSA is "killing" Americans. Yes, the TSA is "killing" many more Americans than they are saving, because people who don't want to be sexually assaulted, irradiated, terrorized at the airport are going to drive instead. Mile per mile, more Americans will driving than flying.

Do you feel more secure now?

May. 09 2011 03:02 PM

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