Letter submitted to USA Today on Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 1:46 PM; rejected for publication at 2:35 PM:
For those who may still be unfamiliar, please allow me to briefly explain what’s happening in the U.S.A. today. When a law abiding citizen wishes to travel out of any major airport in the country where the latest air transportation security procedures have been implemented, he or she will now be subjected to what can only be truthfully described as a virtual strip search. The federal government is using funds raised through the Recovery Act to stimulate the economy by installing expensive new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) systems at airport security checkpoints throughout the nation. These devices enable screeners to see beneath travelers’ clothing to an extremely invasive level of detail. For example, the images are graphic enough to enable agents to determine whether a man has been circumcised, or whether a woman is menstruating.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is quick to point out that this program is optional. Individuals who decline this indignity, or “opt out”, will instead be physically frisked, which entails a federal security agent’s hands passing over the entire body, including the buttocks, breasts, hair, and genitals. The agent will explain the procedure beforehand, and the traveler is expected to consent and comply or else opt back into the AIT scanner. Otherwise, he or she will not be admitted to the secured side of the facility or allowed to board an aircraft.
On October 15, I was turned away from the security screening checkpoint at Memphis International Airport when I declined both AIT screening and the secondary “enhanced pat-down” procedure. I was attempting to enter the facility for my commute to Houston, where I’m based as a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, doing business as Continental Express. I did, however, pass through a standard impulse induction metal detector without triggering an alarm, just as I have done approximately once per week at that same checkpoint (which happens to be in Terminal C – hence, “Checkpoint Charlie”) for the past four and a half years.
TSA announced the new screening policies last July. When we learned about the changes, many of my coworkers and I were deeply disturbed, especially as we discovered that this mistreatment was being mandated for crew members as well as passengers – even children! We discussed the various ways in which we might express our rejection of the new rules. Unfortunately, there had been no proposal published, and no opportunity for the public to comment. TSA had simply issued its decree, and it was already on the books. Because we didn’t want an incident like mine to be the first indication of our dissent, our initial concern at the time was to notify the company that we do not consent to having images of our nude bodies produced as a matter of course in performing the routine duties of our profession.
“Neither,” we wrote last August in a letter to our managers, “can we abide being stopped daily by government agents and physically molested,” as a reasonable alternative.
We also wrote: “While we take airline security very seriously, we do not believe the dubious benefits of these invasive measures justify the trade off in employee and passenger privacy and other rights and liberties. It is our view that reasonable levels of security within the air transportation system can and must be achieved without producing images of travelers’ naked bodies or subjecting them without cause to… unwelcome touching at the hands of federally employed airport security guards.”
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
I specifically draw the reader’s attention to the first eight words. Our nation’s founders clearly affirmed “the right of the people to be secure”. It’s equally clear that they saw the kind of wholesale, unprovoked assault against persons and privacy that is being committed within our borders today as a serious threat to that security – serious enough, in fact, to write it down in the Bill of Rights.
What is happening in the U.S.A. today is not safe. The things our government is doing do not make us secure or protect us. On the contrary, it is now necessary for us to protect ourselves from our supposed protectors. My wife and I teach our children to defend their bodies, and not to allow anyone to touch them in certain ways – not even friends or relatives. But if we wish to travel by air as a family, we must now deliver our children over to such abuse at the hands of strangers and tell them it’s okay because these are security guards who work for the government and wear uniforms with shiny badges. We will not. It is not okay. And we urgently implore our neighbors everywhere to protect themselves and their families as well.