Report from EPIC’s TSA security conference

On January 6, I participated in a panel at a conference hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, DC entitled, The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures. The broad coalition of speakers included Representative Rush Holt, Ralph Nader, New York City Councilman David Greenfield, and representatives of the Libertarian Party, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Flyer’s Rights, and the CATO Institute. The well-organized conference was streamed live and, I’ve been told, will air on CSPAN over the weekend. The following is a transcript of my speech before the attendees:

It’s important to think clearly about exactly what it is that we are resisting, and what effective resistance entails. Throughout history, citizens of every kind of government, facing all kinds of crises have cried out to the state: “Deliver us from evil.” The state invariably answers that it must be given more control in order to meet the people’s demands for its protection and provision. Governments are made powerful only by the consent of the governed. The people take comfort in creating for themselves a higher power to stand between them and the uncertainty of things beyond their control. The state is established and ascribed with the power to meet the needs and desires of its creators. But, being inherently impotent, it is most essentially interested in the transference of power away from the many into the hands of a few. Whatever ancillary agendas or obligations it has, the primary business of the state must be to secure the strength needed to bring its intentions to pass. Promises are exchanged for a disproportionate share of the power that has been equally endowed by the laws of nature and nature’s God to the people themselves.

Now – as it has happened throughout history – a subtle but comprehensive shift is underway in the relationship between the people and the government in the United States and, indeed, throughout much of the waning free world. Roles are being reversed with regard to who is accountable to whom. In our context here today, consider: law-abiding travelers are being ordered about by government security agents, told to remove our shoes, our belts, and even prosthetic body parts. We are instructed to stand in docile compliance and pose for the imaging of our naked bodies or, and sometimes in addition to, the physical invasion of our personal space and literal bodily and sexual assault. Recorded announcements are made in airport terminals, with desensitizing repetition, warning us that we may be arrested if we dare to openly question or ridicule this madness. It may be difficult for the infrequent traveler to believe that these things are truly happening. Yet right now in America travelers are bartering their personal sovereignty in exchange for the ability to move about within their own borders by air, to perform their work, or even to attend a conference and express their indignation against the state’s egregious assault on our basic rights and dignity.

In any exchange we must choose carefully between the value of one alternative and that of another. On October 15, I was confronted with a choice between access to my workplace, and my essential dignity as well as the right to be secure in my person against unreasonable search and seizure. Countless others are being made to choose every day between their livelihood and their freedom. The choice to fly for a living, or otherwise, and to simultaneously enjoy the assurances expressly guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment (and by the rule of law in general) that we will not be accosted by government agents has been taken from us without any meaningful semblance of due process. If passenger airlines were permitted to offer their services in a free marketplace – with our without the humiliating mistreatment of their customers – perhaps an accurate assessment could be made of how much so called “Transportation Security” the market is truly inclined to bear. Unfortunately, however, the determination has evidently been made that we the people are not fit to choose for ourselves in this regard. And when the executive decree was handed down to use federal Recovery Act funds to stimulate the economy by abusing the traveling public, the people most affected – those of us who work within the industry – began to question whether the value of our jobs outweighed that of our personal rights and liberty.

But that was not the only exchange we had to consider. First Officer Howard Pinkham of US Airways placed the value of his passengers’ safety above that of his own livelihood when he declared himself unfit to fly as a result of his traumatic security screening experience. His flight was canceled and the airline’s passengers were unable to reach their destinations as planned. I’ve personally spoken with many crew members who acknowledge the psychologically upsetting and performance degrading effects of the TSA’s unlawful and invasive actions, but who have nevertheless chosen to fly under the duress of fear that to do otherwise may adversely affect their employment status. Other traveling professionals – too many to count – have given similar reasons for continuing to subject themselves to these abuses. To reiterate, people are compelled to comply with the violation of their personhood, and even the degradation of passenger safety, because they are afraid of what will happen if they refuse. And coercion by fear, called by any other name, is nevertheless the very epitome of terrorism. Whereas politicians make promises in exchange for power, the leveraging of fear to control the actions and decisions of others in society is the work of tyrants.

We’re not talking about security at all here. This entire situation is a national embarrassment and disgrace. But, above all, it is our security itself that is most threatened by the attack of our Constitution’s domestic enemies – many of whom are somewhere in this city with us today. Their criminal actions clearly violate the legitimate bounds of the state’s constitutionally delineated jurisdiction. If our bodies belong to the state, we belong to the state. I urge everyone to carefully consider the value with which you regard your natural rights and liberty, and whether it is ever justified to peddle them in the market at any price. What will you profit even if you gain the whole world and forfeit your own soul?

