Whether returning home, volunteering on service trips, or traveling for a vacation, many students at the College of William and Mary will be flying during the upcoming winter break. Unfortunately, this means that many students will either be radiated or groped. In a misguided and ineffective effort to counteract terrorism, the Transportation Security Administration has introduced backscatter machines, otherwise known as body scanners. The usefulness of these machines has been rebuked by global experts, yet the TSA stands by its decision. Its actions not only threaten us with longer lines at the airport, but also with grave risks to our privacy, freedom and health.
The scanners can show a woman’s tampon to a TSA, but not necessarily a terrorist’s explosives. In addition to the sheer absurdity of having government officials scrutinize your naked body because you want to visit your family for the holidays, being X-rayed without protection could pose serious health risks, especially to frequent fliers. The Airline Pilots Association, he largest union for pilots, has spoken out against the measure, as have the flight attendants’ union and many civil liberties groups. As young adults, college students may be especially at risk, along with children, pregnant women and men who wish to have children.
Those passengers who opt out of being radiated at the airport have few options. The current alternative to being scanned is an enhanced pat down. Before, agents used only the back of their hands, but now they may use their palms to grope passengers’s entire bodies. In a disgusting affront to the Fourth Amendment, which bars search and seizure without probable cause, the agents are now allowed to put their hands in between passengers’s underwear and skin. This means that those who choose not to be X-rayed on their way home for winter break will instead have their breasts and genitals grabbed by a stranger. Any existing notions of American civil liberties have been effectively squandered by the TSA.
On Nov. 13, the Atlantic published a letter from an unnamed Army staff sergeant who is currently deployed in Afghanistan. In the letter, the soldier questions the unwarranted search of women and children, which is banned by the U.S. military abroad, yet advocated by the TSA at home. The staff sergeant writes, “At no time were we permitted, or even encouraged, to search children or women… we need to decide what civil liberties we truly view as negotiable and which are inviolate — otherwise the greater risk than underwear bombers at home will be losing the values that make us unique as a nation. These people terrify us as much as we allow them to.” Such searches are barred in Afghanistan, yet we subject our own civilians to public groping because they want to travel?
Terrorism is a threat that needs to be acted against, but revoking Constitutional rights is not the answer. Rather than prolonging the fear brought on by Sept. 11, the TSA should focus on actual protection. If we tolerate condemning our citizens to harassment and dangerous radiation, what’s next? Willingly sacrificing our freedoms for fear of terrorists taking them is absurd. The TSA’s actions do not belong in the land of the free — let’s honor and protect our country by standing up for ourselves.