Earlier this month it was my pleasure to take part in a panel at a conference in DC with my new friend, Jim Babb of wewontfly.com (see my earlier post on the conference here). Turns out, Jim and I share similar perspectives on the many implications of the state’s aggression against the American people beyond the TSA/scanning/frisking issue per se.
I’ve made an effort since my ordeal in the security line at MEM to restrain myself, focusing my public comments primarily on the airport security aspects of the state’s broader tyrannical designs. In the days ahead, however, I intend to widen the scope of my conversation and I appreciate the way Jim has connected the madness in our airports to the larger issues at stake in his notes and comments below.
In our view, the issue is far greater than a merely flawed air transportation security system. When the state becomes comfortable enough to enact such authoritarian policies, we the people must wake up and recognize the telltale signs and emerging patterns of tyranny throughout our society – and we must actively resist! -ed.
Notes from the EPIC Conference, by James Babb
On January 6th, 2011, the Electronic Privacy Information Center hosted a conference called “The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures” (http://epic.org/events/tsa/) The event was held at the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington, DC. Hours before dawn, in a totally sleep deprived state, I trekked with Daren Wolfe from Pennsylvania.
EPIC assembled a broad base of TSA experts including consumer rights advocates, grass-roots organizers, politicians, security experts, and lawyers. Even though the event was put together in a very short period of time, it was exceptionally well organized. The EPIC crew deserve some major credit. I was honored to be included.
The event was streamed live and a large screen projected the twitter feed in real time. This combination created a brilliant two-way link between the online community and the live participants. This should be done at all conferences.
I enjoyed meeting a interesting people of diverse backgrounds and philosophies. There were many different perspectives, but we all agreed that the TSA is totally out of control, ineffective and a dangerous threat to liberty.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear some of the presentations, but I’ll catch them on video. There were multiple professional video cameras. C-Span will be televising the conference and the videos should be out soon. Darren Wolfe made a video of my presentation. That video, and the text from my speech are included below.
Many of the speakers I knew from reputation, like the courageous pilot Michael Roberts, who walked off the job rather than submit to a strip search or groping. Michael made a principled appeal to resist tyranny. Wes Benedict from the Libertarian Party articulately explained the LP position on the TSA. Michael, Wes and I represented the libertarian faction at the conference. We were the ones advocating for the total abolishment of the TSA.
I particularly enjoyed the presentation of former Amnesty International chairman, Chip Pitts. He delivered a passionate appeal to morality. Edward Luttwak delivered a highly entertaining, humor laden exploration of various security procedures in other countries.
There were a few surprises. Kate Hanni from FlyersRights.org is actually OK with the use of x-ray scanners as a secondary screening tool. I guess she’s not an advocate for the rights of flyers with implants, prosthetics or other medical conditions that often trigger a secondary screening. Jim Harper from the CATO Institute (supposedly a libertarian organization) came out against letting passengers defend themselves. New York City Council Member, David Greenfield seems to be quite courageous for politician. He’s willing to spend some political clout to do what’s right, even if his constituents aren’t yet up to speed on the issue.
Not surprisingly, rocket scientist turned congressman, Rush Holt failed to apologize for his vote to create the TSA. He failed to apologize for his vote to spend $266 million on porno-scanners. He also did not apologize for not introducing legislation to repeal the TSA. To his credit though, Holt once wrote a stern letter to the TSA. (Some people wonder why I don’t waste my time writing letters to congress.)
One highlight for me was getting to chat with Jerome Vorus, a young DC area photographer who courageously uses his skills for police accountability. He’s ready to work with our friends in DC to document police and TSA during any airport demonstrations or FIJA outreach.
After the conference, we were invited back to the EPIC HQ for an informal reception where we toasted EPICs progress on their lawsuit against the TSA. Then some of us had sushi next door while enjoying some lively conversation.
Overall, this was a great event. It clearly demonstrated a broad base of TSA opposition. This group is smart, talented and extremely passionate about this issue. Kudos to EPIC, the participants and the attendees of this event.
(This is basically my presentation at the conference. Time restraints made me omit some items.)
You have the right to be irradiated. You have the right to be groped if it makes you feel safer. We all have the right to be fondled, swabbed, probed, examined or x-rayed. However, no one has the right to force these procedures on someone else. This doesn’t change when you put on a XXXL blue shirt or pin on a piece of government issued jewelry.
We all have an inherent right to be secure in our persons. We each own our own bodies. There is no power with the moral authority to strip search and grope us against our will.
We Won’t Fly was started by two regular dads who are opposed to the full-body airport “porno”-scanners on grounds of privacy, ineffectiveness and health.
When the new porno scanners were headed to Philadelphia in the fall of 2010, I realized that my ability to travel by air with my young daughters was in serious jeopardy, so I began researching and organizing local opposition.
My friend George Donnelly immediately offered to build a website to support the effort. The website that George created, exploded across the internet within days, resulting in millions of web hits, tens of thousands of facebook fans and twitter followers. Overnight we found ourselves in heart of the TSA resistance movement.
Our success was largely due to blog posts containing first hand accounts from travelers about the TSA’s new invasive procedures. These stories and videos of average Americans being molested by government agents spread like wild fire. We have since had the opportunity to educate tens of millions of people across the world about TSA abuse and our strategy to end it.
The stories that really took off were those of average people like Meg McClain and John Tyner. People are shocked to see what’s happening to mothers, grandmothers, cancer survivors, children with special needs…people with implants and prosthetics… the most vulnerable in our society were the first to take the brunt of TSA abuse. Now, no one is safe.
