Do you remember what the biggest news story was just before Thanksgiving?
Everyone was talking about airport security-to wit, the "nude body scans" and the intrusive "pat-downs." Video of burly Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) agents in loud and sometimes violent confrontations with passengers, children and old people being groped in front of appalled family members, "Don't touch my junk!"-the words and images dominated the news cycle.
And then the story went away. Nothing was resolved, but the story went away.
But the scanners and the pat-downs have not gone away. They're still a pre-boarding ritual at many major airports.
Nor has the opposition gone away. In fact, it's alive and well and fighting mad in Austin, Texas.
Keep Austin Free
"I don't know why the story went away," said Wesley Strackbein, with Keep Austin Free. "There's always an initial shock value with any new, tyrannical policy. Then, when the shock wears off, people grow to accept it."
But Keep Austin Free is not accepting it. They're lobbying the Austin City Council to prevent the scanning machines from being installed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport-where, for the time being, there are "only" pat-downs. The Austin Airport Advisory Commission, an agency of the city government, on December 14, 2010, unanimously recommended that the city council oppose the scanners and the pat-downs.
Keep Austin Free has a website, "Stop TSA Tyranny", which is well worth a visit. It features news and editorials from all over the country, medical analysis of the health issues raised by repeated exposure to radiation from the scanning machines, assorted video, and the latest on the movement's activities.
"Significant efforts to push back against TSA tyranny are underway in several states," Strackbein said. "Meanwhile, we've been joined by the Texas ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] and many other groups." The website lists them all.
The Constitutional Issue
The stated purpose of the nude body scans and pat-downs is to prevent armed or bomb-carrying terrorists from boarding airliners. This is a legitimate government purpose, Strackbein said; but the means used to achieve it, he added, are not. He quoted the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
"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."
We have given the Amendment in its entirety because it seems to us a clear and straightforward statement of what the government can or cannot do in regard to searches and seizures of citizens and their property.
Where is the probable cause, and the duly issued warrant, to search anyone who wants to board an airplane? How does "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized" apply to supposedly random searches?
Strackbein said, "The government cannot use a Constitutional power [in this case, to provide for the common defense-ed.] as a club against a Constitutional right. This is definitely a Fourth Amendment issue; but it's also an issue of basic moral decency and the proper role of the state.
"To trade liberty for temporary safety is a fool's bargain. Does safety become a god? Is the messianic state going to ensure 100% safety for all of us? I mean, think of all the crimes they could prevent if they searched everybody, every day. Think of all the accidents they could prevent if they made the speed limit 15 m.p.h.
"Yes, to keep us safe from terrorists and criminals, the state may use every reasonable means, under the law. But violating the rights of citizens is not the way to do it!"
The nude body scans, he added, are especially objectionable. "Forcing nakedness on certain people has always been a ploy of tyrants," he said. "On Assyrian monuments you see the conquered people being paraded naked through the streets. By imposing on people the shame and humiliation of a virtual strip-search, they're turning citizens into serfs."
Is this rhetoric too heated? We might almost think so, but for the fact that the TSA has publicly humiliated very many individuals who were obviously not terrorists and could only have been suspected by the most feverishly unstable imaginations. If we rule out the possibility that TSA personnel have such imaginations, what justifiable purpose can possibly be served by so badly upsetting children, elderly women, and medical patients?
"There is momentum building," Strackbein said, "to stand up against tyranny. Quietly, behind the scenes, liberty-loving citizens are rising up against TSA tyranny."
New Jersey Weighs In
Lest this all be dismissed as the rantings of a few hot-heads down in Texas, we can see an equally vigorous protest shaping up in, of all places, the state legislature of New Jersey.
State Senator Michael Doherty has introduced three bills that would actually criminalize the TSA's activities. If these bills were enacted into law, TSA agents could be arrested by New Jersey State Police.
As described on a New Jersey Senate website:1
- Bill TSA-1 "makes certain body searches a third-degree crime of sexual assault under certain circumstances."
- Bill TSA-2 "prohibits use of body imaging scanners to screen passengers and airline crew members."
- Bill TSA-3 "specifies that certain images generated by body scans violate State statutes, prohibiting invasion of privacy, pornography, and endangerment of child welfare under certain circumstances."
All three may be read as PDF files on the site.
Sen. Doherty has also launched an online petition against the TSA's search procedures, which so far has collected more than 3,600 signatures. Finally, he has made an online video available, featuring New Jersey legislators from both political parties, plus a representative of the New Jersey ACLU, speaking out against the TSA and supporting the bills.2
"These TSA procedures," Sen. Doherty said, "are violations of New Jersey law, and also unconstitutional. They intimidate certain citizens and violate their rights.
"All of these bills remove any claim that TSA agents are immune to any state statutes that they violate when searching passengers or crew. If we don't take strong action against these violations, where will it lead? Today planes, tomorrow trains and buses."
Persons interested in joining the pushback can visit the Keep Austin Free website for more information, and sign Sen. Doherty's petition.