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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Political Beacon

There’s been a lot of noise about the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) searches that started the beginning of November.  First, some facts: currently the full-body scanners are in place only in about 20% of major US airports.  Two different kinds of scanners are being used: a back-scatter X-ray and a millimeter-wave, each of which only scan skin-deep.  The people who look at the scans are always in a remote location and cannot see the person being scanned in front of them, which anonymizes the process.  If you opt out of the process, which you can choose to do, you will then get a clothed full-body search.  I know that, growing up, we’ve all been told that if somebody brushes certain parts of our bodies that they need to be medical professionals or intimately involved; the TSA screeners are a new addition to this group.  They have been trained to use the method that highly-trained police officers do for non-invasive full-body searches. Now, some other facts: the full-body search, while it does not have any radiation, can be problematic for some people who have had traumatic experiences, like unwanted physical contact, abuse or rape.  A number of people who have had these experiences may have flashbacks if they are touched, anything from vague uncomfortable feelings to full-out full-sensory PTSD flashbacks, though the latter are fortunately less common than the former.  This will happen regardless of how professional the screener may be. Additionally, if for some reason you are unable to take your shoes off or move unaided without something metallic, such as people in wheelchairs or people unable to walk without custom orthotics, you cannot go through the scanners and must get the full-body search. While the X-ray machine does hit you with radiation, that radiation is not being distributed throughout your body the same way most radiation doses do.  It is specifically staying in your skin.  While the powers-that-be have said this is the equivalent amount of radiation you’d get from 3 minutes of high-altitude flight,  and I will assume they are being truthful about that, your skin is only a small fraction of your body weight.  Your skin is getting a dose closer to 1-2 hours at altitude.  There are some people who should not be given this extra radiation due to health risks.  The millimeter-wave machine, according to authorities, does not expose a body to noticeable radiation.  However, they are not in place at every facility that does full-body scanning. There is a subset of potential plane passengers who have health issues that will be exacerbated by radiation who have also had traumatic experiences that would make the  full-body search untenable.  If you have a plane ticket and refuse both the full-body scan and the full-body search, you face big fines and possible arrest. Here’s the question: how do these searches stack up against the Fourth Amendment?  The text, so you have it handy, says this: 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. These scans are demonstrably not allowing people to be secure in their persons.  No warrants are being written.  As the vast majority of the flying public does not have any intention of blowing up a plane there is no probable cause that can be called upon for most people. There are people who say, “But this makes us safer!  Besides, the Founding Fathers never envisioned something like this!”  To reply: no, the Founding Fathers never envisioned people flying through the air unless they were secret fans of Leonardo Da Vinci.  However, they did have experience with vessels made for reasonably fast transport of people and goods, namely sailing ships.  These ships were very expensive and constituted a large investment in materials and skilled labor to put together properly.  Piracy was a serious concern in the 1700s, and some ships were scuttled with all hands on deck.  Mutiny wasn’t unknown either. Even so, we do not have accounts of all luggage being searched when somebody went onboard a ship.  We do not hear about every crew-member being searched to check for guns or bombs or knives.  The Founding Fathers were, for the most part, wealthy men who wanted to maintain their property.  While the Bill of Rights was only added due to popular unrest, the Fourth Amendment was still put in with strong, terse and unwavering terms. One final point: air travel is already the safest form of travel of the “planes, trains and automobiles” set.  If you want improvements to safety that are better than incremental, the US might want to consider switching to the Israeli model of screening.  El Al hasn’t lost a plane in four decades.  Every passenger on El Al flights goes through extensive interviews with a fully-trained screening agent.  Pat-downs are reserved for people deemed a security risk.  People still get to drink their drinks and keep their shoes on.  Given the lead-time we’re asking people to give at the airports currently, this probably wouldn’t slow down the lines any. Why aren’t we doing this?  Well, the El Al agents are very highly trained and go through an extensive regimen.  They are presumably well-paid for all of this.  TSA agents do not receive as extensive a training regimen.  This costs money. We cannot expect air travel to be cheaper, faster and better.  If security is so important, perhaps we need to spend more money and maintain people’s Constitutional rights instead of breaking the law and risking people’s health.  As for me?  If I have the time I think I’ll take a train.