Virtual Voices

What we lose when we fly this year

Issues

When you were a child, your parents told you not to let anyone touch you in your private places except your parents themselves or a doctor. Now that you're an adult, your husband or wife has superseded mom and dad. But the TSA wants to join the list of trusted touchers.

It is true that TSA officers are just doing their jobs when they put their inquisitive hands into your sexual spaces. They're not perverts. I suspect they don't enjoy it any more than you do. But the question is what do we lose with this shocking extension of government intrusion into our privacy?

The most obvious problem with this new checkpoint ordeal-presumably for our safety-is that it's humiliating. Admittedly, so are the johnnies that that we have to wear in the hospital. But it is doctors and nurses who are looking at us. It is also the nature of medical treatment to be personal and invasive. The government's job, by contrast, is to protect our personal lives from invasion by others.

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This points to a less obvious problem with these airport security measures. They introduce a new relationship between ordinary citizens and their government. So that our government can better take care of us, we are now holding our hands in their air in a posture of complete surrender and vulnerability while they see everything there is to see about us. Then they release us. Then, having proven that you are not a terrorist, you can fly on a privately owned airplane. Many people meekly submit to this. Those who are intensely angry about this (as certainly I would be) control themselves for fear of reprisals-everything from delay to prosecution.

The terrorists like this new arrangement because, through the happy accident of a failed underwear bombing, they prompted our government to strip us of liberties that they hate. Not only that, they also convinced us to submit to this and, more importantly, changed our sense of what to expect by way of liberty.

Our government has been alarmingly compliant in this. It is especially true recently of the Democrats, the party that is in principle committed to big, paternalistic oversight of all our affairs. But we should remember that it was under the Republican Bush administration that we all became indiscriminately suspected of terrorist activity and treated accordingly.

It is interesting to note in all of this how selective our government has been in its sensitivity to public outcry. When enhanced airport screening began, instead of focusing on people who gave reason for authorities to suspect they might be a security risk (behavior, circumstances, perhaps coupled with country of national origin), airport security treated everyone as a potential terrorist. The White House buckled under the fear of squawking against the appearance of racial profiling-or at least the fear of that small but vocal segment of the population that considers it unreasonable under all circumstances.

But when it came to electronically stripping and manually fondling obviously innocent air travelers, the government has been utterly callous to public moral protest. "Get used to it; it's for your own good" has been the firm message.

Perhaps we should hold our breath, grit our teeth, and just get through those dreadful pre-flight moments for the sake of safe skies. But why should we expect it will end with air travel? When it comes to terrorism, we can't remain simply reactive. Shouldn't we consider what terrorists might think of doing next? What about trains, and even commuter trains? Expect an increase in rush hour motor traffic. But an underwear bomber could target a bridge or a tunnel! We'll need personally invasive pat-downs for everyone entering or leaving Manhattan, even carpoolers. And what about the possibility of an underwear bomber in a public school? Get ready for personal frisking of the kids before the school day begins. Oh, and principals and teachers, too. We have to be fair.

By the way, is it possible for a terrorist to conceal explosives in his or her body cavities? Now there's an interesting search.

But surely it's OK. They work for the government. They're like, you know, doctors and such.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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