Do we really draw the line at body scans?

Two above-the-fold stories this morning are really jarring.

The New York Times continues its profile of Fort Drum’s 1st Brigade in Afghanistan.  There’s print, photos and video depicting a dirty, chaotic, mind-numbing, and often violent engagement for our North Country neighbors in America’s “war on terror”.  (We’ll have an interview with author Jim Dao later this week.)

Sharing headline space is National Opt-Out Day, a group of citizens protesting the full body scans being instituted in airports across the country.  According to the website, “the federal government’s desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an ‘enhanced pat down’ that touches people’s breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner” is a violation of our rights and an attack on “liberty”.

Let me get this right.

We’re fine with hundreds of thousands of young men and women invading two countries to fight against (and, in thousands of cases, die at the hands of) terrorists.  We’re fine with spending trillions of dollars to do so.  We can handle detaining people at Guantanamo indefinitely without due process.  We’re OK with the U.S. government using extraordinary rendition to torture suspects in other countries (even when that suspect is eventually found to have done nothing).

But we’re ready to man the barricades because some security guard in a room at an airport sees a digital version of us naked?  This is where we draw the line on keeping potential terrorists from attacking us?

I’m as frustrated, dehumanized and humiliated as the next guy standing in those lines at the airport, like a rat in a maze you can’t escape.  I recently missed a flight standing in one of the full body scan chambers because the security folks didn’t know how to use the equipment yet.

And I know little about whether these invasive machines will actually stop the alleged “death by a thousand cuts” strategy advertised by an Al-Qaeda branch in Yemen over the weekend.

Our democracy, economy, and social fabric have made so many concessions in the nine years since September 11th in the name of fighting terrorism.  It strikes me that a personal pat-down – and the elementary school-like fear that someone in some hidden room at the airport is checking out your private parts – is a concession some Americans aren’t willing to make.  It’s even more disturbing that the media and the Obama Administration itself is willing to take them seriously.

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29 Comments on “Do we really draw the line at body scans?”

  1. verplanck says:

    I’m torn.

    I think it’s sad that THIS is the hot-button issue that finally wakes people up to the fact that civil liberties in a post-9/11 world are non-existent. I guess because the other rampant abuses aren’t as in-your-face as a full-body screen?

    Also, what are these screenings stopping? The past two foiled attempts (times square bomber and the cargo plane bombing) had NOTHING TO DO with passenger flight. The more elaborate passenger screenings seem typical of an organization trying to LOOK like it’s doing something, but not really.

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  2. JDM says:

    It might be more effective to argue on the merit of the actions that are taken with respect to the ends that they are supposed to accomplish, rather than just list the actions in a hap-hazard manner.

    IF stopping terrorism is the goal, THEN does the war in Iraq and Afganistan accomplish that end? That could be up for discussion.

    IF stopping terrorism is the goal, THEN does enhanced interrogation help accomplish that end?

    IF we submit to pat-downs and full-body scans, does flying become more safe?

    Answer: No. 1) they are not scanning the cargo. 2) they are one step behind already. This is supposed to catch the diaper-bomber. There have already been new techniques of hiding bombs in body cavities not being checked. We will miss those, guaranteed.

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  3. Bret4207 says:

    I don’t have a problem with scans or pat downs. I do have an issue with reports of “special exemptions” being given to certain religious or cultural groups. So far it’s anecdotal reports, but time will tell if this is just another “feel good” move or a real attempt to solve a problem.

    I’d sure like to see us talk to some folks like the Israelis about how they maintain their security.

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  4. JDM says:

    Also, it’s in direct violation of the 4th amendment.

    If we don’t stop it here, wait until they put one in at the DMV!

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  5. mervel says:

    Screenings reduce the risk that people try certain activities, they are a deterrent. My concern is not with the screenings but with the TSA who I do not believe is overly qualified to handle this process. Also I would not give people a choice, walk through the scanner or drive. Why go through the stupid pat downs?

    But believe me the first time someone brings some small thing tapped to their body on a plane and brings it down everyone will be howling about how TSA missed it.

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  6. DBW says:

    David – As for the public reaction. maybe it is just a matter of things reaching a tipping point. This morning’s Onpoint program was about this topic and one person called it security theater. These measures give the appearance of doing something, but really don’t make us any safer. So what is the point? On a personal level, air travel is not a right, and I am probably less inclined to travel as long as these measures remain in place, despite having family 800 and 2500 miles away.

