The outrageous invasion of our privacy rights that is the whole-body scanner (and its equally outrageous counterpart, the full-body pat down) was hurriedly put in place by the government, before Americans could really comprehend what it would mean and whether they were willing to tolerate it. Yet where did the impetus for installing these scanners in our nation’s airports come from? And who’s responsible for this unfolding nightmare being unleashed on the American people?
As Reuters reported on Dec. 30, 2009, “The path toward rolling out wider use of whole-body security scanners in U.S. airports runs through the White House…. U.S. President Barack Obama could expedite such a deployment because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) don’t need legislation from Congress to start using the devices at any of the 560 U.S. airports with scheduled airline service.”
In fact, legislation has been proposed to mandate full-body scanners and make them the primary screening method in all U.S. airports by 2013, but Congress has yet to act on it. So we can thank President Obama for this frontal assault on our Fourth Amendment rights. Mind you, this is the same man who insisted that “we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans.” Yet in the wake of the bumbling underwear bomber’s botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound plane, Obama directed the Homeland Security Department “to acquire $1 billion in advanced-technology equipment, including body scanners, for screening passengers at airports.” In fact, Obama’s Stimulus Bill, which committed more than $3 billion for homeland security projects, is funding the installation of the devices in airports across the country.
The Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration have been quick to do the president’s bidding, aided and abetted by corporate lobbyists eager to make a profit at taxpayer expense. The TSA plans to roll out a total of 450 full-body scanners by year’s end, with an additional $88 million included in the 2011 national fiscal budget for 500 more machines. And Congress, which has the power to halt this thing (or at least provide oversight), has done nothing.
All the while, the American people are being subjected to all manner of egregious searches by government agents. Since my commentary about the airline pilot who refused to go through the scanner or be subjected to a pat down, I have been bombarded by e-mails from individuals — particularly women — who have shared their own horrific encounters with TSA agents. The following are some of the most egregious.
This account is from a woman who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome:
I was subjected to a TSA rub down in Pittsburgh in September. There is no patting happening. The officer ran her hands over every square inch of my body, firmly pressing into my flesh in every area when I declined to have myself irradiated. Being a recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome, I am extremely aware that my body needs protection from anything that is unnatural or unnecessary, and excess radiation is on my list of things to avoid. Unfortunately, the rub down elicited some trauma issues, and when I got upset and started crying, they started the “pat down” all over again. After I received my belongings, I attempted a photo of the TSA station and officers, at which point I was apprehended, my ID was taken, I had to delete my photos at their demand and eventually when they realized I had no record, they told me to go get on the plane before I got into trouble. Why am I, a 49-year-old woman, employed for 28 years by IBM, mother of two teenagers, married for 27 years, being viewed as a terrorist? The trauma of the “pat down” has reactivated an autoimmune condition and I have spent the last four weeks working to bring my immune system back into balance. I can’t imagine getting on an airplane with the possibility of this happening again. I would like to protest this invasion of privacy, but how?
The second is from a ticketing agent who was suspended after objecting to TSA’s search of her wallet:
I just had my second run-in with TSA while attempting to go to work. I was refused the right to go to work because after I willingly handed TSA my lunch bag (which only contained my pocketbook, two restaurant paper napkins, and a piece of a news page crossword puzzle), they proceeded to empty my pocketbook, piece by piece, and go through my wallet, credit card by credit card, checking every nook and cranny in both my purse and my wallet. When they began going through my wallet, I objected. I may have lost my job because of these arrogant and ignorant individuals.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at www.rutherford.org.