About Michael S. Roberts

Suspected terrorist/domestic extremist. Proficient sinner. Father of 6. INTP. Autodidact. Fed up pilot. Chatty by nature...
This entry was posted in Resistance 101, The big picture, The facts, What pilots are saying. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Report from EPIC’s TSA security conference

  1. 1amWendy says:

    Well said, Sir. And to leave you with a smidgen of hope in at least some of us, I did leave a management consulting job ONLY because I would not sacrifice myself to the TSA. Turned from the gate in Dallas and called my office stating I would rent a car and drive back.

    I know that this is probably rather quaint of me, but I still hold on to the notion that I get to choose who sees me naked and I get to choose who touches me where. I can state with total confidence that strangers in blue shirts are not on my list.

    • And I bet you don’t regret it one bit either, do you? Good for you! Please, if you are willing, send your story to me and I’ll post it on the Reports page. Also let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you deal with any repercussions. You did the right thing in protecting your rights and freedom – that alone is worthwhile in itself. But I encourage you to share your story as broadly as possible to help wake others up as well. Again, if I can help in that regard or in any other way, please let me know.

  2. Raven says:

    Bravo! You, Michael Roberts, are an American hero and a courageous example for all of us. I will be fighting with you, on all fronts I can find, to end the TSA’s abuse of innocent people. We will win.

    When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce innocent travelers under absolute despotism, it is the people’s right, it is their duty, to destroy the TSA, and to provide new paradigms for their future security.

    • Thank you, Raven. All of this moves at a frustratingly slow pace, but I’m more convinced every day that we are eventually going to win this. And when we do I think it will mark a new day in a much broader sense of our collective awareness and engagement with the truth about our relationship to our government. Once the light bulb finally comes on, people seem to understand that this is only one manifestation of an out of control state’s designs on many fronts. Perhaps there’s hope for us after all.

      • Mark says:

        I applaud the good fight! I like to tell myself that we can turn back the tide of intrusive technology, but I fear it’s more likely going to go this way.

        Mark in Ohio

        • Yeah, it’s big business for sure. And when there’s a lot of money to be made, it’s very difficult for anyone to stop things from moving ahead. The only solution is to cause more money to be lost than what is being generated from it. If people stopped subjecting themselves to this abuse, that would happen. But, in spite of the significant downturn in air travelers who are willing to fly at all because of these procedures, I think they intend to keep pressing ahead. For one thing, these things are preparing us for the implementation of biometrics. They’re going to sell biometric technology as a less invasive solution, but the truth is it will only give the state MORE control over our lives – not less.

  3. Your statement was a classic example of a well-written, well-thought out, and defensible argument. I hope that more and more people are exposed to the truth because of your work.

    Being an elected official myself, I can tell you that the perpetual entity of the Leviathan is difficult to fight, even from the inside. So many times I have attempted to work out this problem in my head, but the conclusion that I come to I am unwilling to accept. I invariably conclude that the People themselves are asking for things that cannot happen. You cannot have the government provide you security and prosperity. You cannot have the government fulfill the promises that elected officials offer to get into office. At the end of the day, the only true path to more freedom lies in the People themselves assuming the responsibility for their own safety (within our borders), and to tell the government that it is not their job.

    Your own travails are part of that process, and I pray that God will give you a wide audience and a sympathetic ear.

    • Thanks, Mikey. Prayers are exactly what I need. I think you’re right – in the end, we cannot fight the state. We must instead make the often painful choice to withdraw our participation altogether (or at least as much as possible as often as possible). This TSA madness is a perfect example. Our only leverage is the power we have to choose, and the choices we make will incur consequences one way or the other. Responsibility does indeed reside with the people. That things have been allowed to come this far is a reflection of the collective character of the people – and that’s all it is. That’s why I don’t see myself as fighting Leviathan at all. I’m fighting to win over individual hearts and minds. Whether my efforts can ever change the system (that has never been my primary intent), I hope to reach as many people as possible and call them out of the spiraling madness of our time. Maybe at least a few of us will be able to say we weren’t complicit in the state’s crimes – that we resisted to the end. That may not be much, but it beats wetting our pants and simply going along to get along.

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