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  7. PNElba says:

    I’m with JDM. This type of search sure seems to violate the 4th amendment (Katz vs United States; Terry vs Ohio; both on Wikipedia but sure seem to relate to these pat down searches). Also, does the exclusionary rule apply if the TSA actually finds an explosive device?

    Personally, if train travel in the USA were less expensive, I’d never set foot in an airliner again.

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  8. Pete Klein says:

    Brian M.
    I think you err in comparing apples and oranges. It is not a fair comparison.
    The war on terror? I was sick of the war on terror by 10/11/2001.
    Should never have gone into Iraq and should have nuked the area where Bin Laden was hiding and be done with it.
    Ever since the end of Viet Nam, we pussy foot around in our wars, always worried about civilian casualties while exposing our troops.
    We should not be arresting terrorists. We should be killing them whenever and wherever we find them.
    As far as the airlines are concerned, I haven’t been in a commercial airline since 1986 and so I don’t really care.

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  9. Mervel says:

    When we fly we voluntarily subject ourselves to this search, it is not arbitrarily given to us as we go about our day to day life.

    No one is forcing anyone to be patted down or to go through one of these x-ray scanners.

    To me it is a bunch of whining babies, what happens if we really had to suffer hardship for our country? People are dying to stop terrorism and we don’t want to go through some security procedures for the sake of stopping terrorism?

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  10. JDM says:


    If we subject ourselves to needless, pointless pat-downs and nude scans, there will be no end to what this administration or others will do to us, including the ultimate solution.

    We can be perfectly safe, (that is, much more safe than these methods) by profiling, biometrics, etc.

    Why is it Obama wanted to fight a “smarter” war than Bush, but no mention of smartness when it comes to American treatment?

    This is dumb.

    90% of travelers can walk through security with smart IDs, smart questions, and database profiling.

    This is government intimidation and it has nothing to do with making flying safer.

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  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    It is a misrepresentation of fact to say that we invaded two countries to fight terrorists. I understand that the phrase was simply a shortcut to avoid trying to figure out exactly how to describe what it is we have been involved in.

    About the scanners or pat downs. I went through a scanner recently. I don’t care that someone was looking at an image of me on a screen somewhere. I do wonder if there are any long term health consequences for frequent travelers or the TSA operators.

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  12. Mervel says:

    JDM why don’t they make more use of the methods you mentioned?

    Are you saying this is a setup to make the American People more used to invasions of our privacy?

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  13. Mervel says:


    I know what you mean, however the young men and women who are fighting are told that is the reason they are fighting, so the sacrifice they make is presented to them as fighting terrorism and fighting our enemies who want to use terrorism.

    My point was just that if this is a national struggle for security against terrorists and we are all in this together then this extra security is not a large sacrifice to make when compared to the many who have died.

    If we wont’ do this what else won’t we do?

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  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Actually Mervel Brian M made the statement:

    “We’re fine with hundreds of thousands of young men and women invading two countries to fight against (and, in thousands of cases, die at the hands of) terrorists.”

    I’m just trying to keep the historical perspective straight here. The TSA stuff, effective or not is certainly linked to terrorism.

    If we REALLY wanted to do something about terrorism we would initiate international talks to settle on-going disputes in Israel/Palestine, India/Pakistan, diffuse tensions with Iran, talks with Myanmar etc. Sure it would be expensive but war ain’t cheap.

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  15. john says:

    Did you listen to the story on NPR this morning about how FOX News is advocating for the privatization of TSA? In fact one Representative John Mica, R-Florida is in line to be the next committee chairman of the house Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Coincidentally, among his campaign contributors were companies who provide that very service! Now call me paranoid, but a year ago TSA was being criticized for not doing enough to keep us safe in the aftermath of the “Underwear Bomber”. Government =Bad! private sector= GOOD! Another coincidence … the talk of privatization of a number of Federal Government agencies is back on the top of the discussion list … SSI, Medicare, Health Care, military etc. Now all these people are angry as hell at The Government … again. How does this stuff get started?
    I’m just suggesting that there may be moire going on here than meets the eye.

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  16. JDM says:


    I believe that they haven’t used profiling and biometrics precisely because the liberal “political correctness” has ruled the day….. up until now.

