New TSA Policies Not Protecting Us

Not long after a Canada Free Press article broke news that a leaked U.S. Department of Homeland Security memo supposedly called for creating an enemies list of people who agitated against the new enhanced TSA security screening procedures, I had a guest column in the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette agitating against those very TSA security screening procedures.  [Hat tip to Between Two Rivers blog, where I first read about the DHS/TSA enemies list.] 

My column in the paper (which appeared Monday Dec. 13th, with the above title) was edited for space and brevity, but I present here my original long-winded submission:

The Transportation Security Administration’s new procedures, which involve taking naked body images of or giving intense pat-downs to American citizens without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, would have been unfathomable to most Americans a decade ago. Now, however, many view them as a necessary trade off to make us safer against the terrorist threat. But how much safer do they make us?

The procedures are being justified as being in response to the 2009 “Underwear Bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. However a report from the Government Accountability Office, the auditing and evaluation arm of Congress, concluded that it was “unclear” whether the new scanners would have detected the materials used by Abdulmutallab. Ben Wallace, an ex British Army officer who later worked for a defense firm that made such scanners, says that it’s “unlikely” that they would.

The debate may be moot because Al Qaeda has already developed a way of eluding the scanners, as well as the pat-downs. In an assassination attempt against a Saudi prince in 2009, an Al Qaeda operative snuck a pound of explosives and a detonator through security in his rectum. A device hidden in this manner could only be detected by a full body cavity search. So it’s “unclear” to “unlikely” that the TSA’s new procedures would make us safer against an “underwear bomber” and are useless against cutting edge suicide bomber tactics.

If the scanners don’t make us much safer, then how did we end up with them? According to David Rittgers, an analyst at the Cato Institute: “An army of executives for scanner-producing corporations — mostly former high-ranking Homeland Security officials — successfully lobbied Congress into spending $300 million in stimulus money to buy the scanners. But running them will cost another $340 million each year. Operating them means 5,000 added TSA personnel, growing the screener workforce by 10 percent. This, when the federal debt commission is saying that we must cut federal employment rolls, including some FBI agents, just to keep spending sustainable.”

Borrowing more money to purchase marginal technology and increasing spending to employ it, at a time when the U.S. appears on the verge of economic collapse, does not make us safer.

Then there are privacy and Fourth Amendment concerns. According to one congressman, the scanners “offer a disturbingly accurate view of a person’s body[.]” British officials banned their use on people under 18, for fear of running afoul of child pornography laws. Documents obtained by Electronic Privacy Information Center show that the scanners “include the ability to store, record, and transfer images” and “include hard disk storage, USB integration, and Ethernet connectivity” that raise significant privacy concerns. Comparable scanners that more adequately address privacy concerns are available and used in Europe, but then former DHS officials don’t sell those scanners.

The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons […] against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated[.]” According to law professor Jeffrey Rosen, as an appeals court judge in 2006, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said that to be constitutionally “reasonable” airport screening procedures must be both “effective” and “minimally intrusive” as well as “well-tailored to protect personal privacy.” The new TSA procedures seem to miss the mark.

Most Americans don’t need to hear legal opinions to know that the TSA searches are an affront to their liberties. As the millions of people lying in mass graves around the globe would surely attest if they were able, when a government begins to disregard the rights and dignity of its people and the people do nothing, we are all decidedly less safe.

Benjamin R. Cashner is a freelance writer from Monticello and a member of the Iowa Libertarian Party. He blogs at  http://coldhardcashner.blogspot.com/ and is a contributing writer at Iowa Freedom Report.com.

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