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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Editorial: Safety or liberty? There has to be another option

“”Don’t touch my junk”” has become 2010’s “”Don’t tase me, bro”” — a phrase that has captured the hearts of many and earned the parody of many more, a slangy anthem to resisting authority figures who way overstep their boundaries.

When John Tyner, a 31-year-old software programmer, was told he was going to be required to undergo a “”groin check”” in addition to a standard pat-down by Transportation and Security Administration officials at the San Diego International Airport, he was not happy. He told the handsy security guard, “”You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested.””

The comment, in addition to earning Tyner an even more unpleasant airport visit than he was already having, culminating in threats of a $10,000 fine for leaving the security area, has become the rallying cry for millions of travelers. As the holiday travel season gets into full swing and TSA implements its dreaded new full-body scanners and über-invasive pat downs, airport-goers have decided that enough is enough, and these new searches are just way too thorough.

They’re right; the full body scanners project a simulated image of a traveler’s nude body for agents to peruse, and as for the pat-downs, as one traveler put it to a USA Today reporter, “”There isn’t any area they forget to touch.”” Both processes allow for plenty of misconduct, intentional or otherwise, especially by harried, ill-trained agents in the middle of the holiday airport rushes. Travelers have already reported everything from “”groping”” to, in one case, a man being soaked in urine when agents disrupted his urostomy bag. In addition, the scanners pose various perceived threats, such as leaked images on the Internet and possible health risks related to the radiation from the machines.

Lawmakers have responded to travelers’ complaints. President Barack Obama acknowledged that the procedures are “”intrusive,”” and Republican representatives John Mica and Thomas Petri, the incoming leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, echoed that sentiment. The two promised to revisit the new procedures and accused TSA of “”reacting to old threats … and failing to be ‘proactive,'”” according to USA Today. Petri added, “”Do we really expect Grandma to go through this?””

That remark gets to the heart of the issue: While no one wants to be seen as “”soft on terrorism”” and voters demand hard lines on such issues from their elected officials, no one wants to be personally inconvenienced, either. It is, fundamentally, an “”us and them”” issue — people know they’re not terrorists, and moreover, know they don’t fit the narrow, bigoted profile of a terrorist most Americans seem to have, so they can’t be bothered. When a reporter asked Tyner if he “”looked like a terrorist,”” he replied, “”I’m 6-foot-1, white with short brown hair.”” The subtext of the exchange screamed that this description is not one of a terrorist; neither is the “”Grandma”” Petri invoked. Why should nice, normal Americans, who are so obviously not carrying bombs in their underpants, be subjected to this kind of treatment?

That stomach-churning question, of course, bears the implication that some people do look like they’re carrying bombs in their underpants, and those are the people TSA should be targeting with its new tests.

It’s understandable, and indeed honorable, not to want one’s own liberties tampered with. But you can’t demand that some people be harassed and detained on baseless suspicions on one hand, and get off scot-free yourself on the other. Either we treat everyone like criminals at the airport, which seems to be the current approach, or we figure out a better system, one that doesn’t involve the assumption that some people look like the bad guys and some don’t.

Yes, the new procedures are incredibly invasive and challenge just about every privacy law and tenet of decorum out there. But they’re a direct response to this country’s fever pitch about being “”tough on terrorism.”” Either we make the huge mistake of agreeing to give up our civil liberties in favor of security, or we find a way to reframe the security conversation altogether. But we can’t have it both ways.

— Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Heather Price-Wright, Luke Money, Colin Darland and Steven Kwan. They can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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