    Now that more Americans can see that “political correctness” leads to the government putting their hands where they shouldn’t, there will begin to be a disdain for “political correctness” and more of an appetite for “common sense”.

    Or should I say “Common Sense”?

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  17. Mervel says:


    We have done all of those things with the possible exception of India-Pakistan. They don’t have an impact against Islamic terrorism because Islamic Militants don’t want solutions to those problems.


    It would seem though that they would want to succeed even if they are PC?

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  18. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel we haven’t. You don’t start discussions and then stop when nothing has been accomplished. We are the worlds super-power we should use that position to keep talks going until there is a positive resolution. It may take decades but then we still have troops in Germany and Japan too.

    Islamic militants DO want resolutions to world problems but their resolutions and our resolutions don’t coincide. There are other things to discuss with all nations involved in some of these intractable situations. How about this one: Afghanistan has no weapons industry and yet there are endless supplies of money and weaponry. Where does it all come from?

    Recently everyone seemed to be shocked, SHOCKED! I say, that Karzai took bags of cash from Iran. As if we haven’t sent bags of cash along with Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Russia or their proxies…that is the kind of thing that talks could address. And talk about stupid situations, we put our troops into a proxy war. What kind of idiot gets their own troops into a proxy war. That’s what proxies are for!

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  19. Bret4207 says:

    First off, I disagree that the scans and pat downs are a violation of your 4th amend. rights. “Unreasonable search and seizure…”. The decision to use a commercial carrier for air travel is entirely voluntary. Cases like Terry refer to involuntary stop and frisk. An example of a violation of your 4th Amend right under Terry would be when you are subpoenaed to appear as a witness in a civil case and are forced to submit to a search, scan and pat down if desired. There is no probable cause and you have no choice but to appear. Yes, I fully understand the reasoning, but it’s still a violation IMO.

    I find the talk of TSA going private ridiculous. This all used to be handled by private companies prior to the geniuses in Gov’t deciding that they should all become Federal employees. Boy, giving them better wages, healthcare and other benefits sure fixed the problem, eh? So now some idiot wants to put it back in private hands? What a waste of time and money. The only argument in this line that makes any sense to me is if the private co. could actually profile and use common sense that the Gov’t employees can’t.

    What ever happened to all the “sniffers” that were supposed to be coming into use?

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  20. Mervel says:


    But think about it the most fruitful period for middle east diplomacy in recent memory was under Bill Clinton. We were very close to a peace accord and the creation of Palestine as a nation. Yet during that very time is when al-quida was created and started operating.

    There is a sickness that takes hold of some groups that feed off despair and death, they need a foil they need a Satan to justify their own existence. If everything was good you would not need them.

    So in that case it diplomacy is not relevant what is needed is two things defense and extermination of the terrorist groups. Did we try to negotiate with the Klu Klux Klan? No we worked to defend against them and get rid of them.

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  21. Notinthevillage says:

    First off, I disagree that the scans and pat downs are a violation of your 4th amend. rights. “Unreasonable search and seizure…”.

    Have to disagree with you Bret for one reason. TSA is the government.

    The decision to use a commercial carrier for air travel is entirely voluntary.

    So is driving down the road and going to a mall. Using “voluntary” as a condition for warrantless searches raises the question of where a warrantless search wouldn’t be unconstitutional? I suggest the list would be very short indeed.

    As a condition of flying on a privately owned aircraft the carrier has the right to establish conditions which can include a search. The carrier has the dual incentive to keep its sizable investment safe while at the same time not unduly irritating its customers.

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  22. Bret4207 says:

    But you make the choice to fly, it’s voluntary. The Terry search (stop and frisk IIRC) is has to be based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, I forget which one. You don;t get a choice. Because you have a choice in flying they will say it’s not a violation. I understand the argument against it, I’m just saying that’s the case that will be made if it’s challenged. Just as stopping one car on New Years Eve without probable cause is illegal, but establishing a roadblock and stopping every car is legal, they will use the same logic. They are barred from profiling (a STUPID rule BTW) so they’ll search EVERYONE. Since we have heard about this by now, anyone that wants to fly is giving their implied consent the second they book the flight. Same with driving- you get the license, you agree to abide by the V+T Laws or you won’t be driving long.

