To my readers: I am concerned about transportation security in the United States. I am concerned that it grossly oversteps boundaries erected by my rights as a citizen. I am concerned about the effectiveness of security theater. I want to travel without my naked body being viewed, or my clothed body being touched, by strangers at the airport.* I want my elected politicians to do something. The first is to consider our options.
Below is a draft letter to my most local elected official, the 11th Ward Alderman of Chicago. I’ll send this to him to his office at 3659 S Halsted Street after Thanksgiving week.
Do you have ideas for making it better? My opinion is at the end.
Dear Alderman Balcer,
I understand that airports in the United States can elect to remove the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and provide their passenger screening services.
You have probably heard that is widespread confusion, anger, and disgust at how some people passing through America’s airports are being treated. Many object to having strangers view them naked, and others are reporting feeling groped by strangers – all in the name of preventing terrorism. The federal Government Accountability Office reported that it could not confirm if the current “Advanced Imaging Technology” (AIT) machines (either backscatter x-ray or millimeter wave) would have detected the explosive material someone attempted to use around Christmas 2009.
I haven’t yet decided if I will include this photo of a sleeping TSA officer at Chicago’s Midway (MDW) airport in 2007. Photo by Erin Nekervis.
As the City of Chicago owns O’Hare and Midway Airports, the City Council has power and authority over their operations.
I urge you and your colleagues to investigate the effectiveness of the TSA’s AIT machines, their protection or lack of protection of Chicagoans’ privacy, the level of training each TSA worker receives, and the possibility of using different passenger screening techniques in the Chicago Airport System, without the aid of the TSA.
I have enclosed an article by the Toronto Star from December 30, 2009, that briefly explains how security works at airports in Israel, a country under daily threats of bombing, and real bombing, without the use of expensive and unexplained machinery.
11th Ward Resident
*I really want some high-speed rail.
Addendum, 11/19/10: After reading how an airline pilot refused to have his body groped or viewed naked, and describing his experience with the TSA on a message board, I wanted to post the pilot’s comments (via Gizmodo):
Roberts’s reply: “If your perspective prevails [that Roberts's actions had no effect in changing TSA policy] – and I’m afraid it may – we may all live to find ourselves wishing we had fought in earlier days, when we still had a fighting chance.”
This reminds me of the “If you’ve got nothing to hide, then why are you against it?” position. At the rate the TSA is removing rights protecting Americans from unreasonable searches (Fourth Amendment), I eventually won’t have anything to hide because I won’t be allowed to have anything – no water bottles, no 7 inches long bike tools, no shaving cream. This government, and many other governments, conducts intensive surveillance and collects godawful amounts of data. The government is not always benign, will share the data, and does a poor job of securing the data. I am not doing anything illegal, but that does not mean I want to share all of my activities with the government or the police.
Read more TSA horror stories, in this roundup from the UK-based Daily Mail.