If anyone wondered about the limits of public tolerance for the increasingly unpleasant airport screening experience, the answer is being provided by the reaction to newly installed body scanners and newly aggressive pat-downs offered as an alternative.
OPPOSING VIEW: Honor basic human dignity
This week alone, New Jersey’s Legislature passed a resolution saying the scans violate a citizen’s right against unreasonable searches. John Tyner, a California traveler who sought a pat-down instead of a scan and then told airport security, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested,” became an Internet sensation.
And in the most ambitious and irresponsible protest, two grass-roots groups started the call for fliers to “opt out” of scans and insist on public pat-downs on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving. That’s about the worst idea since somebody suggested, “Let’s change the formula for Coke.” It threatens to create even bigger bottlenecks on what’s one of the year’s busiest travel days.
More broadly, there’s a gaping hole in the critics’ logic: None has offered an effective alternative. The body scanners can detect objects that metal detectors miss, such as plastic firearms, ceramic knives and, yes, possibly explosives hidden in a person’s underwear — the kind carried by the failed Christmas Day bomber last year. The unspoken conclusion of the critics’ thinking is that the government should possess technology that can detect hidden weapons, but not use it because of public squeamishness. Imagine the outcry if a bomber managed to board a plane and bring it down.
In fact, despite the critics’ overwrought charges, they are a vocal minority. In a CBS News poll last week, 81% of those surveyed said airports should use full-body X-ray machines. The scanners’ invasive aspects have been toned down considerably. Software obscures images of body parts. Individuals can’t be identified. The operator who sees the image is in another room.
This is not to say there aren’t valid questions about the machines or that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can’t improve this process. While the Food and Drug Administration has assured the public that the scanners do not pose a health risk, a few scientists question that assertion and have called for more study. Given the millions of people who will pass through these devices, that’s a good idea.
More urgently, the government should take heed of the hundreds of travelers who have complained about rude, curt or obnoxious treatment by TSA workers, particularly during pat-downs. Such treatment is inexcusable, and screeners need to be told pronto that unpleasant pat-downs aren’t meant to coerce passengers into using the machines.
The government and airlines should do everything they can to make the process less infuriating without compromising safety. This includes reviewing existing policies that have piled up in response to particular plots. Is it still necessary for everybody to take off their shoes? Is 3.4 ounces still the right limit for carry-on liquids? Is it necessary to clog checkpoints by giving fliers big financial incentives to avoid checking their luggage? And is there room for more common sense in the whole process?
As another holiday travel season approaches, airport screening might finally be reaching a tipping point. But before a vocal minority forces the issue, everyone needs to calm down and remember that the security-line indignities are a necessary byproduct of an era in which terrorists remain fixated on blowing jetliners out of the sky.
Now we know whose camp in which USA Today sits concerning this subject. Who are they to tell us to “calm down”. Why doesn’t this rag just stick to the facts; that there is growing uproar about INTRUSIVE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT that is and has been operating outside its Constitutional boundaries, and that WE THE PEOPLE have had enough already. We really don’t care that we are not offering any alternatives to radiation body scans that ARE harmful to the human body. ALL radiation damage is cumulative. The TSA and DHS is practicing medicine without a license… they are giving us radiation treatments.