The TSA, which has attracted much attention over the past few years for coercive and idiotic behavior, continues to behave coercively and idiotically. The agency has also added a number of new behaviors to their repertoire, making headline news repeatedly in recent weeks for behaving callously, disrespectfully, inefficiently, and indecently.
Last week, Indianapolis resident John Gross underwent a painful and emotionally exhausting experience at Orlando Airport in Florida when a TSA agent opened the sealed jar containing his grandfather’s ashes and spilled them on the floor of the terminal. Gross says the agent, a woman, spilled up to a third of the contents and then laughed as he frantically tried to pick up the bone fragments. He also later found out that according to TSA’s policies, a crematory container in carry-on baggage must pass through the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint but should be opened under “no circumstances.”
“I want an apology,” Gross told The Indy Channel. “I want an apology from TSA. I want an apology from the lady who opened the jar and laughed at me. I want them to help me understand where they get off treating people like this.” But how can an apology fix a system that flaunts such blatant disregard of privacy rights and human dignity?
In February, a Dallas woman complained when she was told by TSA agents that she had a “cute figure” and was scanned three times by the controversial full-body x-ray machine. According to the rather shocking results of an investigation by CBS 11 in Dallas, the passenger, Ellen Terrell is only one of many women making similar complaints about TSA scanning procedures. Many women say they felt sexually harassed by the agents.
Last year, female novelist T.P. Alexanders was arrested for reciting the Constitution of the United States during a TSA inspection at the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has since been hassled and harried in an alarming manner. In April, a disturbing video surfaced revealing a woman sobbing during a pat-down at the airport in Madison, Wisconsin. In May, a new mom was forced to show security her freshly pumped breast milk before she could board a plane with a breast pump. In January, two TSA agents admitted to stealing $40,000 from a checked bag at JFK Airport in New York. In April, a TSA screener admitted to accepting $1,200 in bribes from drug traffickers. In December, rapper Freddie Gibbs claimed he got away with smuggling some marijuana on a flight. The TSA agent who checked his bags left him just a note which read: c’mon son.
You’ve doubtless heard other tales of horror and high surprise: grandmothers in walkers and wheelchairs being strip-searched, infants and toddlers being subjected to lengthy pat-downs, and countless reports of stolen items, from cake to iPads.
Yet another controversy has erupted this week, with passengers displeased by the TSA’s recent decision to randomly test beverages which passengers in the secure area of the airport have purchased in the secure area of the airport. Even travelers who don’t object to the TSA’s other controversial screening measures are confused and disturbed by this new development. “I’m always glad that my safety is a priority, I just think testing drinks after they’ve already been bought might be a little extreme,” Jennifer Smart told radio KJTC8. Passengers want to know just what it is that the TSA is testing for in drinks that come from the secure area of the airport, but the agency has declined to explain themselves.
The TSA is outrageous. And the important factor is they are not outrageous only or even primarily because of outrageous breaches of protocol. They are not outrageous only because they have had the misfortune to hire a ridiculous number of incompetent and even criminal employees. They are not outrageous because these employees violate the agency’s policies on a regular basis. The TSA is outrageous because their policies are intrusive and inappropriate from the get-go.
It is not good enough to have a policy against gratuitous or voyeuristic exploitation of scanner images. The problem lies in the fact that passengers are subjected to this humiliating imaging process in the first place. It is not good enough that the TSA apologizes for employees who make inappropriate comments about passengers’ personal belongings. The problem lies in the fact that these personal items should be scrutinized and uncovered in the first place. The TSA’s arrogant and unconstitutional intrusion into our lives is wrong based on principle, not on individual horror stories – although those horror stories do a lot to demonstrate the consequences of such widespread misappropriation of authority.
Sadly, it appears that Americans are undergoing this degradation to no real purpose. On multiple occasions over the past few years, passengers have accidentally boarded planes or have passed through security with loaded guns in their luggage. ABC News shares some alarming reports of security test failures at major US airports:
“Federal agencies have conducted random, covert ‘red team tests,’ where undercover agents try to see just how much they can get past security checks at major U.S. airports. And while the Department of Homeland Security closely guards the results as classified, those that have leaked in media reports have been shocking. According to one report, undercover TSA agents testing security at a Newark airport terminal on one day in 2006 found that TSA screeners failed to detect concealed bombs and guns 20 out of 22 times. A 2007 government audit leaked to USA Today revealed that undercover agents were successful slipping simulated explosives and bomb parts through Los Angeles’s LAX airport in 50 out of 70 attempts, and at Chicago’s O’Hare airport agents made 75 attempts and succeeded in getting through undetected 45 times.”
We are trading our privacy, our rights, and our liberty, and we’re not even getting security in return.
We can talk and complain and fume about invasive pat-downs and intrusive baggage checks and naked-body scanners, but unless we actually take action against the tightening noose, all of our anger and our words are wasted. I’m not suggesting a we won’t fly campaign, as we obviously will fly, but something less demanding and perhaps even more effective.
As election season rolls around, it’s a great time to put pressure on candidates and incumbents at all levels of your state and federal government. Perhaps this year you might consider taking time to make a few calls to your representatives and let their offices know exactly how you feel about the TSA and how their stance will affect your vote. Don’t let them get away with stating generically that they oppose the agency, but ask them what they’ve done to curtail it and how they plan to fight it in the future. It’s very painless to make these calls and you will probably speak with a sympathetic and polite secretary who will do his or her best to help you. There are a number of tools online to help you find out who represents you.
Unfortunately, the furor and the uproar over the TSA’s overreach has not been sustainable. People have to fly. They have to work. They have to see their aging parents and grandparents and go to funerals and weddings in locations that require air travel. It’s unrealistic to expect them not to. It is not, however, unrealistic to ask them to object and to do it courageously and regularly. America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We all fight tyranny in different ways, but the important thing is: are we fighting it, or are we just complaining?
Bryana Johnson | @HighTideJournal