Constitution Watch: The Touchy-Feely TSA

June 30th, 2011


For the past year, air travelers have had to go through the misery and tension that are TSA screenings. For some that meant one of two options: going through a full body scan, or getting fondled by administrators. Either method subjects the traveller to invasive searches that both violate one’s natural right to privacy, and the 4th amendment prevented illegal search and seizure by the government. Thankfully, there are now people that are doing something about these unnecessary and improper security measures, especially in the wake of some really ridiculous moments.

The most obvious of the challenges to the TSA is the anti-groping legislation working its way through the Texas State Legislature. Initially one of the strongest anti-TSA measures, it was held up after the TSA threatened to close all the airports in Texas if the bill passed, citing that it couldn’t guarantee the safety of passengers if it were prevented from doing its job the same way in all areas, and the supremacy clause in the Constitution prevents states from meddling in the affairs of a federal agency. While they have an argument that the constitution prevents states from interfering with federal duties, if that federal duty is inherently unconstitutional, do the states not have a right to challenge or nullify it? Also worthy of note, the pat-down is an alternative to the full body X-ray that is used, and even though the X-ray might be as bad if not worse than a pat down, it could just be used as the sole privacy-violating security measure. So there is no reason other than a federal agency trying to lord its authority over the states that this threat was made, and sets a bad precedent for what the federal government can get away with unchallenged.

As for the idea that the TSA couldn’t do its job properly, if “doing its job properly” means consistent and equal security measures at every major airport, then they aren’t even doing that. Last month, I was traveling to Washington, DC from Boston, and I chose to fly there. At Boston’s Logan Airport, the security measures were fairly easy. I just threw my backpack on the conveyor belt, took my shoes off, and walked through the metal detector. No pat-downs, No X-rays. However, returning to Boston was a different matter. As I walked through the metal detector, I heard a TSA agent yell “Whose bag is this?” I saw that it was mine and responded that it was. She told me that I forgot to remove my laptop from my bag, and it had to be re-examined, as were TSA rules. As you might guess, I was rather confused and irritated. I did not have to go through this back in Boston, nor did I have to do so any other time I flew. If its an established rule that laptops have to removed from bags upon inspection, then there is a serious consistency problem, and after all, the TSA cares about consistency right?

The TSA’s security measures have become not so much precautions against people that want to blow up planes, but rather an exercise in paranoia. Security measures have changed whenever a new threat emerges, be it a guy with explosives in his underwear or liquid explosives that get snuck in shampoo bottles. If terrorists want to cause havoc and inflict casualties on planes, they’ll find a way to avoid whatever traps we throw at them. This doesn’t mean we can’t be safe when we’re flying. There are many ways that the TSA can check for dangerous items that don’t involve invasive searches or unnecessary fondling of people. What we can’t do is throw out our basic, human rights to privacy and freedom in the name of security, because otherwise they will have succeeded in making us live in constant fear of being attacked.

Ben Franklin once opined “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one”. We can feel safe, but if we exchange basic human and constitutional rights for our own safety, we’re validating illegal behavior by our government and allowing them to grow beyond the bounds of the Constitution if it hasn’t already, and no flight is worth that.

About the Author: admin