As the holidays unfold in full force, more and more travelers are talking about the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) full-body scanners cropping up in America’s airports, and the talk is getting loud.
So far, more than 400 scanners have been deployed at 70 airports around the country, with plans for some 1,000 to be installed as the system is fully enforced. And many US travelers are not happy about it. As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, an Internet boycott was encouraged, although it did not precipitate any actual participation, as many media outlets had predicted.
But, many argue the boycott served the purpose of bringing a serious issue to light – the act of being unlawfully or unreasonably searched and/or seized, which could amount to a violation of the 4th Amendment. This argument seems very apparent, but as with many Constitutional issues, the entire story is somewhat more complex, and is fixed in judicial precedent rather than in the specific wording of the Amendment.
As a matter of law, an airport security screening is considered an administrative search, and is allowable if executed for the specific purpose of attempting to locate weapons or explosives, and is exercised in a very limited way for that purpose. It is further argued, in a general sense, that flying is a privilege rather than a right (as with driving, and the resulting increased regulation in that arena), and that a person may simply forgo that privilege if she or he is uncomfortable with the established procedures involved.
Undeterred by this deconstruction of the legalese, and buoyed by the near unassailable power of the First Amendment, a bumper crop of techno-savvy protest clothing has sprung up to allow people to vent their frustrations. The clothing items, which include men’s and women’s underwear printed with metallic ink that will provide a sharp reminder to the TSA screener of the wearer’s Constitutional rights, may miss the mark in a more critical examination of the issue.
But, many feel it highlights a deeper, more fundamental matter – that basic rights are slowly being chipped away by a government that relies on fear to justify increasing invasions into the privacy of its citizens. What’s more, the very attentive have noticed that the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, pushed the TSA to purchase scanners from Rapiscan, which takes consulting advice from the Chertoff Group.
Safety over privacy, though, seems to be the driving question within the debate. Can the US remain safe without full-body scanners? The answer right now, according to the TSA, is no. But, it is every citizen’s right, and some would even say duty, to ask whether these choices are in fact criminally negligent.