Invasive searches; here to stay?

As the controversy surround the Transportation Administration’s use of backscatter x-ray machines, the pundits on all sides are taking up positions as the battle is fought in the public arena.  Eric Uliasz is in favor of abandoning the new devices and replacing them with profiling.  But profiling is indeed a hot topic as it is often associated with the dreaded racial profiling that has caused scores of lawsuits and embarrassed police departments across the country.

Eric points out a new trend emerging from the ranks of the Al Qaeda – embedding explosives inside the terrorist’s rectum.  The explosives are later retrieved (to put it mildly) in the aircraft lavatory, the bomb is constructed and then the plane is taken down.  Aside from performing rectal exams on each passenger, there is not much that can be done to thwart a “butt bomb.”  I wouldn’t put it past some of the stellar folks at TSA to suggest butt searches, but as Eric points out, profiling is the only way to stop explosives hidden beyond the rectum.

Perhaps the public would come to accept profiling if the racial, cultural and language aspects were removed.  If we were terrorist profiling we would be looking for certain signs that indicate terrorist activity.  Israel’s El Al Airlines has never had a terrorist incident.  They screen passengers before ticketing & each passenger is interviewed by a security officer.  The investigation is proactive rather than the TSA’s reactive role.  While the TSA is looking for scissors, nail clippers and bottles of water, the Israeli security teams are looking for terrorists.

As Uliasz further points out:

Yet there’s another key difference: Israel’s security agents are highly trained, experienced experts — so much so that they can be trusted to exercise common-sense-based discretion.

The only thing they do aggressively to passengers is question them — thoroughly and completely, in ways that elicit the kind of answers that can detect a would-be terrorist, before they’re even allowed to check in.

With the result that even when suicide bombers were exploding themselves in Israeli cities, “not a single one managed to get through [Tel Aviv’s] airport.” Clearly, Israel’s experience shows that TSA Chief John Pistole is mistaken when he insists that X-rays and pat-downs are the only way to keep passengers safe. What’s needed is much less political correctness — and a lot more common sense.

Meanwhile, Jeffery Rosen from the Washington Post is calling the new TSA invasive searches (backscatter x-ray machines and pat-downs & touching of private body parts) unconstitutional.  One activist group has already sued in Federal Court to stop the searches but their suit is in doubt.  Federal rulings have said that the searches might be constitutional.  For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2007, that “a particular airport security screening search is constitutionally reasonable provided that it ‘is no more extensive nor intensive than necessary, in the light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives.'”  In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both “minimally intrusive” and “effective” – in other words, they must be “well-tailored to protect personal privacy,” and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats.

And there is the rub: do backscatter x-ray searches deliver on security?  If not, they might not be constitutional.  And this takes us back to profiling; if profiling delivers and backscatter does not, perhaps it is something to examine as an option.

If we consider that there are alternatives to the backscatter x-ray machines employed in the Unites States, should we not examine their use?  Rosen points out that in Holland, the x-ray machines there show a gender neutral person without details of their genitalia.  Those machines are just as effective as those used in the U.S.  A report came out just a few days ago that shows that the company that makes the American backscatter x-ray machines has increased its lobbying efforts in order to gain more business with the Federal Government.  Are we sacrificing our privacy for the profit of one company?

And regarding privacy concerns, the Epoch Times reports that rape awareness groups have taken the position that the machines and groping body searches further stigmatize rape victims.  This seems like a valid concern especially considering that many of these pat down searches are done in plain view were everyone can see.  I remember recently a young woman in a tight dress was coming through the pat down area and a few young “fraternity looking” men waited around to ogle.

Each day we give up a little more freedom in the name of “security.”  Perhaps we should fix the problem of why we are the targets instead of putting a band-aid on the bullet hole.

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