    Where a warantless search would be unConstitutional? You want my opinion or what the Gov’t and Courts will say? I say being forced to submit to a search prior to entering the SLC Human Services building to renew my drivers License, the Social Security Office, the Court House when you aren’t the defendant and are subpoenaed, many public buildings where you have to go to conduct business. I understand the idea, but it’s a violation of my rights. For that matter you are barred from carrying a firearm in many public places, an asinine idea from the get go and a clear violation of the 2nd Amend. but the Courts don’t see it that way, nor does Gov’t care about your rights, so here we are.

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  23. Mervel says:

    What do other countries do that deal with severe terrorist threats? What does Israel do for example if you are flying out of Israel?

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  24. Notinthevillage says:

    But you make the choice to fly, it’s voluntary.

    But you make the choice to [insert anything], it’s voluntary.

    The point Bret is that “voluntary” pretty much justifies any warrantless search with the exception of your home. The Terry search basically says you can be pat down searched for a weapon. The police officer only needs to articulate his suspicions in a reasonable manner. Unless you have a video you will be pretty much out of luck because the officer is going to know just what to say to satisfy the conditions. As a practical matter there really are not any restrictions cus who is the judge going to believe. You or the guy in the uniform? We all know the answer to that.

    We have pretty much abandoned the Constitution and this is just one example. The country wisely was founded as a republic. It has devolved into a democracy and is now well on its way to being an oligarchy. The last step is a dictatorship.

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  25. Bret4207 says:

    I agree to an extent. The reasoning behind the searches will dictate the language used to defend it. In a libertarian view it’s clearly wrong, no doubt. But since the feel good PC libs have made sure common sense and instinct are not allowed to be used, this is what we’re stuck with. You want to fly, you know whats coming, and that’s the track they’ll stick to. It’s voluntary in that sense. It’s not a violation in that sense. That’s why it’ll remain in effect.

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  26. oa says:

    Israel doesn’t use these kinds of methods, at least not as of three years ago. They do a thorough interrogation of why you’re coming into the country, and they’re trained to spot people who are showing inordinate stress or evasiveness in their answers. That’s how they profile. Works pretty well, too.
    Bret: if a company looks at pictures of kids naked, it’s not invasive then, and is OK? But if a pedophile does it on the web, it is invasive? But if government does it, it’s wrong? But the TSA is a government agency. Ize confuzed.

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  27. Mervel says:

    Thanks OA.

    For me there are two issues. I think we as a people should be more willing to sacrifice for our nations security. However I have a major issue with government incompetency, given what places like Israel do, why would these guys at the TSA do this and why do I trust the TSA? They frankly often seem kind of like bozo’s, what is their training who are these guys looking at our naked bodies?

    The other inconsistency is that only a minority of airports in the US have these screening machines so I can fly from some small airport into Denver or Chicago and never go through a screening machine or invasive patdown. Given that gaping hole, how important could these things really be?

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  28. Bret4207 says:

    I agree that having some clown sticking his his down some little kids pants or feeling a womans breast without clear probable cause is not acceptable and a violation. But I don’t see the scan (It’s an xray, right?) or a pat down ( of the type I did on the job) for those refusing the scan as a clear violation of the 4th Amend. You don’t have to fly do you? Just like you don’t have to drive. It’s your choice and we are aware of the garbage that goes with it. There are many other laws we all accept as “normal” and “common sense” that are clear violations. So where do we draw the line? I cannot for the life of me understand why I have to leave my Leatherman and pocket knife in my truck to enter the DMV office. I cannot grasp the idea behind the so called “gun free school zone” (Think TARGET with NO defenses).

    Now things like that might make perfect sense to everyone else and you may not be bothered. I feel the same way with a scan or pat down- with in the limits I mentioned. I’m pretty sure I’ve done at least as many pat downs as anyone else here and I never found myself groping anyones “junk”, to use the recent term. So if this type of thing is really happening then there is either a lack of training and common sense, some pervs getting their jollies or TSA is playing some game I don’t understand.

    Hmmm, combine the tail end of my last sentence with the recent recommendation that Obama use the military to force his agenda…wow, where’s my tin foil helmet.

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  29. oa says:

    The great thing is, if we start a rumor that it’s Obama who started this, the Tea Party will get in high dudgeon and the searches will end. Start the right wing email chain! Please! Now!

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