I was asked to share some traveler tales with you today. WeWontFly.com and our facebook page are full of hundreds of stories and thousands of bold proclamations from angry travelers that are now refusing to step foot in airports.
The videos of TSA in action have been our best advertising tool. Like the video of the traumatized 3 year old pleading “Stop touching me!” as a TSA employee continued to grope her.
No one can bear to watch women and children being violated by blue shirt thugs and not scream for justice. The ACLU has also compiled and published some of the 1,000 complaints they have received.
“Mary in Texas” reported:
The TSA agent used her hands to feel under and between my breasts. She then rammed her hand up into my crotch until it jammed into my pubic bone … I was touched in the pubic region in between my labia … She then moved her hand across my pubic region and down the inner part of my upper thigh to the floor. She repeated this procedure on the other side. I was shocked and broke into tears.
Allen from Nebraska said:
I was visibly upset and when he started to fondle me inappropriately I yelled “I want to see your supervisor!” I asked (emphatically) if he was legally allowed to grab my genitals and the supervisor said he was. After fondling my genitals he groped my buttocks and told me to have a good flight.
From Rosemary in Virginia:
The entire affair was very punitive, and humiliating and time consuming and emotionally distressing. When I retrieved my things, I walked into the women’s restroom and wept.
From Scott in New Mexico:
While in the “private room”… the agent inappropriately touched my genitalia (more than once) and made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. The agent also pulled down my shorts (about halfway), and I had to ask the agent to let me pull them back up. I was inappropriately touched, groped, rubbed, massaged and sexually harassed. The procedure was violating, degrading, invasive and humiliating.
TSA officials have even suggested that parents make the TSA assault into a game for their children. They are conditioning an entire generation to submit to any abuse these thugs dream up.
What is going on here?
This has nothing to do with security.
This is humiliation and conditioning for reflexive submission to the badged class.
Do we need congressional hearings to know this is wrong?
Do we need to study how much radiation is unhealthy during a virtual strip search? Of course not.
Anyone with a shred of decency knows that what the TSA is doing is immoral and totally acceptable. This is well beyond conservative, liberal or libertarian, beyond race, age or economics. This is a matter of basic human dignity.
This problem is beyond the point of reform.
There is no “better way” to strip search a child or a more “professional way” to feel up our grandmothers.
This is not an issue of TSA training. Its not even an issue of security. This is about the fundamental coercive nature of government.
The TSA is just the latex gloved, tip of the iceberg.
The public is outraged because they see a TSA hand reaching into our waistband, but everything the government does is a hand in our pants.
The public is outraged about nude scans of our families, but the IRS forces us to reveal far more than any x-ray scanner.
The government wages endless wars of aggression abroad, participates in regime change, meddles in foreign elections, imposes sanctions and blockades and then they claim we must let them grope our children and irradiate us because crazy foreigners “hate us for our freedom.” The police state at home and the empire abroad are flip sides of the same coin.
In classic government fashion, their every blunder is followed by an expectation of more power and more of our treasure. And of course, please don’t pay any attention to the windfall profits of former Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff who now works for Rapiscan Systems selling scanners to the TSA.
We have moved into a bizare world where everything about us is open for inspection by the government. But everything the tyrants do is cloaked in the deepest secrecy. Reveal their dirty secrets or attempt to protect your own privacy, and they will brand you a terrorist of domestic extremist (whatever that is).
So, I am not writing letters to Congress. I will not politely ask them adjust the position of their boot on my throat. The congressmen that voted for the TSA should be ashamed. They bear full responsibility for every TSA sexual assault and strip search. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what happens when you put 67,000 tax feeding, bumbling keystone cops in charge of something important like security.
As usual, congress failed to protect individual rights and they failed to honor their oath to defend the constitution. Instead of pleading to these criminals for change, We Won’t Fly is directing our energy towards the air travel industry. Our message is simple. Opt-out of TSA abuse. Avoid flying until this threat is contained. We will not be abused for the privilege of purchasing air travel services. Period
This tactic seems to be working. Although the old media frenzy had died down, we recently set a new record for web traffic on WeWontFly.com. Our movement is stronger than ever. We are rolling out a nationwide billboard campaign, beginning in Philadelphia this month.
Even TSA employees have taken time at work to post thoughtful comments on our blog. Its a shame that TSA failed to respond to their conference invitation, but one recent comment from a Homeland Security IP address seems to summarize their position:
“F____ you. F___ all you _____suckers. You won’t change anything. Ride the bus. TSA is here to stay.”
These are the people I’m supposed to trust with my dignity? Really?
These jerks need to go. They don’t need sensitivity training, or fresher gloves. They need to take their 4x blue shirts and their porno-scanners and go. We need to abolish the TSA and let airlines once again be responsible for their own cargo and passengers. One size fits ‘em all systems are inherently weak, and easily gamed by opponents.
So what’s the alternative?
We need flexible, decentralized, innovative security that only a competitive marketplace can provide.
As passengers, we need the freedom to select the level of security that WE are comfortable with. Those who want a full prostate exam, can have it. Those that prefer more modest techniques can have that too. Let “Grope and Scope Airline” compete with “Free and Dignified Airline”. It’s better for security, better for privacy and avoids constitutional issues.
So, instead of trusting the same politicians that have betrayed us over and over again, its time for a mental shift.
Airplane security should be an issue between airlines and customers, not politicians and lobbyists.
Accept no compromise. Abolish the TSA now.
Video by Darren Wolfe of my presentation:
Q & A