Nine times out of ten I agree with the wonderful winger-blogger Captain Ed Morissey. But here’s an issue on which I must respectfully but vehemently dissent: the Transportation Safety Administration’s announcement of a pilot project using “backscatter” X-ray machines at airports that reveal the naked bodies of passengers to officers. The American Civil Liberties Union objects that the machines violate passengers’ privacy and turn the better-looking among them into involuntary porn stars — and you know? For once, I agree with the ACLU.
Captain Ed doesn’t:
“The images might have titillation value to anyone who for some reason can’t access the Victoria’s Secret catalog, but that’s about it. They aren’t recognizable as individuals, and the only image one can see is a ghostly outline that can be recognized as a male or female, but that’s about all the definition of soft tissue that one can get….The notion that these will become the prurient hit of the Internet in an age of Britney Spears crotch-flashing and the wide variety of much more well-defined porn is simply hilarious.
“People complain that the government has not asked us to sacrifice much for the war effort, and so have not built wartime morale in the populace. Maybe that’s because when the government does ask us to support common-sense solutions to provide more complete security, we start obsessing about becoming unwilling porn stars. Let’s not wait until the next disaster to adopt the security processes that could save lives for a minimal amount of effort on our part as individuals.”
Yes, Ed, I’m also mighty suspicious when the “you’ve-got-a-First-Amendment-right-to-let-it all-hang-out” ACLU suddenly turns into a defender of old-fashioned modesty. But the fact remains that the machines do violate passengers’ privacy and worse still, their dignity.
The TSA defends the machines on the ground that they are already in use at “prisons.” Yes, they are, and so are body-cavity searches of naked inmates — which are a fabulously effective way to detect contraband and hidden weapons. Why doesn’t the TSA institute those in the name of airport security? Make Grandma and little Junior take all their clothes off and bend over? Are prisons supposed to set the standards for treating innocent people — children, vacationers, traveling business-people — who have never committed a crime in their lives? It’s already humiliating enough to have to remove shoes, belts, and other items of clothing before being allowed on a plane, or having your Starbucks coffee and your jar of lip-gloss confiscated. Until someone called a halt to the practice, TSA officers were freely feeling around the brassieres of female passengers, all in the name of the “sacrifices” these passengers were supposed to make in the name of “wartime morale.”
And, by the way, I thought we were supposed to disapprove of — or at least laugh at — Britney Spears’s unseemly bodily displays, not adopt them as social norms.
The problem with the TSA’s latest move is that it’s not a “common-sense solution” to the problem of air terrorism. The common-sense solution is to focus screening efforts thoroughly and efficiently on the ethnic and religious groups that commit 99.9 percent of air terrorism. But we can’t have that. Look what happened when U.S. Airways used common sense and dumped from a plane a bunch of imams who were switching seats, asking for metal seatbelt extensions, and tallking loudly about Al Qaeda. So instead of getting to use common sense about ferreting out potential mass-murderers, we want to turn every airport into Sing Sing on strip-search night.
So sign me up for the ACLU. No, don’t. The ACLU doesn’t believe in terrorist profiling, either. The ACLU would rather have the planes blown up.