For those who follow the Drudge Report, you’ve presumably seen several stories about “Big Sis” and her plans to require either body imaging or a full pat down. I’ve always viewed this as a cost-benefit issue. There are crazies out there who want to blow up planes, so it is a legitimate function of government to figure out sensible ways of stopping this from happening.
But is the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, using a sensible approach? Setting aside issues of modesty and privacy (as well as possible radiation risks), will this new approach stop terrorists? Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune is not overly optimistic.
When it comes to protecting against terrorism, this is how things usually go: A danger presents itself. The federal government responds with new rules that erode privacy, treat innocent people as suspicious and blur the distinction between life in a free society and life in a correctional facility. And we all tamely accept the new intrusions, like sheep being shorn. Maybe not this time. …The agency is rolling out new full-body scanners, which eventually will replace metal detectors at all checkpoints. These machines replicate the experience of taking off your clothes, but without the fun. They enable agents to get a view of your body that leaves nothing to the imagination. …Besides the indignity of having one’s body exposed to an airport screener, there is a danger the images will find a wider audience. The U.S. Marshals Service recently admitted saving some 35,000 images from a machine at a federal courthouse in Florida. TSA says that will never happen. Human experience says, oh, yes, it will. For the camera-shy, TSA will offer an alternative: “enhanced” pat-downs. And you’ll get a chance to have an interesting conversation with your children about being touched by strangers. This is not the gentle frisking you may have experienced at the airport in the past. It requires agents to probe aggressively in intimate zones — breasts, buttocks, crotches. If you enjoyed your last mammography or prostate exam, you’ll love the enhanced pat-down. …Though the harm to privacy is certain, the benefit to public safety is not. The federal Government Accountability Office has said it “remains unclear” if the scanners would have detected the explosives carried by the would-be Christmas Day bomber. They would also be useless against a terrorist who inserts a bomb in his rectum — like the al-Qaida operative who blew himself up last year in an attempt to kill a Saudi prince. Full-body scanning will sorely chafe many innocent travelers, while creating only a minor inconvenience to bloodthirsty fanatics.
I travel enough that all I care about is getting through the security line without losing an hour of my time. But I’ve been through these machines and they don’t seem to speed up the process (and if anybody checked me out, at my age, I’d be flattered). So chalk this up as another victory for senseless government policy.