John Tyler’s “don’t touch my junk” video has gone viral, thus bringing the TSA’s full body scanners and pat downs into the public eye-at least until we are distracted by something else.
The gist of the scenario is that Tyler refused the x-ray scan and opted for the pat down. When the TSA agent explained that the pat down would be close to his groin, Tyler said the famous words “You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested.” Of course, saying this then meant that the TSA would have to check his junk (after all, a man who makes it clear that he does not want another man touching his junk is clearly a potential terrorist). Eventually he was removed and now faces the possibility of a civil lawsuit for not completing the process. People are required by law to complete the screening process. The reason for the law is, apparently, to prevent terrorists from repeatedly testing security by refusing the process when it is about to expose them. Of course, terrorists can just fly and see how the process works.
The main reason for the full body scans (which expose people to x-rays) and the pat downs is, of course, the failed underwear bomber’s attempt. If it were not real, it would sound like a comic sketch:
TSA Agent: “Hello. You can go through the body scan or get a pat down.”
Passenger: “Um, isn’t radiation bad?”
TSA Agent: “Well, it is believed it increases the risk of cancer and birth defects.”
Passenger: “Well, I fly a lot. I’ll go with the pat down. So, what do you pat down?”
TSA Agent: “Your body.”
Passenger: “Even my…naughty bits?”
TSA Agent: “Well, not directly. Unless you insist that we don’t touch them.”
Passenger: “So, if I were to say ‘please don’t stick a finger up my ass’, then you’d have to do that?”
TSA Agent: “Mabel, get a glove! Cold…”
Passenger: “Jesus! Why are we doing all this?”
TSA Agent: “Well, that guy had that bomb in his underwear.”
Passenger: “So, we have to spend millions and chose between being x-rayed or groped because some idiot failed in an attempt to blow up his underwear?”
TSA Agent: “Yes.”
Passenger: “So, if some terrorist makes an ass bomb, you’ll be playing proctologist ?”
TSA Agent: “Yes.”
Passenger: “And if some terrorists makes a vagina bomb, you’ll be playing gynecologist? ”
TSA Agent: “Well, not me. But Mabel would be.”
Passenger: “Screw this, I’m taking the train.”
TSA Agent: “You can’t leave until we finish the process.”
Passenger: “Even the ass check?”
TSA Agent: “Especially the ass check. That way you will think twice before questioning the government again.”
As I have argued before, I am fine with effective and necessary security measures. However, the TSA always seems to be trying to counter yesterday’s threats and, even worse,the threats that are really not much of a threat. To use the obvious example, the new procedures are aimed at countering underwear bombs. This bomb was, of course, used in one failed attempt. As such, privacy is being violated and large sums of money are being spent to counter a very unlikely and minor threat. It does not seem to be worth the price to counter this sort of threat.
Now, it might be objected that we must have such security because some terrorist might try the underwear bomb again and this time it might actually work. Surely, someone might say, what if I had my way and the pat downs and x-raying stopped…and then an underwear bomb took out a plane!
I will grant that I am, as argued above, concerned about safety. However, my principle is that the security and safety concerns should be proportional to the threat. So, for example, I think that people should be allowed to drive cars-even though quite a few people are killed each year in accidents (far more than terrorists kill).
But perhaps concerns about costs and privacy do not matter: only securing people from a possible threat matters. This seems to be the principle behind the scanners and pat downs (which have yet to find an underwear bomb).
However, if we follow this principle, then airport security must counter all potential threats-or at least the ones that people can think of. For example, bombs hidden in the rectum or swallowed (as mules sometimes transport drugs) are possible. Hence, TSA must do a GI tract check to protect us, or the terrorists win.
Also, this same principle should apply outside of airports. If what matters most is safety and not things like rights, then we should ban all dangerous things, such as cars and alcohol. After all, no one has been killed by an underwear bomb. But thousands perish ever year because of cars and alcohol. If people make a fuss about rights and freedom, the government can point out that what matters is staying alive and if almost anything goes in protecting us from vague and unlikely terrorist threats, then the same principle should apply to clear and present dangers. Or is it the case that we should only be concerned about being killed by terrorists while on an airplane?