Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Four Minutes For Freedom

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
attributed to Edmund Burke

Americans have been asked to do a lot to secure the blessings of liberty over the years.  I hope that you'll do two more things to that end.  They won't involve suffering through a long winter at Valley Forge or getting tear gassed and billy clubbed at Selma.  They'll only take a few minutes each and you can do them right over the computer before you now.  Let me explain why they're important.

In the previous post I chronicled a few personal horror stories of the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) new enhanced security measures.  These involve expensive new "body scanners" that basically conduct a virtual stripsearch of air travellers and transmit the image to a TSA officer for viewing.  The naked image of the citizen can also be stored and transferred elsewhere.  Other technologies, that are equally effective yet raise fewer privacy concerns, already exist and are operation in European airports.  The only alternative the TSA offers for its body scanners is an even more intrusive full-body pat-down.

These searches are clearly in violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of U.S. citizens.  The Fourth Amendment says, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." [Emphasis added.]

While the Supreme Court has not ruled on airport screening technology yet, lower courts have.  According to George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen in a recent Washington Post article:
[T]he 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. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate "in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search."
As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito's tests.
Most Americans don't need these highfaluting legal opinions to tell us what our gut is already telling us, namely that there is something wrong with all this.  We know that the new TSA procedures look, sound, feel and stink like a police state.  So, what can we do about it?  I suggest two things for starters.

First, write your elected officials.  I know that seems trite and lame.  I've pretty well given up on that civics class pap, but this is important enough that it's worth a try.  If we raise enough of an uproar perhaps even our representatives might have to awaken and do something.  If you go to the ACLU's website you can send a pre-written message to DHS Secretary Napolitano, your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative urging them to "rein in these invasive searches, and to implement security measures that respect passengers' privacy rights."  It only takes a few clicks and you can use the service even if you're not a fan of the ACLU. 


Secondly, please help out Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).  Back in July, when the rest of us were thinking about barbecues and fireworks, EPIC was already slapping a lawsuit on the DHS to stop them from implementing the new scanner/pat-down procedures.  Unfortunately the wheels of the justice system turned too slowly to have it stopped before it started, but better late than never.  The on-going lawsuit alleges that the new procedures violate travelers' Fourth Amendment rights, and violate both the Privacy Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as well as a bunch of administrative regulations.

Legal battles aren't cheap, especially when you're going up against the federal government with it's deep pockets (our pockets, that is).  According to its website, "EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values."  Contributions to EPIC are tax-deductible.  I know times are tight, but please try to send them whatever you can.  Even $5 would help, if enough of us do it.  You can DONATE ONLINE or send a check to:  "EPIC," 1718 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20009.

So please, there are two small things we can do to defend freedom.  It will only take a few minutes and a few clicks.  The other option is to do nothing and allow evil to triumph.


  1. tyranny of the majorityDecember 8, 2010 at 10:21 PM

    Beyond the privacy issues of both the machines and the super-invasive searches, I am disturbed by the amount of resources essentially being wasted. While the US is obsessively targeting people's underwear, reacting to last year's threat, terrorists are looking for a million weaknesses to attack. Even if airline passenger travel is 100% safe, the American people are still vulnerable. In my lifetime, terrorists have targeted: apartment buildings, public transportation, large buildings, schools, theaters, air freight, ships, garbage containers, and public officials. The list goes on and on. Why are we acting as if the only threat is air travel and squandering so many resources on one area?


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