Airport security: Invasion of privacy?

By | December 1, 2010

By now we’ve all heard of Thomas Sawyer, a bladder cancer survivor, whose ostomy bag was broken during a pat down in Detroit, leaving the 61-year-old drenched in urine. And of Cathy Bossi, a breast cancer survivor, forced to remove her prosthetic breast for examination at Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina.

Government leaders are concerned. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, when asked on “Face the Nation,” if she would submit to these scans, said, “Not if I could avoid it.” Florida Sen. George LeMieux (R) was quoted by Reuters as saying, “I wouldn’t want my wife to be touched in the way these folks are being touched.”

While a recent Washington Post/CBS News poll showed 64 percent of Americans supporting the body scanners — in the name of safety — a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, conducted just before Thanksgiving, showed that 57 percent of American fliers are bothered by pat downs.

As they should be. To paraphrase one colorful traveler: “No one is supposed to touch my stuff.”

All diocesan/parish employees and volunteers receive “safe environment” training. The goal is to prevent abuse of children and vulnerable adults. Much of that training relates to preventing sexual abuse. And sexual abuse includes viewing nude children and the touching of genitalia — even through clothing.

After the news accounts, one has to ask whether or not these scans and pat downs are sexual abuse. They certainly come close. At the very least, they offer a potential for abuse. And for emotional trauma.

The U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) does say its employees receive eight to 12 hours of training in the pat down procedure. And the TSA told the Denver Post that it performs background checks on screeners and does not hire sexual offenders.

However, what real assurance does this offer parents who have taught their children to only allow parents and medical personnel to touch them in certain places?

Yes, TSA head John Pistole has said children will be submitted to “less invasive” searches, though the TSA, when pressed by WBTV in Charlotte, refused to describe these searches.

By law, a child is anyone under 18. That includes college students who travel home for Christmas. They may look like adults, but they are still children and their nearly nude images will be viewed by TSA employees and anyone else able to see the scanned images.

Remember that, as reported by UPI, when these body scanners were first introduced in England earlier this year, they were not used on children because of questions arising from the Protection of Children Act 1978 which outlawed the viewing of indecent images or “pseudo-images” of children.

We are clearly invading privacy — something the U.S. Constitution clearly addresses. In fact, the Fourth Amendment specifically protects us from “unreasonable searches and seizures” made without probable cause.

Is airport security a “probable cause?” Some would say it is. And, despite all the concerns voiced, most Americans still claim to feel safer with scanners and pat downs.

And yes, the recent events at Marinette High School emphasize that some security measures are necessary in our society. But the handguns used in Marinette could have been found by metal detectors, which are not overly invasive.

We can only make ourselves safe to a certain degree. As we learned from shoe bombers and underwear bombers, terrorists will find new ways to evade scanners and body searches. So we will again be asked to step up security.

At what cost?

Our children may — emphasize “may” — be safer from terrorists because of revealing body scans and pat downs. That is unless you find it scary, if not terrifying, to have strangers touch you invasively or view your all-but-nude body scan image.

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