As I am with pretty much any issue, I'm of two minds on privacy issues when it comes to flying. On one hand, I understand that I give up some aspects of my right to privacy when I board a plane. It may not be pleasant to unpack your entire bag when you go through security (and as a single male non-citizen traveling in the U.S. after 9/11, I seemed to get plucked out of line for special treatment almost every time for a few years there), but it's the price you pay to help ensure that nothing dangerous gets on the plane. I can live with that.
I can also live with the seemingly ridiculous obsession with removing shoes and forbidding liquids at the security checkpoint, even though those measures seem largely to be more an ineffectual show
of responding to past incidents -- "security theater," as some have dubbed it -- rather than actually making us safer. It seems that airport security officials, like generals, are always fighting the last war. With the advent of the new full-body scanners, though, I think that things have officially gotten out of hand.
If you haven't heard, the full-body scanners take images of the passenger's entire body and upload those images to security workers who examine them to make sure passengers aren't smuggling anything dangerous onto the plane. Supposedly, the images cannot be saved and the privacy intrusion is therefore minimal. However, it doesn't take too much internet searching (or common sense, for that matter) to know that any supposed defenses against invasion of privacy are easily thwarted.
Some people, including pilots
, are concerned about the doses of radiation the scanners emit as well.
The TSA does offer an alternative to the scanners: a thorough pat-down
. According to some people, though, these pat-downs are a little too
thorough. A fellow San Diegan recently made headlines
by refusing to be subjected to either the scanner or the rather too intimate pat-down (he tells the whole story from his own point of view here
Now, working airport security is, I'm sure, a rather thankless job. Charged with protecting the public from terrorists, you are nevertheless going to annoy and anger that same public with some of the methods you have to use. And most of us, I think, feel that the inconvenience of having bags opened or of not bringing that tube of toothpaste on the plane, pointless as it may seem, is a small price to pay for safety.
But when it gets to the point that the TSA is looking into prosecuting a man
simply for refusing to submit to what he felt was an invasion of his privacy and his personal space, things have gone too far. Just as your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins, I feel that the government's right to grope my body ends when I walk away from the airport.
It would be preferable if the government rethought its current approach to security altogether. As that beleaguered San Diego man and many others have pointed out, a disturbingly high number of airline incidents have been snuffed out not by airport security but by passengers on the planes themselves. I'm not sure what the safest and most effective air travel security approach would be, but I'm pretty sure the answer is not to continue wasting resources on prosecuting people who just want you to keep your eyes and hands off their private parts.