I am glad to see that the resistance to the TSA’s policy of pornograton-or-molestation is continuing. Jason’s recent post, and the subsequent discussion in the commentary, covers many of the issues, and there are numerous discussions around the web, most of which share the view that the policy is unjustifiable.
For my part, I think the policy is grotesque and unworthy of a free people. I made this argument some years ago—shortly after 9/11, but at a time when today’s policies still would have seemed unimaginable.
But I have a few thoughts to add to the current discussions:
First, I have to question the character and psychology of the people conducting these searches. What could bring a person to physically fondle, grope, and thus molest strangers?
How, moreover, are they getting away with it? Unless the passengers in question both consent to the pat-downs and feel as though they actually have power to say “no,” the TSA officials are engaging in what is called criminal sexual conduct, at least as defined under Title 2C of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (and, I am sure, many other state codes as well). Indeed, if it involves minors, if the actor uses “physical force or coercion,” or if the actor “is armed with a weapon” (see here) it qualifies as aggravated criminal sexual conduct (see here as well). Those crimes are punishable by up to 5 years in state prison.
We presumably do not need the Nuremburg Trials or the Mai Lai Courts Marshall to remind us that “I was just following orders” does not absolve a government official from responsibility for his actions. What the TSA officials are doing does not, of course, rise to the level of those two examples. But it does seem to be clearly criminal conduct, and, especially when involving children, disgustingly criminal conduct. The fact that they are members of the federal government is irrelevant—except insofar as that means they are subject to the United States Constitution, including in particular its Fourth Amendment.
So my question remains: How are they getting away with it?
Third, Russ Roberts correctly notes that the goal of this “security theater” is not to prevent airplanes from blowing up. As he argues, if that were the goal, there are easier ways to achieve it—like banning all airplanes, for example.
Perhaps security is the goal, but there is no single optimal level of security. No one can ever be absolutely secure, so we all approach security conscious of tradeoffs and according to our schedule of preferences. Since people’s schedule of preferences vary, their tradeoff points of security vs. personal or bodily integrity will vary as well. So it might be that A wants the “enhanced” pat down to feel safe, while B does not.
Why can’t we let people choose the level of security they want? One way to do that would be to let airlines or individual airports make their own decisions about security procedures. That way we would introduce competition, and we would introduce variety to cater to people’s varied tastes. That would elminate the hamfisted one-size-fits-all policy we are currently getting from the TSA.
Fourth, the real matter at stake here is, I believe, not the isolated acts of molestation, bad as those are. It is the training in obedience to government authority that it constitutes. It habituates Americans to docile and timid subservience, which, in addition to being unworthy of a free person, is also corrosive to a free society.
And finally: What are we teaching our children when we tell them not to allow themselves to be victims, to say “no” when someone makes them uncomfortable, and that we will protect them from the unwanted advances of others . . . except when it comes from a government official?